How campaigning has changed in the digital era
Knocking on doors, sending robocalls and passing out fliers may soon be relics of the political campaigns of yesteryear, as social media and digital technology become more vital to election strategies.
This year, those factors have played a significant role in the mayoral race, as the campaigns for Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota tweet, Instagram and Facebook on their road to City Hall.
De Blasio has run the most effective campaign on social media of any mayoral candidate, and has been about twice as effective as the second-best campaign, according to a new study by Baruch College and communications consultancy Hill+Knowlton Strategies.
De Blasio scored 92 out of 100 on the study's Digital Engagement Index, which analyzed and then scored each candidates' presence on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, email and YouTube.
"All of his emails and all of his social content had a really good voice," H&K CTO Josh Hendler said at a recent panel discussing the study, adding that de Blasio's use of digital media so far has been "very Obama-esque."
"I think the old-school practices of having precinct captains and printing out walk lists has really fundamentally changed," he said.
Hendler added that the "traditional field campaign" has been permanently disrupted.
"All this has really changed how we campaign and how we actually get voters to the polls," he said. "Everything has changed."
Indeed, social media and technology have shifted the way campaigns attack the problem of connecting with voters, as candidates for office can no longer ignore the impact social media can have, experts said.
"Obama was the first major candidate to really utilize a digital strategy on a national level, and it was so effective, and so many candidates are now using the Internet to reach young people," said Christina Greer, an assistant professor of political science at Fordham University.
"Nowadays you need a social presence whether you want to or not. There's so many voters and potential voters who only or mostly communicate in social media, and to leave those out could be devastating to a campaign," Greer said.
She added that techniques from traditional campaign strategies may be even counter-productive, as robocalls and mailers become increasingly passé and aggressively disliked by potential voters.
The de Blasio campaign seems to have taken this idea to heart. Whereas social media wasn't a priority during his 2009 run for public advocate, it is now baked into the structure of the mayoral campaign, according to his digital director Jesse Singleton and campaign adviser Rebecca Katz.
"The point of digital, bottom line: It's a value-added way for people to use digital tools to take ownership of the campaign and take action in a way that makes most sense for them," said Singleton, a 2012 Barack Obama re-election campaign veteran.
"The central challenge of a digital program is to bring people in online and organize them to take action offline," she said. "That's our value added to the field program," she said, adding that they "raised a lot of money online."
Singleton said social media is an "important piece of the overall campaign infrastructure," and that the de Blasio campaign has emphasized having "fresh, exciting content and ways of telling the story of the campaign in a way that resonates with people."
"It's a way of democratizing the way campaigns are run," she said.
The de Blasio campaign's most successful moment in social media was a tweet that retweeted nearly 270 time that read: "NYC is home to over 389,000 millionaires and 400,000 residents who fall below the poverty line. #taleoftwocities."
Katz, who helped in de Blasio's public advocate campaign in 2009, said social media back then "didn't drive the campaign the way it does now."
"It wasn't front and center. It was an afterthought," she said. Now "digital is in the room when all the important decisions are happening, and in 2009 it was a small part of the communications operation."
Lhota's campaign didn't respond to an interview request.
Eric Covino, president and founder of social media and communications strategy firm Creative Signals, said social media has changed the relationship between candidates and voters in ways that were unimaginable even just a few years ago.
"If your goal is to attract that younger vote, a diverse ethnic vote, then you better be online and you better be mobile and there better be a clear strategy," Covino said, adding that anything and everything to do with a candidate can end up online.
Candidates "have to be cognizant that everything you do could all come back to your social media campaign whether you want it to or not," Covin said, singling out Anthony Weiner's scuffle in a diner that went viral on YouTube.
Covino added that de Blasio's campaign has the upper hand over Lhota online, especially with the former's use of the hashtag #taleoftwocities.
Still, assistant political science professor Greer cautioned: Candidates "may live on social media, but it's not a slam dunk. A big audience doesn't correlate with turnout."
Bill de Blasio’s social media game is unmatched by any other candidate, according to a study from Baruch College and Hill + Knowlton Strategies. The study graded each of the primary candidates and scored their use of Instagram,
Facebook, Twitter, email and YouTube.
Here were the results:
Bill de Blasio
Instagram: 5 points out of 5