Elections Will Turn on Which Candidates Use Social Sharing Most Effectively

Politicians Have the Tools, but Do Campaigns Know How to Cash in?

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Eighty percent of House and Senate members have social-media accounts, according to the Associated Press. That's 5% more than among millennials -- the key demographic of 18-29 year olds. Even more surprising, Congress has adopted Twitter far more widely than any other group recently surveyed by Pew Research: 81 percent of the House and Senate's 433 members use the platform, as against only 18 percent of 18-29 year-olds.

With a presidential election approaching next year, the question is , what will politicians do with these tools? How will President Obama capitalize on the fact that 23 million-plus people "like" his Facebook page? How will Mitt Romney reach new voters via his more than 93,000 Twitter followers? Politicians have the tools in place, but can they use them effectively?

The most successful candidates will use social-media sharing at every step of their campaigns. This is not just about the swapping of virtual campaign buttons on Facebook, which the Obama campaign promoted in 2008. It means engaging communities of likely supporters in conversations across the Web -- on every possible device. This campaign cycle will not be about clicks, but targeted communications that can be messaged instantly, based on real-time information.

Step One: Build a Constituency

By using today's sophisticated ad networks to understand early supporters' online sharing patterns, political campaigns can spread not only targeted ads, but content that recipients will likely want to circulate peer-to-peer. It is vital to use the entire open Web; only about a third of sharing is happening on Twitter and Facebook.

Step Two: Create Momentum , Drive Discussion

Campaigns are long roads with many stages and twists; a media darling today may be road kill tomorrow. Candidates need to micro-target their base via a steady drumbeat of news, events and opinions focused on what the specific audience wants to hear. They can track in real time how recipients react to their news and that of their competitors, using sophisticated ad-network tools to see how much of it they share -- or don't share.

Social media is all about word of mouth. It's key to share only the most relevant information with each constituent group. They'll be more likely to "share" links to content explicitly designed for them.

While hyperlinking to everything and anything can help spread the word, campaigns should avoid spray-and-pray advertising. It's much more efficient to track and capitalize on social interactions as they are happening. We share things that we have a vested interest in, are personal and are relevant to our friends. Calls to action should be part of the package; supporters want to help -- and to act.

But a word of warning: don't expect voters to automatically click on ads. People don't click unless they're given a strong reason to do so, such as a sharing option. Consumers want information they can easily share and view without going somewhere else -– all from within an ad.

Step Three: The Home Stretch

Calls to action are most important in a campaign's final days and hours. The social web can help get the vote out in ways never before possible -- with tweeters checking in from various polling stations, for example, or interactive get-out- the-vote display ads. Phone banking and street -sign waving can't compete with the scale of that type of sharing.

Now or Never

Studies show that both major political parties' use of social media is neck-and-neck. Which will execute better and emerge as the people's choice will undoubtedly come down to which campaign understands sharing best.

Gurbaksh Chahal is founder and CEO of RadiumOne..
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