Ever since the 2008 US election was dubbed “the Facebook election” pundits have been desperate to call the next big thing in the way political campaigns reach voters.
Will 2016 be the Snapchat election? The Twitter election? The meme election?
Harper Reed is sceptical. “I think when people say it’s going to be the ‘X election they’re usually wrong’,” he says. “We could probably just pick one and they will run with it — it will be the WhatsApp election or whatever.”
Reed was Obama’s CTO for the 2012 re-election campaign, charged with overseeing the President’s digital strategy and constructing a huge software programme that could distribute information about Democrat voters to the network of volunteers on the ground. It was a huge success.
But to make it a succeed, Reed says, the team had to to cover all bases.
He says: “If you’re a millennial, maybe it’s the Snapchat election. But if you’re 45-65 maybe it’s the Facebook election. If you’re a Twitter user, maybe it’s the Twitter election. In the US, it’s all about turnout, which means you have to appeal to every single democrat to get them to vote. No one says, ‘Is this going to be the telephone election?’ [But] That’s still going.”
“If you look back to when they said it was the Facebook election, it was really just the tip of an iceberg. You don’t see the biggest part of it. Sometimes what you’ve seen as a participant or an observer is just one tenths or one hundreds of the tools that are being used.”
Campaigns won’t just adopt new platforms like Snapchat or WhatsApp because they’re there, Reed says.
“I can only speak to the Democrat side but for the Democrats everything is aggressively measured and what that means is if you’re going to use Snapchat, you’re going to use it for a reason, not just for fun,” he says.
“The digital team who were running Twitter, they weren’t just going to put out a tweet for fun. They’re going to try and figure out how do we measure the impact. Then they’d tweet it and if it worked, great.”
But one big trend Reed is predicting is a rise in interaction from candidates on various social media platforms, rather than just using the sites as megaphones.
He says: “You already see that now, Hilary’s campaign is interacting with other candidates, whether it’s Jeb and talking s**t or just other candidates.
“In 2012 it was a lot like display advertising — I would say something on Twitter and you would look at it. Now, if I tweet something, someone might reply to it and I might reply to that. That’s really where the magic is.
“It used to be that the only person who would make statements were the press secretaries, but now they’re writing whole articles about Twitter streams.”
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