The 2013 General Elections in Bhutan saw social media playing a major role with supporters of both parties using it in both positive and negative ways.
This seems to be part of a global trend with the United States Presidential race, since 2008, being the global trendsetter with both Democratic and Republican parties using various platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc to not only reach multiple users but also recruit volunteers, raise money and get the votes.
Of the two, the Democratic party gained the upper hand in both the 2008 and 2012 Presidential elections by adapting faster to the technology and using it well to connect with younger voters.
This time around the tables appear to have been turned as the biggest beneficiary of the social media phenomena is the Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has effectively mastered it to get his message out, dominate the news cycle, attack his rivals and rally his supporters.
The Democratic Party in 2008 and 2012 gained the edge in large part due to the efforts of ‘Blue State Digital,’ a company dedicated to building online communities that support a cause and can be mobilized.
Nate Byer, Strategy Director of Blue State Digital said that the company started off with working on political campaign trails in USA, UK, France etc. It has now branched into working for some of the world’s leading brands, non-profit groups and advocacy groups.
The company using the online world has sent 31 billion emails, raised USD 1.7 bn from 28 mn contributors and helped win five different Presidential elections.
The 2008 Presidential race was notable for how Obama used the online community to rally support and also raise money.
Nate explained that Obama did this by adapting faster to social media and making it his very own platform.
It worked with the people on the other end as it empowered them and gave them an avenue to contribute to the campaign in any way they could.
Nate explained that the genius of the process was in converting ordinary people on the net into volunteers, donors and advocates, putting digital at the center of everything the campaign did and harnessing the groundswell support and channeling it in productive ways.
The Obama campaign using the company’s help created an interactive website that allowed supporters to connect with one another and also contribute.
Two million profiles were created, USD 30 mn was raised and 70,000 fundraising pages were created. There were also 35,000 online volunteer groups created along with 200,000 offline events and 400,000 blog posts.
As a result, in the Obama versus Mc Cain campaign Obama enjoyed double the website traffic, four times the you tube viewers, had five times more Facebook friends and had ten times more online staff mostly in the form of volunteers.
Creative Director of Blue State Media, Danielle Kantor said that in the 2012 campaign social media had become much bigger with more users, more options and as a result more noise.
She described it as an ‘old dog with new tricks’.
In 2012 too social media was used to reach to an audience that was unreachable on traditional campaign channels.
Special effort was made to ensure a two way communication with Obama even taking part in and answering chat room questions despite the reservations of some of his staff.
In that way the online community not only got to know Obama better but it also created a direct and authentic voice for them. Supporters who would have otherwise been unable to participate could use the web to be a part of the campaign.
The game in 2016 has become much more competitive, faster and also more expensive on the social media front.
Social Media and Communication Strategist, Brooke Miller said that while in 2012 candidates spent under USD 40 mn the expenditure estimated this time around would be USD 1 bn which is a 25 fold jump.
She explained that the expenses came in as social media outlets like Facebook, for example, enabled more people to be reached for a fee. Otherwise, research showed that even if a candidate has many likes his message reaches only a minor fraction of his supporters.
Brooke and Nate both emphasized the importance of campaigns becoming content creators online. Nate said that good content would still attract people online.
Giving the example of the Bernie Sanders campaign of ‘Feel the Bern,’ Brooke said that it had become important for online campaigns to be authentic and conversational rather than preachy and one sided.
Brooke also focused on how Donald Trump had managed to effectively use the social media to upstage traditional media and also create his own news cycle. She said that even the media was no longer waiting only for press conferences but using the social media messages of candidates to come up with stories.
She said that at the current pace of development important considerations that needed to be asked was on the role of media in future elections, the new platforms that would be used and if social media platforms would move even more towards pay to play mediums in effect becoming advertising mediums.
An interesting fact revealed by the company was how campaigns could now use the online world to access more detailed data on their voters down to their preferences. They said that many online companies already collect information on their users and then sell it on to others.
They gave the example of a daughter found out to be pregnant by her father when baby diapers promotion mail was sent based on the internet search history of the daughter.
Nate said that in dealing with trolls it was important to build online support and he said that people anyhow are smart enough to know that what the trolls are saying is not true.