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Social Media in Politics

If it's free and fun, it's probably not very effective.
We're reminded of the news story about the congressman who apparently was one of the first to use Twitter. That congressman lost his seat when his clever, ground-breaking staff failed to secure enough signatures to qualify him for the ballot.

The Ten Fundamental Truths of Politics always come into play.

Social media is one method for recruiting, motivating and empowering supporters. Few endorsements are more effective than a note from someone to his or her list of friends. Social media makes it easy to spread the word about events, schedules, current events and important talking points. And any candidate can find a Facebook-savvy volunteer to take on the task of managing the Facebook posting -- and do a wonderful job of it!

But when it comes to reaching out to individual voters, social media should be considered only after other, more proven methods of campaigning have been funded and fulfilled.

We often hear that Obama's victory was largely due to smarter deployment of social media. Wrong. Romney's fate (and McCain's before him) was sealed by two monstrous blunders committed long before either was a candidate: the enactment of early voting by Republican-dominated legislatures in Florida and Ohio. This gave the union/Democrat turnout apparatus 30 days, instead of 24 hours, to track down every available vote.

Even if you disagree with our assessment, that doesn't mean social media is the Next Best Thing for a political campaign. Obama held three important advantages over every other candidate on the ballot: Money, name-recognition and geography, all of which are necessary to make social-media advertising a suitable choice.

The Obama campaign spent about $50 million on social media; 17 cents per person. So if you're in a district of 100,000, would that mandate a budget of $17,000? No. Much more. That's because you'll be advertising to voters who -- perhaps a majority of whom -- reside outside your county or district. In addition, most have never heard of you, which means you'll need a bigger "buy" to have the same effect.

Advertising on sites like Facebook usually involve bidding on Cost Per Click (CPC), where you pay each time someone clicks on your ad, or Cost Per Mille (CPM), where you pay for each thousand "views" of your ad. The CPM rates can be bid to as low as a few cents per thousand but, as in all advertising, you get what you pay for. Some studies suggest you're not getting much. Apparently we as a society have desensitized ourselves from the bombardment of online ads because we seem to ignore them.

What about other forms of online advertising, such as ad exchanges? First read this from the June 11, 2013 Wall Street Journal: "An astounding 54% of online display ads shown in 'thousands' of campaigns measured by comScore Inc.between May of 2012 and February of this year weren't seen by anyone, according to a study completed last month". Because of "technical glitches, user habits and fraud". It seems there's software out there to generate "views" where none occurred. Despite the efforts of Google and others to enforce law and order, the Internet is still the wild west.

Politics is a numbers game. It doesn't matter if you're trailing an airplane banner or a displaying click-through banner ad on Facebook. Each has its advantages but neither will "move numbers". In the end, the candidate with an over-reliance on social media will fall short of reaching the numbers it takes to make a difference.