Candidates Fail Their Social Media Midterms

President Barack Obama and his political operatives established themselves as masters of digital marketing during the president’s 2012 reelection campaign, using social media and email to dial up the voter engagement level to a fever pitch. Not only did the Obama brand cool down immeasurably in this week’s midterm elections, but so did the social marketing skills of his fellow Democrats.

According to Becca Lewis, Crimson Hexagon‘s manager of application support, midterm candidates across the board failed to establish either workable social media strategies or worthwhile measurement systems. They tweeted and posted with wild abandon, misread results, chose the wrong social networks, and displayed little or no control over their messages. Most egregiously, they didn’t target, said Lewis, who advises clients on how to use social for campaign and brand analysis.

“Gurbernatorial and Senate candidates all had Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, and many tweeted hundreds and thousands of times a month,” Lewis told Direct Marketing News. “[Democratic candidate for Texas governor] Wendy Davis sent out something like 2,000 tweets in October, but most of the people who read them weren’t from Texas.” Republican candidate Greg Abbott won the Lone Star statehouse in a 21-point landslide.

Crimson Hexagon, one of the first and best known social media monitoring services, can monitor tweets and posts and analyze the demographics, psychographics, and locations of their sources. Few candidates availed themselves of their services. “We had a lot of NGOs [non-governmental organizations], but we didn’t have any political campaigns with us in this election,” Lewis said.

That was one of the critical differences separating the midterms from the presidential elections—lack of national scale and strategy. “In most cases Democrat and Republican candidates were on the same page in their levels of social engagement,” Lewis observed. “Republicans certainly learned from the Romney campaign and were very much present on Twitter. But neither side was up to par with Obama’s campaign in terms of outreach.”

Midterm elections lack the celebrity wattage of presidential campaigns, and turnout suffers as a result. Fewer than 40% of registered voters show up at the polls in most years, and this week’s election fell right in line with a turnout of 36.6%. Political pundits say that midterms are elections for old, white voters, and Crimson Hexagon’s monitoring of social activity found some truth in the blanket statement. The majority of social conversations during the election period, Lewis noted, were held by people over 35.

What candidates need to do in future campaigns is learn how to get better control of their social media activities. Facebook and Twitter might not have been the right networks to use to reach young voters—a factor that usually favors the Democratic candidates who took the biggest beating on Tuesday. “They could look at Michelle Obama’s ‘Turnip For What’ Vine video that got more than 20,000 tweets from people under 24,” she said. “It was smart of her to use Vine, but campaigns are mostly posting updates and aren’t thinking about it.”

It’s also easy for social media to get away from a campaign and go off in a direction detrimental to it. “A huge amount of the traction on [New York Governor] Andrew Cuomo’s campaign focused on his efforts around Ebola quarantine,” Lewis said. “If I were on Cuomo’s team and saw how the conversation was breaking, I would have tried to change the direction.”

The 2014 midterms are bound to be a social learning laboratory for future campaigns, Lewis observed. “Many weren’t aware we are able to watch live feeds coming in and break them down by theme and sentiment,” she said.

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