Political campaigns are all about spectacle: Embrace it or lose your audience

Whether we like it or not, political campaigns have turned into spectator sports and the candidate who puts on a better show often wins, or at least grabs more attention. Of course, the wrong kind of a show, for instance saying that rape is God’s will, inevitably destroys a campaign, but there is a positive way to grab the attention of voters and keep them entertained.

Obama is #winning on social media

Barack Obama has achieved this without question. He has been praised for his speaking abilities since he entered the public sphere and these abilities extend to his presence on social media. Obama’s social media strategy played an enormous role in his victory because he was able to show voters that his agenda will keep America moving in the right direction, while simultaneously stirring their emotions through powerful language and making them laugh at his opponent, Mitt Romney.

During the campaign, Barack Obama’s social media focused on five areas: what he accomplished in the last four years as president, how his agenda for the next four years will move the country forward, criticisms of Romney, urging people to get out and vote, and endorsements, which range from the “Everyday Joe” to Beyonce.

Obama communicated his message in a way that was consistent with the medium and the message. On Twitter and Facebook he kept things informal and simple. Many of his posts were short and pithy. Instead of droning on about the economy or policy, he used concise statements to make his point. His social media presence relied heavily on short phrases like “Watch it, share it, keep moving forward.” Obviously, this is not ingenious writing, but clever strategy.

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When it was appropriate and keeping with the message, Obama used powerful language and strong imagery. For instance, on Election Day, Obama wanted to inspire people to get out and vote, so he wrote on his Facebook, “The definition of hope is you still believe, even when it’s hard.” Readers feel inspired and ready to vote for him because of rhetoric like this. He wanted America to know that he will help the country move forward, but it will require hard work. His message was simple, but he used a serious tone on this day because it was such a critically important moment.

At other times, Obama’s team used youthful language and a playful tone. When Obama wasn’t discussing the economy or a policy issue, his message felt light and playful. For instance, he posted a photo of him with a newborn on the campaign trail and simply wrote, “Baby for Obama.” He did this a few days earlier when he posted a picture of him with an excited campaign worker, on which he commented, “You never know who might show up at your local bank.” This helps him come across as a likable guy who is committed to the campaign, but not too serious.

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Obama furthered his positive image on social media through his family and famous friends. Romney didn’t often post things about his family or his celebrity endorsements (not like he had any to brag about), but Obama knew that using his family and celebrity ties would make him a more likable candidate. Obama particularly integrated his wife, Michelle, into his social media presence whenever he got the chance. The first lady has a higher approval rating than her husband, so he obviously wanted to use this to his advantage, showing that they are working together for a better America. This also paints him as a family man and loving husband.

Something that is unique to Obama is that he did not take an attack stance nearly as often as other politicians on social media. For instance, Mitt Romney posted about Obama 34% of the time, while Obama posted about Romney only 14% of the time. When he attacked on social media, however, he was strategic and executed flawlessly.

Although Obama had a hopeful message about his agenda for the next four years and the direction of the country, he took a decidedly mocking tone when it came to Romney. This shouldn’t surprise anyone since it was a presidential campaign and one of the main objectives is to smear your opponent; however, Obama went a step further with the help of social media. Essentially, he turned Romney into a fool. The Obama team took every blunder, gaffe, unfortunate turn of phrase, etc. and crucified him. Romney already looked like a man who was completely out of touch with the concerns of the common American, but Obama’s campaign turned him into a complete idiot. They turned Romney into a laughable meme every chance they got.

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One of the most notable moments in the campaign occurred when Obama coined the phrase “Romnesia,” which immediately took off on Twitter. The Obama team used this clever turn of phrase all over their social media and it spread like wildfire. The Obama team brilliantly created this phrase, knowing it would go viral, and used this as ammunition against Romney. They attacked in a way that was humorous and catchy because they knew that people want to share and partake in attacks of this sort.

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How Romney lost the war of words

This is where Romney’s team failed. They did not have a prevailing message or tone to their campaign, which is evident in their social media failure. They attacked Obama much more than Obama attacked Romney; however, Obama’s attacks had greater success because they were funny and more people wanted to “share” them. Obama turned Romney into a buffoon, while Romney simply attacked Obama’s policies, and let’s face it, are of little interest to most people.

Romney’s social media presence was much wordier and he relied on two or three sentences to talk about policy. On social media, no one really wants to read that. Users want short, dynamic snip bits, not a paragraph about the economy. Even on his Twitter, which limits users to 140 characters, Romney’s posts tend to be lengthier.

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Mitt Romney’s writing style on Facebook and Twitter can be described in one word: bland. He didn’t excite voters or make them laugh at Obama. Instead of showing powerful images and using strong language to persuade people to vote for him, he delivered boring messages in an unexciting way. This is how people saw his campaign play out, especially on social media; he was the unexciting candidate with nothing particularly interesting to say.

Keep it simple

The consensus from both parties after the election was that Obama’s campaign was much stronger than Romney’s. Part of this comes from the fact that Obama’s message was clear and that he kept a consistent tone throughout the campaign, but perhaps the more likely reason is that Obama understands what people want. Social media users don’t want their newsfeed bombarded with long rants about policy; they want something short and simple to share, whether its funny or serious. In the end, Obama had millions more Facebook and Twitter followers than Romney and this is because he capitalized on what worked. He used memes and short, inspirational quotes to win the war on social media. People want to laugh and feel inspired, which Obama was able to deliver via social media. In comparison to Romney, he stood out as a likable candidate with a great sense of humor and a simple mission: forward.

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