Eyes On Iowa  iowa guide

You can measure social media, but can you take it anywhere?

Presidential campaigns have their first contact with actual voters Monday night in Iowa, and we might get our first real clues what’s going to work in the 2016 election, the first campaign expected to top a billion dollars in digital media spending.

Print media used to alternate two election day headlines, “It’s Up To The Voters” rotating with “Turnout Is Key.” Covering social media in the buildup to Iowa is more all over the place. Many metrics are known, but how they win results if at all really is still up to voter turnout, and for whom.

The leading candidates in both parties are pursuing very different social media campaigns.

Incredibly Loud & Not Even Close?

CNET labeled Donald Trump an “anti social media god” after his recent Iowa debate withdrawal. He dominated social media during and after the debate, and the night brought him 31,000 new Twitter and 17,000 new Facebook followers. But a study going from last March into January shows Trump may have not gained a lot from his numbers:

“we were able to not only measure a campaign website’s number of shares through social media, but also see the top retweeted tweets that were authored by the campaign. On these metrics, Donald Trump was abysmal. Although his website was shared more than 61,000 times, Cruz’s website was shared more than 580,000 times.

                                        – Lara M. Brown,  Associate Professor, George Washington University

Democrats were not in the hall for the last Iowa debate, but their people were online, and one analyst says both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders came out of the evening with more followers gained than most of the Republican field.

Ted Cruz appears to be running a much more focused social media campaign that Trump, capitalizing on the campaign’s controversial Facebook data set.

A Cruz campaign contractor “used Amazon’s crowdsourcing marketplace Mechanical Turk (MTurk) to access a large pool of Facebook profiles, hoovering up tens of thousands of individuals’ demographic data – names, locations, birthdays, genders – as well as their Facebook “likes”, which offer a range of personal insights… paying them about one dollar to take a personality questionnaire that gave access to their Facebook profiles. ..also captured the same data for each person’s unwitting friends”

A Cruz PAC poured almost $100,000 into Facebook ads this month…its spending with Facebook has intensified to around $10,000 per day for “digital media production/placement”…this kind of spending would allow the donor coalition to place an estimated 20m ads across the social network.


Youth Will Be Served

Unlike Trump, most of the Democrats campaigns are using social media to find and mobilize supporters.  One tactic has been geo-targeting  young Iowans with Snapchat filters.

The Bernie Sanders campaign presented him as a jolly arsonist, berniesnapchat_filter1_7201 while a PAC linked to trump anti  Hillary Clinton wished Donald Trump would go away.



John Kasich tried reaching for New Hampshire’s hungry youth last year  kasich Snapchat with this sizzling Snapchat filter.  He’s doing better lately than the other Granite State also rans, but it seems unlikely the bacon youthquake carried him there.

The Sanders campaign has consistently targeted young people, which is not surprising when they support him overwhelmingly. His web site is the only one pointing to the Iowa law letting 17 year-olds Caucus if they’ll be voting age by Election ‘day.  Sanders’ site challenges youth to “Prove Them Wrong” by getting involved in his campaign.  Kids gain points by drawing in their friends and can win free t-shirts and keychains.  feelthebern-keychain_grande  The campaign harvests cell phone numbers.

Caucus night rules can lead to some byzantine math. Backers of candidates under a 15% threshold lose their chance for their own candidate, but briefly become the belle of the ball as other campaigns try to win them over. Both Sanders and and Clinton’s campaigns are arming precinct captains with their own app to count heads on the fly, and party officials presiding in each precinct will have their own app to report in results.

As the campaigns move beyond Iowa we’ll likely see ever more emphasis on digital media over television.  Social media is less of a campaign conversation and more a trawling operation for volunteers, who are mobilized in turn to contact and mobilize voters stacked and prioritized according to social media and demographic criteria.  TV is almost an adjunct, creating images and video to be spread socially.

Whatever we hear or know going into the campaign year, Republican strategist Patrick Ruffini believes real facts about social media successes and failures won’t be available for a while.  “There isn’t much good information about what’s happening until the campaign is over, and then everyone jumps on the shiny object,” Ruffini says.

What social media do you think will drive the 2016 election?

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