Targeting the Persuadable Voter: A Digital Campaign Success Story
Today’s content-saturated media environment requires great flexibility, speed, and vigilance in order to remain relevant, let alone influential, in the news or online conversation. What was once fledgling technology in 2008—Facebook, Twitter (Social) and smart-phones (mobile)— have propelled political campaigns forward by light years. As technology changes, so do users and their expectations. As a result, techniques and technology that worked brilliantly four years and even four months ago might yield unsuccessful results today.
Clearly, the political landscape in American Presidential elections is focused on getting out the vote; and, what is of critical importance is reaching undecided voters, or persuadables. Data, technology and social innovation are crucial to targeting these voters and building broad-based support.
A prime example of this is the second sweeping victory of U.S. President Barack Obama – a win that was significantly fueled by his campaign’s sophisticated use of technology and data science to convert millions of everyday people into vocal supporters, donors and volunteers. Obama has changed how political campaigns engineer victory.
For example, here are a few important strategic digital takeaways from the Obama campaign.
- By combining social media and micro-targeting at the scale that the Obama campaign did, the campaign broke through inertia and motivated people to get involved in the campaign by contributing, volunteering and sharing with their friends and family on and offline.
- To drive efficiency, the Obama campaign understood the platforms in which the campaigns persuadable (target) voters were at online; who (other than Obama) resonated with them; and crafted and shaped meaningful hooks of engagement at the appropriate online destination points.
- To drive success, the Obama campaign had a 360-degree view of the persuadable voter, which gave Obama the winning edge. This 360 view resulted from smart data science, collected and synthesized by the target voter’s demographic, psychographic, social graph, consumer preferences and purchasing power. Obama’s campaign built a database system that filtered this data from a wide array of sources so that the right volunteer reached out to the right person, at the right time, with the right message. Essentially matching volunteers with undecided voters—veteran with veteran, young with old, neighbor with neighbor. Because of the granular micro-targeting capabilities, Obama succeeded where others had failed.
Essentials of Digital Campaign Success
A dynamic, engaging digital campaign has many moving parts. Tools, tactics, and real-time intelligence fuel the trajectory of the efforts, and OFA continuously refined and recalibrated the digital campaign strategy to build support.
Obama’s Campaign Hub of 2008 Morphed into a Social-Mobile-Driven Platform
Both campaign’s tailored “mobile-ready” robust websites, with social media integration and sharing capabilities, allowed for seamless information sharing and produced trackable user metrics (data) to glean insights from. The central campaign “hubs” allowed both campaigns to connect with potential supporters and influence the online discussion.
The campaign websites helped manage the content flow, kept unrelated news from infiltrating the site and created a sense of community among like-minded voters.
Empowered at the kitchen table and online increased overall micro-targeting effectiveness.
Empowering and mobilizing others to serve as online messengers for the campaign was a crucial component to the word of mouth aspect for both Romney and Obama teams. The Campaigns relied on people interacting online and most importantly discussing their viewpoints with their family and neighbors. Using mobile and social media technology helped ensure up-to-the-minute, easily digested campaign messages were sent and received (on time) and were of particular importance for the campaign when persuading undecided audiences. What’s more, social and mobile tools were equally important for countering opposition statements and helped both candidates stave-off real-time media misinformation (as much as possible).
Romney and Obama’s digital teams were able to block and tackle by way of sound social media and mobile communications strategies. In fact, Obama’s social teams use of Twitter from engaging and building influence on the micro-blogging platform in the months leading up to voting day, and during the late hours of the day to motivate voters to stay in line, was a first. A first for any political campaign to use its online prowess to resonate highly targeted messages on a socially fueled mobile connected platform, to a segment of the population was essential in ensuring messages were sent and delivered in real-time to voters in battleground states while Obama’s supporters waited in line to vote. It was noted that the Romney’s campaigns apathy was a clear sign of less engagement with the younger voting segment on social:
“In this case, Obama’s influence on Twitter trumped Romney’s, whether measured through followers or lists. The president had 178,641 public lists following his official Twitter handle, while Romney had 12,773. The combined number of users following those lists gave Obama an even greater lead on the GOP nominee, with 1,680,596 to 8,302 public list followers.” The Hill, 10/31/12
Targeting Undecided Voters
Identifying undecided voters, or persuadables, is key to campaign success. What’s imperative is the efficient and tested use of data science and tools to find them online and effectively deliver authentic and authoritative messages. Like developing a meaningful offline relationship, authority is preceded by authentic one-to-one contact. The decision-making process requires dialogue that spurs attention, an interest in the subject matter, and a desire to learn more; thus, potentially translating to a tangible action. Social and mobile technology have streamlined and advanced the human decision-making process so dramatically, what took countless resources and millions of dollars in media impressions to ingrain the candidate’s name in the mind of the voter in the 20th Century can all be done in a matter of minutes online through compelling messages by messengers on relevant platforms.
To drive efficiency, campaigns must understand the platforms persuadable voters are using; who (other than the candidate) resonates with them; and, craft and shape meaningful hooks of engagement at that destination point.
For instance, Obama’s team seized a data-driven opportunity during the late stages of the 2012 U.S. Presidential campaign by zeroing in on turnout targets on the social news website Reddit. Essentially the campaign’s data pointed to the social news site as an online destination, or “hangout,” for a large segment of Obama’s persuadables. Obama’s appearance not only reached the target audience; it also captured national mainstream press and social media attention by trending on Twitter during the opposition party’s national meeting, the Republican National Convention. Data analysis pointed to Reddit. Data analysis gave the Obama campaign an opportunity to strike at the heart of the Romney campaign during the most crucial point in Romney’s path to securing the Republican Party’s trust and support.
We are highly aware that each campaign is its own unique animal, but as the campaign examples show, digital has never been more dynamic or important to directing the discourse and outcomes of modern elections.