Thursday, September 17, 2009

Did New Media Make a Difference in the NYC Primary Elections?

Summary: Keeping voters engaged and predicting election outcomes – What we learned from Twitter in the New York City Elections.

Democratic strategist Joe Trippi picked up a surprising piece of news on his blog recently: it seems that the use of Twitter and Facebook by Democratic candidates in New York City could have helped one predict the outcome of Tuesday’s primaries there.

Nancy Scola of wrote in a blog post yesterday that the winners of the races for Public Advocate, Manhattan District Attorney and City Comptroller might have done as well as they did thanks to the online support they built with social networking websites.

From the post:

In the New York City Public Advocate race, city councilmember Bill DiBlasio scored something of a surprise win, 33% to 31%, over former two-term Public Advocate Mark Green. (It's only a temporary "win." Since neither candidate broke the 40% mark, under city law the race goes into a run off.) While Green's name recognition is strong in the city, given his past service to the city in the same position he was gunning for, this time around his campaign never seemed to build up steam -- which is borne out by the social media numbers at play. DiBlasio collected 3,265 followers, combining his Twitter and Facebook numbers, to Green's far fewer 445…

…The Manhattan District Attorney race had been contentious, dramatic, and up for grabs. It looked for a time like Judge Leslie Crocker Snyder might emerge victorious over Cyrus Vance, despite the fact that Vance was the heir apparent to the influential sitting DA Robert Morgenthau. But Vance fairly trounced Snyder last night, 44% to 30%. A somewhat unforeseen story, but one nonetheless foretold by their respective Facebook and Twitter tallies. Vance had 1,582 admirers and followers to Snyder's 881. Attorney Richard Aborn came in third in both votes and online allies, with 26% of the vote and 720 followers and fans.

And in the Comptroller race, Queens councilmember John Liu pulled out 38% of the vote over Brooklyn councilmember David Yassky's 31%. (A result that, again, calls for a run-off at the to take place at the end of the month.) Surprising? Perhaps. But not if you're keeping tabs on how popular Liu and Yassky were doing online. Liu's Twitter-plus-Facebook tally amounted to 1,159 followers and fans, while Yassky pulled in with somewhat fewer, at 364 admirers and followers.

Of course, Scola was also right to point out that not all of the candidates had a vote total that corresponded with their social networking support.

In the Comptroller's race, David Weprin managed to amass almost as many followers as the top two candidates in the race (1,858 to Liu and Yassky's combined 2,073). But he won a much smaller share of the vote, with just 11%. And in the Public Advocate contest, Queens councilmember Eric Goia racked up more than five times the friends and followers as the second place finisher Green -- but he managed to only place a disappointing far third.

Having a lot of followers on Twitter or supporters on Facebook does not mean your campaign will automatically be successful, and relying on such websites for Election Day is a poor strategy that no well-run campaign would take.

However, utilizing these resources as a tool for fundraising or recruiting volunteers can make a campaign very strong - and it’s very possible that Tuesday’s winners had been doing just that.

As we wrote about New Media in our 21st Century Campaigning series last month:

Keeping supporters engaged is a highly important function of any campaign. Without engaged supporters, a campaign is unable to raise money or find volunteers to knock on doors and make phone calls.

That means campaigns have to keep supporters interested and active in the daily developments of the race.

…the effectiveness of such outreach comes down to what we call the “Twitter talent.” A major part of it is passing the “‘Who Cares?’ Test” - you have to post something relevant that your followers will be interested in.

In fact, some of the NYC candidates were doing just that with their Twitter and Facebook outreach. Scola mentions how Mark Green used his Twitter feed creatively, tweeting 100 “New Ideas for a Better City” to his followers.

Unfortunately for Green, creative tweeting is just one of the necessary parts of an effective New Media strategy. A campaign also needs to continually grow their list of supporters and followers in order to raise more money and get more volunteers. To that effect, it is very beneficial for a campaign to hire a New Media Coordinator who can devote their time to building a social networking base, among other things.

Luckily for candidates like Green, they have time to do these things before the run-off election.

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