A Tweet for a Vote? The Role of Social Media in the Bloomberg ’09 Campaign

Katie Perry is Corporate Marketing Coordinator at 360i. You can follow her on Twitter @katieeperry.

Social marketing programs have proven their worth in driving sales (@DellOutlet), building loyalty (Coca-Cola’s Facebook page) and improving customer service (@comcastcares) – but in the throes of a complex political campaign, what is the worth of social engagement?

If done right, it just might be the difference between victory and defeat.

The evidence? Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 2009 mayoral campaign, in which he won by just over 50,000 votes. Jonah Seiger (@jonahseiger), Chief Online Strategist for Bloomberg ’09 and Managing Partner at Connections Media LLC, shared the social strategies that ultimately bolstered the then-incumbent’s road to re-reelection at a Tuesday SMW event hosted by ClickZ and the Personal Democracy Forum.

Victory Tweet: @mikebloomberg responds to the win.
Victory Tweet: @mikebloomberg responds to the win.

Seiger admits that social media, though not necessarily the linchpin component, played a crucial role in Bloomberg’s eventual victory. To illustrate this point, he walked us through a series of calculations:

  • According to what Seiger calls “conservative” estimates, there are +/- 3 million people in New York City’s social media sphere.
  • Seiger estimates his team’s efforts had a 10 percent share of voice during the campaign – that is, 1-in-10 people using social media saw someone they knew say they were voting for Bloomberg.
  • 10 percent of the +/- 3 million estimate totals 36,720 voters, per Seiger’s estimates; however, he argued that people active in social media, these “online political citizens” tend to participate at a might higher degree than average voters.
  • Based on this, he estimates that social media drove roughly 85,000 votes for Bloomberg on Election Day.

“From the top of the campaign [Bloomberg] down to the volunteers, digital was embraced in a way I’ve never seen before,” Seiger said. “There was an awareness of the importance of digital as a communications and engagement channel.”

Seiger, who also worked on Bloomberg’s 2005 mayoral campaign, said his team weaved social media into a broader digital strategy that encompassed web design, display media and paid search. These components, in turn, were “integrated within the larger campaign strategy,” he said.

  • Campaign Web site – Infused rich media and included a “bottom bar” that provided an engagement option on every sub-page. The site provided more opportunity for engagement via Facebook Connect. About 40 percent of site traffic was organic (funneled from social media and natural search).
  • Display media – Included rich content and links the Mayor’s YouTube channel. Seiger said YouTube plays totaled 224,000 during the campaign, or the equivalent of about 450K views of 30-second TV spots.
  • Paid search – Search ads appearing on the engines drove traffic to the Bloomberg’s Twitter feed (@mikebloomberg) and Facebook page.  For example, if someone searched “Twitter” from the NY metro area, they would see a sponsored ad promoting @mikebloomberg.

The social aspect of the digital program was especially impactful.  The number of people fanning and following Bloomberg on Facebook and Twitter reached 40,000 by campaign end (that number is nearly 42K at present). Though this number pales in comparison to Starbucks’ count of roughly 6 million between the two social networks, it is staggering when compared to that of Bloomberg’s competitor, Bill Thompson, whose combined total was about 6,300.

Supporters engaged with the Mayors team via Facebook.
Supporters engaged with the Mayor's team via Facebook.

Here are some key takeaways regarding the campaign’s use of social media:

*Tweets and Facebook updates came from the campaign itself (not Bloomberg personally) and Seiger’s team “made no pretenses that mike Bloomberg was personally tweeting.” That aside, Seiger said Bloomberg’s personal interest in technology and social media led to times in which the mayor himself tweeted from the account: a designated day during the campaign and on Nov. 3.

*Seiger’s team estimates there were 31 million second-degree followers of @mikebloomberg (followers of his followers). Of this number, they calculate that 11 percent were NYC residents. For Seiger, these geographical insights were key. “The intelligence garnered from Twitter traffic shows what themes or trends are bubbling out of certain communities,” he said. “Twitter is moving more toward geo-location, and this will become important for the execution of social media in politics.”

*The campaign utilized hashtags (like #yankees, #brooklyn and #jobs) to tap into relevant conversations already occurring among NY-based Twitter users.

*A “Tweet Out the Vote” push allowed Bloomberg supporters to voice their advocacy with the ease of a click. Re-tweets of this message by Twitter power users like @jackdorsey and @craignewmark added further momentum. This strategy was mirrored on Facebook by inviting people to donate their status to Bloomberg’s cause.

*A core component of the strategy was inspiring and maintaining two-way conversations on Twitter and Facebook. “Social media is as much about listening as it is about talking,” Seiger said. “Talking back is especially important.”

*Seiger also noted the importance of supplementing organic/word of mouth promotion for a Facebook page with paid advertising. When asked if he would agree that advertising should be utilizing to gain fans, Seiger was in “adamant” agreement. “Any legitimate social media strategy necessarily includes online advertising as a component,” he said.


ClickZ’s Kate Kaye , who spearheaded the launch of the site’s Politics & Advocacy section, also contributed to the discussion. For further reading check out Kaye’s recent analysis that breaks down the Bloomberg campaign’s digital spend in the context of overall media spend.