Does the GOP Really Think Google Was the Top Social Network of the 2012 Election?

Originally published November 13, 2012

Are Democrats more tech-savvy thanRepublicans?

One GOP digital strategist thinks the answer may be yes, and shares what he thinks the party needs to learn from the Obama campaign in a post on Buzzfeed.

One of the judgements that Vincent Harris, who ran digital operations for Newt Gingrich’s failed presidential bid and Senator-elect Ted Cruz of Texas, levies against his party is the flawed way that pollsters talk about technology with voters, which has resulted in some pretty skewed research.

A question I saw in the field this cycle asked, ‘What social network do you use the most?’ with answers of Google, MySpace, Facebook, or Twitter. The results came back skewed heavily towards Google. Not because Google is dominant but because it confused the voter into thinking Google’s search engine was a social network (Google’s social network is dwarfed by Facebook in reality). The fact that MySpace still appeared as a serious answer also highlights the hard road we have ahead.

Republicans need to focus on voters’ time and consumption patterns on the Internet to obtain better research.

Harris also cites the challenges digital teams face on campaigns because they are held to a higher standard than more traditional forms of communicating, like television advertising.

These are some of the other lessons for the GOP, according to Harris:

  • The Obama campaign’s canvassing application is an example of how technology can empower individuals. For example, Obama’s digital team used a voter’s Facebook details to target emails on Election Day, urging users to contact friends in battleground states, without them ever having to visit a campaign office.
  • Republicans tend to believe that social media use is strongest among young people, Harris says, yet Newt Gingrich’s average Facebook fan was 45 years old. Understanding who your target audience is key to developing winning messages, he posits.
  • Super PACs spent a whopping $300 million this cycle on television advertising. Harris thinks the money would have been better spent on developing, “more forward-looking technologies,” that could benefit the party, the movement and future campaigns.
  • Campaigns should not overlook the persuasion power of social channels, such as Facebook. The Democrats understand the power that having others advocate for a brand, while Harris says Republican campaigns tend to focus on metrics, such as ad spending. The ability of friends to share, like or comment with other friends on Facebook is ultimately more powerful and a more cost-effective use of money in targeting niche voting blocs.

While no one can prove that a winning social media strategy vaulted candidates to victory last week, Harris believes a weak digital strategy can contribute to a losing campaign.

Readers, do you think social media played a role in the 2012 elections?