Searching for Votes: How the Internet Influenced the Race

From efforts to "brand hijack" to search results that favored the president, search engines and social media played a bigger role in the 2012 election than you might think.

No matter who you vote for today, the winner of this election might be the internet.

The 2012 election campaign played out all over blogs, social media, and search engines in a way never seen before the current race — with new frontiers and a new level of maturity for marketing created in the process.

The 2012 election campaign played out all over blogs, social media, and search engines in a way never seen before the current race.

As we pointed out earlier, email marketing has reached a new level of sophistication in this campaign. And social media can play a role in predicting outcomes, according to a recent infographic by StateTech.

But what sort of campaign narratives played out on the digital frontier? And what can we learn from them? Here’s a roundup:

Advertising against your competitor: Search for Obama on Google or Facebook, and you get ads for Romney. Search for Romney on Google, and you get ads for Obama. This form of advertising, which both campaigns have spent thousands of dollars on, can cause confusion and frustration for users. “We might view it as not presidential enough,” Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman told Bloomberg Businessweek. “I could see other people saying I don’t think that’s the way we want the marketing presented to us.” This method of advertising is becoming increasingly common in the business world, too. Would you position ads for searches against your association’s interests?

Google’s unintentional bias: According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, Google tends to favor Barack Obama in searches. If you search for the president, the search automatically influences later searches, surfacing more political articles in searches on, say, Medicare — though the same is not true for Romney searches. The company says they do this to help improve search results — not to bias them. Gabriel Weinberg, CEO of competing search engine DuckDuckGo, says there are some important lessons here all organizations should keep in mind regarding the personalization of search.

Who drew more attention? WordStream’s Larry Kim, speaking to The Washington Post, says that, based on online engagement metrics — such as social media presence, the size of the advertising spend, and social media reach — Obama is looking much stronger. “Romney’s relatively weak internet presence and comparatively low spending on online marketing channels could be very bad news for the Republican party,” he said. Could this have any bearing on the results? Who knows. But if this was your association’s marketing campaign, could you afford to tempt fate?

There may be no bigger individual marketing campaign than a presidential race, and though you may not have the resources of Obama or Romney, how can you apply some of their techniques in the years between elections? Let us know in the comments.

(Google screenshot)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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