The recent presidential election put a terabyte-sized spotlight on social media and the value of customer intelligence. Although President Obama leaned heavily on digital marketing to guide his path to victory in 2008, social networks played an even larger role in this year's election, and for good reason. While there were 40 million Facebook users in 2008, today there are over 160 million, representing almost the entire U.S. voting population. Millions of Facebook users generate a whole lot of useful data, and data is what cinched the election this year.
Both Obama and Romney - heck, even Roseanne Barr - incorporated social networking into their campaigns, but the Obama camp's razor focus on social marketing technology and harnessing social media insights led him to victory. The Obama campaign headquarters in Chicago famously had a floor full of geeks and number crunchers - the largest data team in election history, by all accounts - developing algorithms to build profiles of the audiences his campaign needed to reach. The granular data pulled from social media was merged with offline data and pulled into multi-touch campaigns that reached the voter base in critical swing states and undoubtedly gave his ballot count and campaign budget a healthy boost.
You're probably not running for president, but social data isn't just for elections, and it doesn't take a floor full of quants to make the data work for you, either. The data you can harvest from social networks can inform your business decisions, and help win you customers, too. Here are three lessons you can learn from the social media election of 2012:
Learning what your fans and followers like can be extremely helpful in developing customer acquisition strategies. My company's election 2012 infographic revealed that engaged Facebook fans of Obama like The Rachel Maddow Show, Samsung Mobile, soccer, and playing computer games. Using these kinds of audience insights, combined with technology like predictive analytics and lookalike modeling, allowed Obama to build complete customer profiles of his biggest current and potential supporters. Knowing which TV shows and celebrities resonated most with these users enabled the Obama camp to target its TV commercials within the most relevant programming and to align itself with specific celebrities as spokespersons for the campaign to more effectively and efficiently reach these micro-segments.
Having granular consumer data like this enables brands - and smart candidates - to build deeper relationships with fans with resonating conversations based on their real interests. According to our infographic, if Romney had done the same thing, he would have made greater efforts to reach users interested in quilting, Starbucks, and "Dallas."
Brand sentiment. This was one area where the Romney camp should have been paying more attention - the "Dogs Against Romney" groups and all the "47 percent" comments. While the campaign was probably well aware of the negative sentiments that were rampant on Facebook, they might have armed their fans with ammo for a positive counter-attack. Pictures of Mitt buckling a pooch into a car seat harness might have been a great item to share.
Sentiment for your messaging platform should be monitored as well to find out if your campaigns are resonating across your fan base, or whether you need to adjust accordingly or execute a CRM strategy. Furthermore, fully understanding true brand sentiment will allow you to pinpoint your most loyal fans and followers and establish relationships with brand advocates. The Obama camp leveraged social connections - which, after all, are the very backbone of social networks - to encourage users to vote and sway their opinions about important issues. Think about it: would you be more likely to switch teams because you tuned into Romney's interview on Fox last night, or because your best friend has publicly encouraged you to vote for him?
Social media makes competitive analysis easier, too. No doubt the Democratic and Republican candidates leveraged social intelligence to understand and analyze each other's standing and fan base. At the outset of the presidential campaigns, my company's infographic revealed that Obama had a Facebook fan base of over 28 million compared to Romney's 4.5 million fans, yet Romney's "People Talking About This" (PTAT) score was greater than Obama's. Looking at how many likes your competitors have is not even half the story, and while PTAT gives some insight into reach and engagement, just because someone is talking about you doesn't mean it's a good thing.
By going beyond the basics of engagement, you can hone in on intent with social data and target users based on who they have expressed they "intend" to vote for. Undoubtedly, Obama had a much more complete picture of Romney's fan base. Such a clear vision of his competition allowed him to know where to cut his losses (we highly doubt he targeted quilters with guns) and to focus on unique audience segments with a high possibility of conversion. For example, rather than appearing on the Bill O'Reilly show in an attempt to capture the votes of die-hard Romney fans, Obama made an appearance on Reddit, which he discovered was a popular forum among likely Obama enthusiasts.
Social networks are the one venue that allows for customer expression and interaction to take place in real time, mirroring the real-life fluctuation of influence, interest, and opinion. The granular data that can be harvested can tell you a lot about your fans, your prospective customers, your competitors, and so much more. The election started out being all about the economy, but at the end, it was clear it was all about the data. Don't miss out on the opportunity to win by ignoring the customer intelligence at your fingertips. This is data you can use to find real market success.
Dilip is CEO and co-founder of Compass Labs. He previously led Google's mobile ads business and ran PayPal's risk and fraud management, financial services, and compliance. Dilip has co-founded and led two successful start-up companies -CashEdge and CommerceSoft - after stints at McKinsey and Goldman Sachs. Dilip has an MBA from the Harvard Business School, M.S. in electrical engineering from Rice University, and a B.Tech in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras.