Techies on both sides of the Atlantic are keeping a close eye on the digital media programmes of the candidates in this year’s US Presidential elections.
Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign won plaudits for its pioneering use of online tools for fundraising and mobilizing supporters. More than 2 million people created profiles on the MyBarackObama site, and the campaign put together a database of 13 million e-mail addresses that was used to send targeted messages.
The technological landscape has continued to evolve rapidly over the last four years. Almost half of adult Americans now own a smartphone, and the number of Facebook users in the USA has risen from under 40 million in 2008 to over 160 million in 2012. Mobile and data are widely expected to be two of the frontiers in the digital battleground for Americans’ votes and donations this year.
The Obama for America digital team is planning “myriad ways to harness digital tools to connect with voters” according to the techPresident blog. The Romney campaign promised people who had downloaded their smartphone app that they would be “the first to find out” about his choice of running mate.
A first taste of the digital media strategy of both campaigns was provided by the parties’ Conventions earlier this month. Both events featured streaming video and several million comments on Twitter and other social media platforms.
I spoke recently with Brussels-based blogger Kattebel (check her out on her blog and on Twitter) who attended the Democratic National Convention as a volunteer in the party’s press team. She described some of the ways that the Obama campaign is using digital media to encourage people to register to vote, including her favourite online video “The Story of Fired up! Ready to go!”.
Kattebel told me that, although the press team for the Convention included a group of people working specifically on social media, this was less of a talking point for the 2012 campaign simply because social media have become such an integrated part of communication during the last four years.
This reminded me of a New York Times article that described how, at the Republican National Convention, “it seems the new media has decided that it wants to be the old media, and the old media has decided that it wants to be the new media”.
There are sure to be some interesting digital media innovations during the 2012 Presidential elections. But I wonder whether the bigger lessons to draw from the campaign might be that digital media are now a central part of mainstream communication, that the distinction between “traditional” and “new” media is blurring, and that using digital media effectively requires a social mindset.