Social media campaigns: Successes and failures

As we head into the 2010 elections, a lot of candidates, especially Republicans, are attempting to build on Obama’s successes from 2008. And there were some important lessons to be learned: Obama’s campaign forced many of us to rethink how successful political campaigns can be run. In particular, Obama’s use of social networking and video-sharing websites provided a template for future campaigns.

Some candidates have used these social networking ideas successfully, although perhaps none with so much acclaim as Sarah Palin. Slate claims she is “the most successful adopter on Facebook,” but also points out that many Republican heavy-weights, including Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, are moving to take advantage of these new opportunities to communicate with voters.  Meanwhile, Time magazine praises a new Palin advertisement, which she posted both on her Facebook page and on her YouTube channel, as marking her as a real player in both the 2010 elections and the 2012 presidential campaign. And her advertisement does appear to be effective: it has a clear target audience (American moms) and a clear appeal (anti-DC policies).

But that doesn’t mean that all candidates have been equally successful in harnessing the power of social networking. My current favorite isn’t a big-name politician, so maybe it isn’t fair to compare their efforts to Palin’s, who surely benefits from many consultants advising her in her campaign. However, no one should produce an advertisement this bad and still expect it to benefit their campaign. Perhaps the candidate believed that emulating “Glee” would endear them to younger voters, but this candidate needed to think much more carefully about who he is targeting and what message he is trying to convey.

Ultimately, what makes a good social media campaign is the same thing that makes any good campaign: a clear target and a clear message.


  1. I’m surprised to see Republican candidates using “social” media to get ahead… after all, don’t their biggest supporters flee in terror when hearing the word “social” attached to anything?

  2. Nice comment Hans, very funny.

    Social media probably won’t work for many politicians. What if you go on a page, youtube for example, to watch this Sarah Palin video. In the related links you see news items about how she does not pay taxes on property in Alaska, uses her power to get people into or out of trouble, and other general misuse of power and “DC” type politics. The Internet is awesome, but the double edged nature of it will hurt some politicians in the long run.

    • That’s an interesting point that you bring up, John, but one of the things that we know about how people use the Internet is that a lot of people attempt to seek out information that agrees with them. So it is the people who already agree who are likely to join Palin’s (or any other politician’s) Facebook page, follow her on Twitter, and watch her YouTube channel.

      As to your second point: yes, there is still the potential for cross-cutting exposure through those sites, but how likely are these links to be to the oppositional viewpoints? What is in the best interest of the site itself? Much like advertisements, I would think many sites are likely to want to keep viewers engaged with the site by appealing to their interests – often meaning showing them other links they think the viewers will like, a la

      That said, when I click go to the YouTube page with the Palin ad, the top link that comes up for me is a trailor for Zombieland…I’m not sure what that says about the potential for candidates to use social networking, but it does suggest that people can end up in a very different location from where they started, at least on YouTube.

    • Thanks Jasun. That just goes to show you that candidates in BOTH parties are capable of making really bad campaign commercials. Although I don’t remember hearing the candidate endorsement – is it possible that this is a fake ad or an attack ad that looks like it is sponsored by the candidate (and looking at the “credits” bolsters this possibility)? Although this has always been a concern, the Internet is likely to make such “jokes” much easier.

      Another interesting about this video is the attempt to address some of the Greene’s downsides. Not many ads that I’ve seen have mentioned that the candidate is unemployed and lives with their parents – at least not promotional, rather than attack ads. I wonder if addressing concerns that are likely to come up in this way can diffuse them – or just make people even less likely to listen to this candidate (or if this is more evidence of a prank).

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