New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg's campaign is spending a small portion of his giant campaign budget on search ads promoting his Twitter account. Meanwhile, across the Hudson in the mile square city of Hoboken, Mayor Dawn Zimmer's campaign can barely afford to run ads online much less blitz voters with TV and radio spots like her Gotham counterpart.
Despite their financial differences, both campaigns count social media efforts on Facebook and Twitter key components of their election strategies.
For the Zimmer camp -- a three-person team on a shoestring budget -- it's a means of disseminating messages inexpensively, building grassroots volunteers, and counteracting misinformation.
Though Twitter followers are an arguable measure of campaign momentum, the differences between Bloomberg's and Zimmer's numbers and those of their opponents is worth noting. Like Bloomberg, Zimmer has far more followers on Twitter than her six opponents; she has around 165 while the others each have fewer than 50. The chasm between Bloomberg and his closest opponent, Democrat Bill Thompson is far wider: Bloomberg has more than 12,000 Twitter followers while Thompson has only around 900.
There's no arguing that, at least for Bloomberg's campaign, the stark difference compared to his opponent is indicative of the candidate's popularity and the campaign's momentum, at least relatively speaking. "You really have to look at it in the context of our specific objective here which is we're running for reelection against Bill Thompson," said Jonah Seiger, managing partner with Connections Media and lead digital media strategist for the Bloomberg for Mayor 2009 campaign.
In addition to targeting Google ads to people in New York City who search for "Twitter," the campaign is asking supporters to "tweet out the vote" by enabling the campaign to automatically update their Twitter accounts to state, "I support @mikebloomberg for re-election! Help me Tweet Out The Vote on 11/3...The campaign is also asking voters to "donate" their Facebook status through a similar automated message to be posted on election day.
The Bloomberg camp has been acknowledging some people who post about their support of the mayor -- many with high numbers of followers -- through its own tweets. "It's another part of that listening and engaging strategy," said Seiger. "We want people to know that they're part of our campaign."
Thompson's campaign is asking supporters to "donate" their Facebook profile pictures to the campaign by uploading their photos to a system that will overlay a Bill Thompson for Mayor banner on the image.
Bloomberg's Twitter followers spiked in August, when the mayor wrote his own posts for a day, and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey made note of it in his own update. "A big part of that bump happened right after Mike tweeted for the day," Seiger said.
Bloomberg's Risk-Averse Twitter Approach
Yet, despite Bloomberg's Twitter prowess, the campaign's approach to using the short messaging service is torn from the traditional political playbook. Campaign staffers post almost exclusively about organizations and individuals who have endorsed the mayor, or to highlight negative information about Thompson.
"Because we're not pretending that those tweets are coming from Mike, it just wouldn't make sense for it to be like, 'I just had a bagel,' " explained Seiger."These are campaign-oriented messages."
According to Seiger, the Bloomberg camp doesn't have a social media team per se. Rather, "It runs across interactive and communications and field and get-out-the-vote...This campaign is a fully integrated operation."
"The one thing the Bloomberg campaign doesn't want to do is to make mistakes, especially in New York, where there's a level of [media] scrutiny that's [intensified]," said David All, president of conservative digital consultancy David All Group. He also suggested that if executed well and in a consistent, steady manner, Twitter can serve as a way for campaigns to steer media observers to interesting information or campaign tactics in a non-risky way.
Less intense scrutiny of smaller campaigns like Zimmer's means it can probably take more risks. Yet, her campaign isn't exactly going out on a limb. It, too, is sticking mainly with campaign messages like, "Our opponents are outspending us, but with YOUR help we will continue to change #Hoboken City Hall."
Zimmer Camp Fights Myths on Facebook
Zimmer's team is also relying on free social media to counteract what it deems untruths. On Facebook recently, the campaign wrote, "There is a large amount of misinformation coming from other campaigns regarding the NJTransit resolution...You have heard the myths, now look at the facts." The update linked to a Q&A on ZimmerForChange.com.
Calling the use of Twitter and Facebook "integral to our campaign," Zimmer Campaign Manager Sam Briggs told ClickZ News, "What we can do is a fact check on our Web site and get the word out on Facebook and Twitter."
The campaign also launched LivingInHoboken.com, a site intended to host photos, video, and other content generated by supporters. So far, though, most of the few submissions have been posted by the campaign team. In this last week before the election, the Zimmer team is also running display ads through networks geo-targeting Hoboken residents.
Though Zimmer has only around 200 Facebook supporters and around 165 Twitter followers, Briggs said they are "the most keyed-in, most informed, most involved people...they're influencers." Zimmer, who also serves as Hoboken's city council president, has held her acting mayoral post since July, when newly-elected mayor Peter Cammarano resigned following a corruption scandal.
The Zimmer camp posts around once per day to Twitter, while the Twitter activity of most of her opponents has been spottier if not nonexistent. "What's most interesting to me...is not that the Zimmer campaign is doing anything so innovative, but that even the other candidates that do have money have chosen not to leverage the social media space," said Corey Kronengold, campaign volunteer and managing editor of OnlineVideoWatch.com. "The cost of one direct mail piece...would enable them to do some very interesting social media campaigns."
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.
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