Don’t like the election results? Have a Mulligan!

As the last votes from election 2012 trickle in, people on both sides of the political divide have moved on from their initial reactions to the election towards planning for the future.  But the questions of could-have should-have still linger in many people’s minds: could a change in effort or focus have switched the results?

To answer that, it’s good to know how close the election really was.  We all know how many votes separate the two candidates, but apart from finding 3.5 million more declared, dedicated Romney voters, what would have changed the outcome?  There’s a lot of what-ifs that people will play in their mind, and most are impossible to quantify.  But one set of what-ifs are fairly easy to model: what if the demographics of the electorate had changed?

For example, what if the african-american vote had been lower? With enough fewer votes, Romney would have won:

Click on picture to enlarge

About 4 million fewer african-american voters, and Romney could have won.

Want to play with the demographics yourself? You can!  Just visit my Election Mulligan web page:

You can test such things as changing the male/female balance in the votes, adding in more rich voters or removing poor voters, seeing what happens if more latinos vote, or reducing the youth vote.  See what it takes to put Romney in the White House (if that’s your goal) or see how really hard it would have been for Romney’s Get-Out-The-Vote efforts to overcome Obama’s impressive campaign (if you like what happened)!

It’s fun, fast, and easy,  And you may be surprised how hard it would be to change the election.

The data for this app is based upon election results updated to 11/21 and exit polls conducted at the time of the election.  Note that exit polls are subject to error, and the results of this app are purely hypothetical.

About those websites of Florida’s US Senate candidates

It’s been raining all Sunday, which killed my plans for the day.  So I grabbed something off the back burner: what the heck are the senate candidates doing for their web sites?

The amazing thing is that almost all candidate web sites look alike these days. Splash screen asking for money.  Then into the main site: Big photo on the top, sometimes with several pictures rotating through, showing the candidate. often with adoring voters. Buttons for social media, making a donation, and signing up for news letter on the top or down a side. Tweets/Facebook Likes somewhere. A menu bar with 5 or so choices.  Dark (usually blue) borders on the left and right framing the content. Some text about why the candidate is the very best one could have ever hoped for.

Click on this to enlarge

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Introducing PoliTweet, the Campaign Tweet Generator

Candidates like you have been growing their use of Social Media in the last few years, but there’s still a lot of uncertainty for many candidates about exactly what to do.  Twitter has recently come to the forefront of the news in the current presidential election cycle, but even today we are still at the very early stages of learning how to harness it to get elected.  Previous election cycles had not made as heavy use of Twitter, and so it’s still a new frontier in politics.

Twitter has grown to around 140 million subscribers, and even for smaller races there are enough people using Twitter to make it a necessity: if you don’t use Twitter to reach voters, your opponent most certainly will.  Candidates cannot afford to ignore Twitter, nor can they afford to misuse it.

Unfortunately, knowing that you should use Twitter is not the same thing as knowing how to use Twitter.  One of the goals of this web site as a whole is to explore how people are using Twitter and to measure their effectiveness:  I want to identify best (and worst) practices.  Still, it’s a long way from the analytical research to an effective guide on what to do, and reading through pages of reports is not the quickest way to get up to speed.

To fill that gap, I’ve created a new web-based application called PoliTweet.  In two steps, it  identifies your immediate needs and gives you templates you can quickly use to compose on target tweets.  By using it on an ongoing basis (at least until you are a Twitter master yourself!), you can have a Twitter feed that is constantly interesting and engaging, giving you a strong connection to your voters.

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Twitter Secrets of the Obama Campaign: #6 – First Master the Fundamentals

[For the background on this series, please see the Introduction]

So far in this series I’ve talked about many of the tricks the Obama campaign is using to get the most out of Twitter, such as tracking links, using multiple accounts, and integrating Twitter into an overall marketing campaign. While the advanced techniques are the most interesting, it still pays to heed Larry Bird’s dictum “first master the fundamentals”.  Let’s see how the Obama campaign has followed that advice and mastered Twitter fundamentals.

I’ve talked a bit about some of the Obama basics before: in the second installment of this series I talked about the diverse subjects the campaign tweets about and how and when they include links.  That post covers the content of the tweets thoroughly and is worth a review.

But even more basic than that are issues of when to tweet, how frequently to tweet, and how to use the limited space of a tweet.  These issues are driven by the unique nature of Twitter: tweets are fairly ephemeral, scrolling quickly off a feed as they’re pushed down by new ones, and tweets are tightly constrained in length and content.

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Twitter Secrets of the Obama Campaign: #3 – Twitter is Part of a Larger Plan

[For the background on this series, please see the Introduction]

For most of us who use Twitter, the content of our tweets tend to be created ad-hoc with our on the fly observations.  We read something in the newspaper, we want to point out something new on our web site, or we just want to shout at the world about something.

And it’s easy to assume that’s the way everyone else tweets too.  It is the way almost everyone tweets.  But not 100% of everyone.  Not 100% of the time.

Consider the following tweet from Barack Obama:

Seems pretty spur-of-the-moment, doesn’t it? Kind of casual: hey, just letting you know about this new video.

But it’s not.  We can see some hint of the complexity behind it in the URL in the tweet. Not really in OFA.BO/N9J3jR itself, but where it takes you to:

Holy Moly! There’s a lot of stuff in that.  What does it really mean?

Decoding this is a bit tricky, but we can puzzle it out with some understanding of how URLs work.  In a URL, everything up to the “?” is the actual URL — the location of the web page you are going to.  Everything after the “?” (called the “query string”) is extra information which is passed to the web server to help it understand where you came from and/or exactly what you want to see.

In this case, the first part of the URL says you want to go to an Obama Pride page on the campaign web site that has a video and a sign-up form.  The second part of the URL, after the “?”, is readable enough that we can guess, with confidence, that it tells the Obama campaign that you got to the page via @BarackObama’s May 24th tweet on the topic. 

To see a bit more of how this works, consider a Facebook update that describes the same video:

The URL in this post, http://OFA.BO/pAtLAo, expands to:

Same base URL, same sign-up page with a video. But this time the extra information tells the campaign that you clicked on the May 23rd Facebook post on Barack Obama’s Facebook page.

By capturing the information about where you started out, the campaign can compile detailed statistics about what is working and what is not.  That allows them to adjust their messaging in the future to make sure they are always getting the best results they can from social media.

While it may have been in reading the tweet that we first noticed this topic, writing the tweet was the end point for the Obama campaign.  Instead, they started with the goal in mind — geting people to sign up for Obama Pride.  They created the web site page to do the sign-up, commissioned a video to help convince people, and then planned out how to promote the sign-up process in a variety of places.  They created a system to track what tweet or post  got people to visit.  And only then did they create the tweet, the Facebook update, etc.  And, far from being a casual creation, they put the same kind of care into crafting the tweet that they did in creating the system behind it. (In subsequent posts, we’ll actually see some of the incredible attention to detail that goes into tweeting by the campaign).

Here’s the key point: Although this blog series is focused on Twitter, Twitter should only be one channel in your social media marketing efforts.  You need to coordinate your efforts across the various social channels (Email, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc.).

The big question, then, is how do you apply these techniques ourselves, especially if you don’t have the resources of the Obama campaign?   You can still create an informal marketing campaign, even in pencil and paper, or in Excel, that has all the qualities of a top-notch campaign.  And if you’re willing to invest in some not-too-expensive software, you can begin to automate your management of marketing campaigns.

For an informal campaign, you need to generally think about the following steps:

  1. Define your goals.

    You could be looking to convince people of a point, or have some sort of call to action (volunteer, donate, sign-up at the web site, etc.).  You need to now what you want people to do in response to your messages.  (Sometimes, though, the answer is  very simple like “get a laugh”, which is just fine!)

    In the Obama example, they are looking for people to join the “Obama Pride” list by having people to identify themselves as being interested in this topic.

  2. Identify who are you trying to reach.

    Just saying “everyone I can” or “all the voters” is probably not right. Odds are your message resonates to a subgroup of people.  The reason to identify that group is to help you in crafting a message that will best catch their attention, like picking the right hashtags in Twitter.  

    In the example used above, the audience is clearly the LGBT community.  The Obama team used both the name of a Twitter user and a hashtag to try to  get their target audience to read and react to the message.

  3. Create your supporting media and tools.

    These are your web pages, sign up lists, videos, articles, photos, etc. that you want people to pay attention to.  At the very least you can create a custom landing page on your web site.  This allows you to capture statistics on a page by page basis for your web site, so you’ll be able to see how people come to and interact with your website.  With WordPress, which I know many candidates use, the free gives you a wealth of information.

    For Obama’s campaign above, a video was created where the President aligns himself with the LGBT community and a custom page with sign-up list that allows people to register their interest.

  4. Identify the channels you want to market through (Twitter, Facebook, etc.).

    Usually, the answer is Yes to all of them, but with Pinterest you need a strong graphical element — make sure you have one.
    The Obama campaign did not have a a pin on Pinterest for this campaign.  I am not sure if that was an oversight or intentional.  But they do have lots of other pins there that bring people into the fold.

  5. Craft a unique message or messages for each channel that takes full advantage of whatever tools and capabilities the channel has.

    Some channels, like Twitter, work best when you test variations of the same message over a brief time span, while others do not (Facebook starts to look bad with repetitive messaging on the same topic).  

    In Secret #1, I show an example of how the Obama campaign tried two different Twitter messages that led to the same page.  In the example on this page, you see how the text is different between Twitter and Facebook.

  6. Make sure you use all the tricks of tracking URLS (Secret #1) to gauge your response from the various online channels.
  7. Launch!
  8. Measure your responses and compare them to your expectations.

    Determine what worked and what didn’t, and use that as feedback into your next planning cycle.

For a business, it is very likely that you will adopt “big” marketing campaign software that automates a lot of the work here.  That’s beyond the scope of this series, but suffice it say that there are a wide variety of social media applications that offer various ways of approaching the problem.  For most politicians, acquiring custom software is not so likely — until you get to the senatorial or presidential level, where big budgets allow for dedicated marketing staff and deployment of expensive software. I continue to recommend Hootsuite for managing social media communications as a great starting point.  It’s free and it works with a variety of social media networks. Still, if your campaign adopts a CRM tool like Oracle’s or SalesForce’s, then you may want to experiment with true marketing campaigns. As an example, the Romney Campaign has been using Salesforce since the 2008 presidential campaign.

Regardless of the complexity of your tools, the key is to think at the campaign level, not at the tweet level, and lay the groundwork for your tweets in advance.  If you only create tweets on the fly, you’ll fall far short of what you could achieve with solid advanced planning. There is a time an place for ad-hoc tweets (pictures of crowds at an event, for example, or replies to supporters), but you should also have a focus on proper marketing campaign planning and management.

Keep up to date with future updates to this series by following me on Twitter and/or subscribing to updates to this website. To see all posts in this series, visit the overview page.