Want to know where to spot the next trends in communications? Look no further than the current presidential campaigns. Four years ago social media came of age when it helped pave the way to the White House for Barack Obama. Its power to form communities of like-minded people and inspire real-world action couldn’t be denied. This was not a fad.
I was speaking recently with Matt Anchin, SVP of global communications for Nielsen, and he suggested that PR pros should be watching the Obama and Romney campaigns closely in the coming months. “A lot of how-to’s are going to come out of this election,” he said. “It’s easy to forget how unsophisticated everyone was about social media before the 2008 campaign. That campaign changed everything.”
The New York Times reported on June 27 that the Obama campaign is reaching voters on the local level through a combination of knocking on doors, state-of-the-art technology for data mining and the campaign’s Dashboard social network, which enables neighborhood team leaders to share messages with team members, monitor phone bank activity and expand the network of volunteers. The Obama campaign is expecting Romney to dominate the airwaves with TV ads, so it’s using social media to organize and motivate staffers to register voters and convey Obama’s messages via on-site visits, phone calls and e-mails.
Innovative combinations of down-and-dirty grassroots outreach and digital technology is but one trend to track. As June rolls into July and the conventions near, gaffes and mistakes will be exploited; stump speeches will be parsed for waffling and inconsistencies; messages will be crafted and revised and sometimes tossed out altogether. News will break and the Obama and Romney campaigns will quickly recast the events to make them fit the language and core messages of their own campaigns.
Anchin says communications pros should be following these campaigns and asking themselves, “How would I prepare for and respond to the kinds of mistakes Romney and Obama are making?” They’re both going to make mistakes, and on the biggest stage imaginable. And the lessons learned will be there for the taking.
Like the monolith in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, presidential elections touch down periodically to speed the evolution of communications, if not of the human race itself.
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