US President Barack Obama’s first public reaction to his victory announcement made on Twitter generated more than 535,000 retweets. It seems Obama won the battle on social media too. While JFK was the first television president, Obama might have become the first social media president.
Key to leadership in the digital space is the provision of timely, relevant information at the right touch points, and Obama’s team understood very early the importance social media would play during his second-term campaign.
In fact, understanding the role and impact social media plays in our lives today gives business and political leaders an extra edge to take leadership to the next level, to mirror the success of how Obama won the election by engaging in social media and smart devices.
The role of smartphones
Our TNS Mobile Life study revealed that the number of mobile web users visiting social networking sites grew from 30 to 46 per cent globally, and from 26 to 50 per cent in emerging markets. As the embrace of smartphones constantly rises, we also see that in tandem this has encouraged more social media use — Facebook and Twitter — and also allowed many to keep track of news in real time.
A special edition of our Think… newsletter reports that the Obama campaign overall saw 32-plus million likes on Facebook, 22-plus million on Twitter. Obama’s team listened to what 670,000 people had to say, including nearly 8,000 tweets written on the official account.
On the flip side, Mitt Romney saw 12-plus million likes on Facebook and 1.8-plus million Twitter followers, while his team followed 274 accounts and saw a mere 1,350 tweets on the official account.
The reality is that the digital and online channels shift is transforming global behaviours and fast becoming a primary media channel. In fact regional markets have experienced a staggering increase in internet usage, up from 7.8 million to 187 million users in the last decade.
TV and print media too encourage the use of social media — overall what is happening is that consumers are interacting with more than one form of media. As shown, candidates and marketers alike need to work with all three media — paid, earned and owned.
It is important to note that social media plays a significant amplifying role in today’s communications and in the earned media dimension.
The Obama campaign in particular brings to light how social media can influence people in their choices and increase the impact of word-of-mouth or even damage the reputation of a candidate within a few hours.
Embracing social media
Overall, the first debate generated 10.5 million tweets in 90 minutes, or close to 2,000 tweets exchanged every second. However, an overview of the social media reaction reveals that in fact Obama had a difficult start with his not so good performance during the first debate but steadily gained tweets positively after a somewhat rocky start.
Obama used a two-pillar communications strategy with equal focus on both offline and online campaigns. Political candidates and, in fact, business leaders globally need to pay attention and embrace social media channels and new technology to reach out and make a real difference in the end.
— The author is Chief Executive Officer at TNS MENA