Coakley Ignores Obama's Digital-Media Playbook in Massachusetts

Republican Scott Brown Trumping Democrats in Search, Social Marketing

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- President Barack Obama redefined political campaigning with a digital media strategy that took full advantage of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. But those lessons appear to have been lost on fellow Democrat Martha Coakley, who is facing an uphill battle to win the Massachusetts senate seat formerly held by Sen. Edward Kennedy.

Martha Coakley has been using old-school techniques to get out the vote -- and may pay for it.
Martha Coakley has been using old-school techniques to get out the vote -- and may pay for it. Credit: FP/Saul LOEB
The latest polls were giving Republican state Sen. Scott Brown an edge over the Massachusetts attorney general on the eve of the election, but online, there's really no contest: It's all Brown all the time.

It's not yet clear how visibility in social media translates to votes (even Mr. Obama's camp credited e-mail and direct marketing as the most effective online tactic), but Mr. Brown has been aggressive on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, while Ms. Coakley has been, well, nowhere. On Twitter, @scottbrownMA has 10,765 followers vs. @MarthaCoakley with 3,657; on Facebook, it's 83,535 friends to 15,573; and on YouTube, Mr. Brown has a souped-up channel with 675,208 views, while videos posted by the Coakley campaign have been viewed 76,805 times.

'Ted Kennedy techniques'
Critically, the Coakley campaign isn't using the social tools at their disposal. Mr. Obama visited Massachussets last weekend to rally support for Ms. Coakley, but David Meerman Scott, a Coakley supporter, said he was surprised the campaign didn't let anyone know about the rally on Twitter.

Mr. Scott, author of "The New Rules of Marketing and PR," who attended the event at Northeastern University, said the campaign asked students to volunteer at a phone bank, post yard signs and the like, but didn't mention their likely primary means of communication, Facebook, invented in a dorm room across the Charles River at Harvard.

"It was all old-school ways of getting people to spread the word. It felt like they were trying to win Ted Kennedy's seat using Ted Kennedy's techniques," Mr. Scott said.

Aggressive on search
In addition to TV and radio ads, Google said the Brown campaign had been spending aggressively on search keywords, in addition to Gmail ads, YouTube in-video ads and paid, promoted videos. Over the weekend, the Brown campaign launched a Google network display campaign targeting voters across the state.

A Google spokesman said Mr. Brown was getting nearly twice as many searches as Ms. Coakley in Massachussets, and three-times the number of searches nationwide, perhaps as Americans try to find out something about the little-known state senator who will soon have an outsized impact on the health-care debate.

If elected, Mr. Brown has committed to be the 41st senate vote against the president's health-care plan, while Ms. Coakley would be the 60th vote in favor.

Online popularity misleading
Online measures of popularity can be notoriously misleading; just ask any member of the especially loud Conan O'Brien support group, which has dominated Twitter (#teamconan) and other networks but didn't show up to watch TV when the late-night host needed them most. And they can be especially misleading in politics, when friends and followers from around the country can coalesce around a candidate, despite not being eligible to vote in the race.

Until Friday, the Coakley campaign had spent nothing on Google and any search on "Coakley," "Brown" or the Massachusetts senate race were turning up ads for the Brown campaign. The Democratic National Committee started buying keyword ads on Friday, a Google spokesperson said, and by late Monday, the day before polls open, Ms. Coakley was getting top placement on Google.

The Coakley camp also doubled-down on TV and web video with an ad starring Obama endorsing her at the Boston rally. The Brown campaign, meanwhile, launched thevoterbomb.com, allowing voters to pledge how many voters they will personally ensure show up at the polls on Tuesday.

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