What We Learned From The Midterm Elections

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, April 7, 2015

Ted Cruz just flagged the beginning of the 2016 election cycle. With hats now officially being thrown into the ring, it’s a good time to look back at what went well in social marketing at the midterms and what could be improved upon for the 2016 cycle. 

Let’s start with the fact that Facebook says it saw 43 million unique individuals engage in political discourse during the midterms, despite the fact that the U.S. had its lowest midterm-election voter turnout since the early 1940s. Moreover, according to research by Pew, voters were three times more likely to track political candidates on social media, jumping from 6% in 2010 to 16% at the midterm.

Most importantly, Pew finds that voters who are active online are more likely to engage in traditional political campaign activities, such as donating money or volunteering. Which leads us to our first point:

· Asks for action that drew supporters directly into the campaign performed incredibly well at the midterms. “Pledge to vote” and “Pledge to bring a friend to vote with you” were two popular asks that I think will continue to trend. Not seeing engagement in actions slowing, Beth Becker, social media strategist for Progressive Congress, agrees and even recommends pushing pledge to vote actions even earlier in the next election cycle. However, she notes, “The actions have to make sense. They must be easy to complete and validate a person's sense of social self.” 

· Marketers are doing a better job at tapping into content that validates the social self, but have room to grow. It’s important to balance the campaign’s eagerness to reach massive, engaged social audiences with being focused on what makes a particular audience tick.  Analytics are particularly helpful in shedding a light on both which messages and what delivery vehicles resonate most with an audience. For example, education messages delivered via short video might be a winning combination for a certain group of constituents while simple text tweets might work best for another.

People share information they want to be seen connected with. Before you post, ask yourself, “Would I share this in my content stream?” “Is this a piece of content I’d want connected with my social persona?” If the answer is no, it’s time to rethink the post. Experiment to find what gets greatest engagement, whether that be humorous, inspirational or factual content. With social media only growing as a campaign battleground unto itself, understanding the “social self” of your constituents will continue to grow in importance and will be critical for 2016.

· Advanced advertising options to slice and dice audiences, combined with a growing viral political conversation, has caused some pundits to declare that 2016 may be the year that digital, nay social, campaigns will be where elections are won or lost. While there is no debate of the power of digital marketing in today’s campaign cycles, taking a page from retail’s omni-channel marketing approach will service political marketers well in 2016. That is the science of linking social handles to email and other personally identifiable information for closed-loop campaign management. This approach allows marketers to close the loop on fundraising, volunteerism and other efforts while maximizing the social conversation.

Voter turnout for the 2014 midterm elections was apathetic and incongruous with the volume of social conversation. Yet, smoke often precedes the fire and social media will be ablaze as we round the corner into the 2016 presidential election. Marketers that learn from and build on these lessons from 2014 to create content that taps into constituents’ sense of social self, prods to action and helps complete on- and off-line CRM profiles for omni-channel marketing will be at the forefront of what it takes to thrust a campaign into a winning position.

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