Magazine article Politics Magazine

Social Media & the GOP: A Work in Progress

Magazine article Politics Magazine

Social Media & the GOP: A Work in Progress

Article excerpt

Virginia Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell achieved a resounding victory with a campaign that deployed a full-court press on the Internet. But the GOP's embrace of social media wasn't isolated to the top of the ticket in Virginia's 2009 races. Does this mean Republicans have achieved parity or does a "digital gap" exist between the parties? While some Republicans may feel that they've caught up, we argue that the GOP still needs to boost its efforts at all levels to continue closing the gap.

Most Republican candidates made a good show of maintaining a Facebook presence, a good number tweeted with some regularity and there was a fair amount of activity on YouTube, Flickr and other social media services. Social media was a "must do" item on the checklist for Virginia campaigns this year--in part because of the success of the Obama campaign, and in part because the media, the party chiefs and the activists all said campaigns needed to embrace social media--but there was no corresponding understanding of why these tools could be so useful or how they might even change the operation of a campaign. We saw a lot of campaigns jumping into the stream, but without any understanding of how to swim.

We see three primary payoffs from social media: money, messaging and mobilizing. Without getting into the details, we can say that campaigns that focused their efforts on achieving tangible results in these areas generally saw greater success with social media and their overall campaigns. Which brings us to another critical aspect of understanding social media: metrics. As Mindy Finn discusses in her recent article, "McDonnell Online Strategy: People Matter," it's important for campaigns not to focus on the top-line numbers of website hits or Facebook fans. It's what these people do--and more importantly, what the campaign is able to direct them to do--that campaigns need to monitor and measure.

Working with multiple Virginia Republican delegate campaigns this year gave us a first hand look at this dilemma--candidates up and down the ticket were eager to employ various social media tools, but they often came up short in committing the time and effort required to realize their hill potential. We see three key challenges to overcome for 2010.

Spending on action, not technology: We've seen a lot of "flashy" websites that didn't really do much (except waste money and frustrate the campaign manager who couldn't even post a simple announcement without waiting on a web consultant). …

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