The Evolving use of Social Media for Political Campaigns

[This post was originally published on Social Media Today on 17th August 2011. You can view the original post here.]

Campaigns and social media have been in the news a lot this year – Republican primaries and London riots in just the last week – and the exposure will increase as the US heads into election year in 2012. I want to look at how political campaigns have evolved in their use of the internet and social media, and see what possibilities exist in the near-term. For this purpose I’ve looked at two types of campaigns:

  1. Campaigns that are centrally organized by the political party or the candidate’s team. Here I will look primarily at Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008
  2. Campaigns that are organized bottom-up. Here I will look at how groups used social media during the Arab Spring

Centrally Organized Campaigns

Howard Dean’s campaign in 2004 had many of the features of successful campaigns: press coverage, successful fundraising and exciting people. He achieved this not just through traditional campaign strategies but also by extensive use of the internet. He used his official blog and to bring people together and organize fundraisers. This was cheaper than traditional fundraising and resulted in a hug number of small donations, allowing him to avoid fundraising limits. However, his team missed the crucial element of converting enthusiastic participants into active voters. As Clay Shirky points out in Here Comes Everybody [link], Dean created a movement that strongly appealed to some people, but which participation became more important than voting.

Some of the same strategies Dean used were taken up by Barack Obama during his 2008 campaign. Barack Obama was called the King of Social Networking by the Washington Post as he became the first social media President. His campaign team was the first to fully understand and harness the potential of social media to communicate his message and energize supporters to donate and vote.

Barack Obama’s campaign team didn’t invent anything new but strategically used social media, the internet, SMS and emails to establish his candidacy and win the elections:

1.       Build his political brand

Obama used social media to lower the cost of building a political brand. This was essential because there was very little brand awareness about Obama compared to his major competitors Hilary Clinton and John McCain, apart from 2 books (admittedly best sellers) and his 2004 convention speech.

2.       Created

A full-fledged social network, allowed users to create their own profile complete with a customized description, friends list and personal blog. They could also join groups, participate in fund raising, and arrange events. This was the centre of his social networking strategy and all pages on other platforms brought users here

3.       Present across multiple social media sites

Obama didn’t use just one platform but ensured his message was spread across multiple sites that complemented his message of change. He engaged people, listened and used not only the major sites like Flickr, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Twitter, but also more specific sites like Glee and BlackPlanet

4.       Donations

The majority of Obama’s donations came from donors giving just $200 or less. He achieved this by ensuring that on each site there was a donation widget

5.       Encouraged participation

Traditionally campaign teams and spin doctors exerted as much control over content as possible. However, keeping with his change message, Obama allowed and encouraged supporters to participate by posting videos, photos and testimonials.

The effectiveness of Obama’s online strategy to engage and mobilize people can be seen in some of the numbers [reference]:

  • 6.5 million online donations
  • $600+ million campaign funds raised, most of it online
  • 13 million email addresses
  • 1 billion email sent
  • 2 million profiles on
  • 200,000 offline events planned
  • 400,000 blog posts written
  • 35,000 volunteer groups created

Image credit cqpolitics

Bottom-up Campaigns 

These are campaigns that are not initiated by a political party or a candidate / politician. They are characterized by groups of people who have new found political power because of the ability to use social media to mobilize large numbers of like-minded people. The most recent large-scale campaign was earlier this year in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), especially Tunisia and Egypt.

There have been a lot of debates on the importance of otherwise of social media to the Arab Spring. People make revolutions, but in this case social media played an integral role as a community builder and communication tool. Control over communication is vital as uprisings gain momentum to provide a common purpose to the community, keep them mobilized and updated. Typically during a coup or revolution the first buildings that are targeted by the opposition are TV and radio.

Image credit gaitri59

In the case of the Arab Spring, social media allowed protestors to both communicate across the community and determine the media output beyond their country without having to control the stations. People were able to instantly self-broadcast events, information and ideas, unrestricted by media and news deadlines and editorial controls. This contributed to the speed at which the revolutions moved and the momentum they maintained, and allowed news networks, especially Al-Jazeera, to continue spreading information and news across the region.

I think there are two major lessons from the Arab Spring that political parties and candidates can leverage:

  1. Citizens and communities of like-minded people have political clout because of social networks
  2. Democratic movements are about political change driven by social networks rather than by elites. This is where social media and social technologies are going to have the largest impact in the coming years.

What Next?

Obama was the pace-making politician in using social media but things have changed since 2008. One of thehallmarks of his 2008 campaign was how email, text messages and the internet were used to reach voters for organizing and fundraising. Since then Twitter and Facebook have increased hugely in popularity and smartphones and apps are far more common. In 2012 it looks like Obama will be more expansive in how he uses social media to mobilize funds and supporters. Community will still be at the heart of his campaign, but additionally he will look at making email, website, texts, mobile apps and social networks work together in harmony to communicate his message – “Are You In”.

Here are three things that he and other parties and candidates will need to do to run successful campaigns:

1.       Control communication using social media

No politician can control how the media uses and spins his message. One way around this is using social media channels to distribute the message. Also, with a large community eager to listen it is important to speak directly to them. Obama used YouTube to announce his reelection campaign. Twitter is a far more popular tool now than in 2008, and Obama’s campaign team have given it more importance by setting-up separate Twitter accounts for all 50 states to target state-relevant messages to supporters

2.       Adapting to the increasing social integration and sharing features

Obama’s campaign team have included social features on, allowing users to log into the site with their Facebook accounts, making it easier to invite friends and share updates. The campaign team has also added an official Facebook app “Are You In”.

3.       Smartphones and mobile apps

The official White House mobile app is a crucial element in building his community and communicating directly with supporters with alerts about speeches that can be watched live from the app, behind-the-scenes photos and videos, and updates from the official blog

Recently, a great example of using social media to communicate directly to a community and leverage sharing features was by the Social Democratic party in Zurich. Rather than only broadcast their policies, the party used Facebook as a platform for voters to suggest ideas and vote on ideas that they would like to be put into practice. Once the candidates got elected they took the most popular ideas from Facebook and passed them as legislation. The video is below. Hopefully this inspires other parties to try similar campaigns.



Can you gamify the use of airports?

[This post was originally published on ZaGarage by Kuliza on August 11 2011. You can read the original here.]

Indian airports plan to offer incentives to airlines and passengers to increase traffic

High value, long haul passengers travelling between the US-Europe and Australia, India and Asia have a range of options through established airport hubs such as Dubai, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. Indian airports and airlines miss out on this market because of lack of established hubs and poor onward connectivity for passengers not travelling further in India. As a result Indian airports are looking at incentivizing airlines, airports and even passengers to use their airports. Some excerpts:

Hyderabad international airport has started the ball rolling by offering incentives to travel agents to persuade passengers to travel via the airport and will soon reward passengers for using the airport as transit point.

“Hyderabad airport does not have captive traffic like Delhi or Mumbai,” he said, requesting anonymity. “Big airports will resort to incentivize airlines and passengers as competition is cut-throat from their international peers.”

Hyderabad airport is offering loyalty points through a specialized company called RewardPort India that claims loyalty and promotions industry in India is currently valued at Rs.20,000 crore a year.

The [Hyderabad airport] programme has three layers—a Web-based interface with travel agents, followed by a complete set of specially packaged privileges that can be availed by using a loyalty card, and the reward points that can be redeemed for products and services, including restaurants, spas, children’s products, etc.

The full article can be read here.

It makes sense to offer incentives to airlines or travel agents to increase airport traffic. I would find it very surprising if they are not doing this already. European lowcost airline Ryanair aggressively pursued incentives from local governments in exchange for increased passenger numbers to make it cheaper for Ryanair to fly to their airports.

However, for passengers the idea needs to be more exciting and engaging – essentially gamified – for it to encourage them to make decisions based on incentives and reward points. They could learn from some of the successful airmile programs such as United Mileage Plus by United Airlines.

As someone who uses airmiles I can’t see how this is going to encourage me to choose 1 airport over another while booking flights. I’m not going to fly via Hyderabad because I can use the airport spa or get a free sandwich at Cafe Coffee Day (that in itself is a great reason not to encash airmiles or reward points!). Ultimately I want to get to my destination with as little flight time, unnecessary stops and potential delays as necessary. The better connectivity and airport experience in Bangkok, Singapore, Frankfurt and Dubai makes it simple to choose how I would fly, irrespective of reward points or discounts at airport retailers.

Image credit: ncrkhabar

The Rise Of Facebook Commerce

[This post was originally published in the Social Technology Quarterly by Kuliza]

Our recent research reports have discussed how brands are using Facebook apps for contests and campaigns and social apps for social CRM. We want to continue our research on Facebook by looking at the different ways that brands are currently using Facebook and some of the options open to them if they are looking at Facebook for commerce. Here in this article I would like to cover some of the reasons behind the immense F-commerce buzz and why should your brand be interested in it.

What is Facebook Commerce?

Social commerce refers to the use of social technologies to connect, listen, understand and engage to improve the shopping experience. F-Commerce is a form of social commerce that is executed on or influenced by Facebook. This involves the range of different activities all related to buying and selling products and services with Facebook.

Why are brands on Facebook?

There are three reasons that I see why brands are establishing themselves on Facebook:

1. Customers are already there

This is an obvious reason. Brands need to follow the action and eyeballs, and that is all happening on Facebook. They are already enjoying significant traction:

  • There are over 600m active users (or about 1 in 11 people), 50% of whom log on to Facebook every day
  • 90% of social network users in the US use Facebook
  • 57.1% of internet users in the US use Facebook
  • A brand’s Facebook fan is 41% more likely to recommend the company and 28% more likely to continue using them in the future (reference)
  • The average fan is worth $133.38 and spends $71.84 more per year than a non fan (reference)
  • Facebook users spend 1.5 times more online that other Internet users (reference)
  • Facebook customers spend more than double that of non-Facebook customers (reference)
  • There is a 51% increase in likelihood that a customer will complete a purchase after clicking the ‘like’ button (reference)

2. Biggest brands are investing on F-Commerce

Because people are already spending time on Facebook, brands – and investors – are investing in F-Commerce. Brand adoption is accelerating and those who already have a presence are finding that it is driving their E-Commerce:

  • Major global brands already sell directly on Facebook
  • More than 50% of the global top 100 websites have integrated with Facebook using its social plugins
  • There are 50,000 independent retailers who have opened a Facebook store withPayvment
  • 76% of marketers plan to leverage Facebook for social commerce initiatives (reference)
  • 67% of retailers plan to use Facebook to drive traffic to their E-Commerce sites (reference)
  • Facebook commerce conversion rates range from 2% to 4% and are on par with E-Commerce websites

3. Shopping is social experience

Shopping is a social experience for most people. Not only do we seek out opinions and feedback before we buy, but we also prefer to shop with friends and family rather than alone. Along with shopping as a social act, people shop not just for themselves but to manage their public image and personal identity, things that can be advertised on Facebook where the average user has 130 friends.

How are brands establishing a presence on Facebook?

There are 2 basic types of approaches that brands are using on Facebook (reference: Social commerce today’s research on F-Commerce):

1. On Facebook F-Commerce

This form of F-Commerce is the purchase of real goods and services inside Facebook. There are 3 types of ways that brands can enable users to purchase on Facebook:

Facebook Stores

These are E-Commerce enabled Facebook pages that allow users to browse and purchase without leaving Facebook. Two examples of this are Coca-Cola’s store that allows fans to buy merchandise and JCPenny where people can browse and pay for goods without leaving Facebook. On JCPenny’s site users can share, like, and post comment on items on their Facebook wall.

Another example is Delta Airlines Ticket Counter that allows users to book and pay for flights through Facebook (though unfortunately only for flights originating in the US at the moment). Along with Keep Climbing, for their frequent flyers, and Delta Assist, all Delta interactions can be completed through their Facebook page without visiting their website.

Facebook Credits

This is Facebook’s own exclusive and mandatory currency used for purchases of virtual goods in games and Facebook Deals. They are used for in-game purchases of virtual goods on Zynga games such as Farmville and Cityville. More recently, Warner Bros. allow people to stream movies in Facebook using Facebook Credits.


Facebook Deals

Launched in April 2011, this service offers deals inside Facebook that are paid for using Facebook Credits. Deals are sourced from local retailers and are displayed on the left-hand navigation column. Users can ‘Like’ or share deals with their friends and publish an update on their News Feed if they buy a deal.

Off Facebook F-Commerce

This form of F-Commerce takes advantage of Facebook’s Open Graph, allowing shoppers to sign into Facebook from any online site through a computer, tablet or mobile.

Facebook-enhanced websites

These are traditional E-Commerce websites that integrate with Facebook to offer instant personalization. The Levi’s Friend Store allows shoppers to use Facebook Connect to see what their friends “Like” and share their favourite Levi’s products.

Amazon allows users to activate their Amazon Facebook Page once they have logged into Amazon. This shows a user’s Facebook photo and profile, birthday notifications and gift suggestions, Amazon items popular among your Facebook friends and recommendations based on your profile data, making it a more personal and social shopping experience.

Facebook-enhanced retail stores

These are traditional high-street retailers that provide in-store shoppers a Facebook experience. The first brand to experiment with this was Diesel with their Diesel Cam. This gave shoppers the options to take a photo of clothes they try on and then log into Facebook to share the photo with their friends

Macy’s took this idea much further by developing a Magic Fitting Room. This included a full-length interactive, camera-enhanced mirror that allowed shoppers to scroll through clothes on the mirror and virtually try them on by flicking them over your reflection on the mirror. Shoppers could then take a photo and post it on Facebook to elicit feedback from their friends.

What type of store should your brand choose?

Understanding where your customers already are can help brands choose what type of store to set-up on Facebook. For large brands like Amazon or Levi’s that already have large traffic on their sites, adding a social element provides customers with a more personal shopping experience; shoppers learn what their friends like and buy and get valuable recommendations from them. For smaller brands that don’t have a lot of users on their site, or for brands that are considering developing an E-Commerce site, then it makes more sense to bring their store to Facebook. Potential customers are already there and an On-Facebook store will help bring traffic and increase awareness of the brand without additional marketing efforts to direct consumers to their E-Commerce website.