Online PR and The 2012 Election: Winning an Audience in Real Time

By Brian Skarin

The 2012 election is clearly shaping up to be the first full-fledged social race. Whether you’re bi-partisan, tri-partisan or just a big fan of Rob Delaney, odds are you’ve been keeping up with the political race via some form of social media. To that end, we wanted to take a look at both candidate’s online efforts and the ways in which their PR teams have utilized digital means to compel voters and cultivate their online perception, as well as the lessons we can take away to apply to our own campaigns.

App Attack: Cultivating Data and Spreading the Word

Both candidates brought their own unique apps to the table this year, but chose to use them in decidedly different ways.

Romney utilized his app to let users be the first to know who he would choose for his VP, giving them exclusive access and allowing them to share with friends via text or social networks. In order to receive the information, users were prompted to enter their name, email and physical address, which then automatically created a personal profile on The data was presumably used to gain better insights into just who their audience is, where they’re located and their social habits in a much more comprehensive way than cold-calling or studying polls.

Obama’s namesake app focused on providing his audience with information such as local volunteer events, where to meet and discuss with fellow like-minded voters and the latest info on state voting requirements to keep his audience up to date.

Real Time Takeaways

Investing in apps can be a great resource for keeping your audience informed about exclusive announcements, providing them with incentives to keep you on their radar and collecting real data about their sharing habits. Apps also shed light on the types of content and features that are the best fit for your audience.

Reddit, Yahoo Answers and Laying It All On The Line

Obama put it all on the line by sitting down for an AMA (Ask Me Anything) with the biggest underground social network out there: Reddit. A bold move for sure, but one that garnered a massive audience, with peak traffic maxing out at over 100,000 page views per minute from almost 198,000 concurrent visitors. He personally answered questions on everything from the future of the space program to the secret recipe for the White House beer.

Of course, Romney took to Yahoo Answers months before…but you probably didn’t hear much about it. Well, because unlike Obama’s well intentioned audience, Romney was trolled. Hard. Not a misstep, per say, but a lesson in the potential for negative fallout from exposing your name to the anonymous, oftentimes devious, digital population.

Real Time Takeaways

Do you work in a unique field or have any specialists in an uncommon niche? Reddit AMA’s feature everyone from NASA scientists to Septic Tank Cleaners and tapping into their massive audience could be a great way to pique interest in your brand and generate traffic.

Consider hosting a Google+ hangout with experts or notable figures in your industry and invite your audience to take part in a live Q&A session. The ability to host a digital round table without worry about production costs or traveling schedules can be a huge load off your shoulders and allow you to approach those who you might not normally be able to convince. Once you’ve locked in a solid group with their own personal followings, they will naturally be promoting the event (and by default, you). Recently, the head brewers of Stone Brewing in San Diego & Dog Fish Head in Maryland held a Google+ hangout that was casual, fun, informative and ultimately a great piece of PR for both breweries!

Providing your audience with insight and making them feel like they’re participating in an informative discussion is how we’ve always thought it should be done, but the ease of tools like Google+ make it quicker and simpler than ever.

Guffaws and Managing the H8r’s

With the digital age upon us, each candidate is being monitored, hashtagged and analyzed to (literally) no end. Every slip of the tongue, small or large, is garnering instant feedback and discussion that must then be addressed (after which, the response is hashtagged and discussed). Rather than constantly walk on egg shells and apologize, it seems the current attitude is more about owning up and standing by their statements even when they aren’t deemed popular in the public eye.

Real Time Takeaways

Sometimes, there’s just nothing you can do but sit back and watch as a faceless mass takes you to task for something that may or may not have been preventable. The point is not to dwell on the problem, but swiftly (and publicly) resolve it. Last year, a Fed Ex employee was caught tossing a computer monitor over the recipient’s fence on tape and the video quickly went viral. Rather than ignore the issue, the Senior VP of U.S. Operations got behind the camera, personally apologized and made a conscious effort to right the wrong. Not all customer complaints will be as egregious as this, nor will they require such a dramatic response, but the lesson here is to acknowledge the wrong and have your team ready to respond with class and poise.

No matter what you believe or which side you’re on, there is no denying the influence of social on the political landscape. Thus, who knows what the future holds?

I do.

So come back in 4 years, ya dingus, and I’ll have all the answers.

Share with Your Colleagues: