07 February 2008

Social Media Passes a Test

The campaigns have plowed through Super Tuesday and they're moving on to Louisiana, Kansas (for Republicans), Washington and Maine. The "national primary" is over, and social media has passed a critical test. The proof is in the voter turnout - not simply in size, but in composition - and in the level of investment voters have made in the campaigns.

It's no secret that the Obama campaign has been particularly aggressive in using social media tools to reach voters and pull them to the polls. It's also no secret that turnout among young voters - the most active consumers of social media - has skyrocketed, and they're voting for Senator Obama. (Those whispers you're hearing about a McCain-Huckabee ticket are from people looking at how young people respond to the former Governor.)

Are social media tools creating high turnout? Absolutely not. There are a million different reasons someone gets motivated to vote, and I doubt any of them begin with the word, "MySpace." But these tools are absolutely critical to that campaign's success.

We've known for decades, even centuries, that young people filter information through their peers. This filter makes the information more credible and approachable. That's what social networks do.

While some might think social network utilities like MySpace are just a techie-based wedge to give nerds their own secret club, they're actually filters that break down barriers of communication. They expand access to information. They give consumers some ownership of that information. And the marketing guru-types will tell you when someone feels ownership over something, they're more likely to act.

The tools the campaign has chosen are strategically consistent with the messaging his campaign has developed. "We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change we seek." These statements align perfectly with a communications platform designed for user-generated content. They resonate with a generation that talks back; they appeal to groups that talk with each other.

No, I'm not "endorsing" Senator Obama - as if that would influence anyone. Notice that Senator Clinton's speech Tuesday night (you can find video of both Sen. Clinton's and Sen. Obama's remarks here) has plenty of "we" in it. Remember that a majority of this enormous turnout on the Democratic side voted for her. Her campaign uses social media tools as well. I just don't think they're appealing to the small-donor masses that the Obama campaign reaches.

You know, the small-donor online masses that accounted for $28 million of the record-obliterating $32 million the Obama campaign raised in January alone, compared to $13.5 million for the Clinton campaign. About 170,000 new contributors. In a month.

Micah Sifry says the Internet is the reason Senator Clinton is not the presumptive nominee for President in the Democratic Party. The Internet isn't the reason people vote for Senator Obama, but I certainly agree it's the reason more people have heard his message. It's definitely the reason more people have been able to contribute more money to him in a one-month period than any candidate in human history.

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