Was it the Medium or the Message?

I don't think I'll be able to sleep anytime soon after Tuesday's election results -- everything is still sinking in. So let me see if I can get some thoughts down about the not so surprising surprise in Massachusetts while I'm still relatively cogent.

As I look back at the past few months, and read the very good analysis and insights of folks like David Meerman Scott and Mike Schneider and Mark McClennan, I'm starting to wonder if it was the medium -- as seems to be the opinion rising from the social media echo chamber (not to cast any aspersions whatsoever on any of these very good posts) -- or the message -- as seems to be the prevailing opinion of the television and radio pundits.

Let's focus on Twitter. The chart to the right (available on the Schwartz PR blog) shows the tremendous lead in twitter volume that Brown developed over the past week. It's clear that Brown (and of course his supporters and campaigners) leveraged social media to a much greater benefit than Coakley. But let's dig a little deeper.

Taking a look at their Twitter pages in particular tells us more than just how many followers they had. Oh, if you haven't yet caught the stats (where have you been?), Brown left Coakley in the dust when it comes to Twitter followers. But, as I tell all my clients, it's not about how many people are following you, but how well you engage with them. And it's here where Scott Brown won hands down.

Here's a screen shot from Brown's Twitter page shortly after the election was called:

I'll call your attention to a few things. First, look at the call to action in the background Twitter page image -- three simple steps to Republican victory. Next, note the variety of Twitter posts: @ replies, re-tweets, use of hashtags (oh, and TweetDeck too). Finally, look at his bio: it's another call to action.

Now let's have a look at Coakley's Twitter presence:

Not a bad looking Twitter page, mind you, but no messaging at all. No call to action in the bio or background image, just a few get the vote out requests in her tweets. While she uses hashtags, there's no use of replies or retweets.

A similar pattern arises when we look at Facebook.

So the question remains: did Martha Coakley lose because she didn't get social media, or because she didn't get the message out? It's a little bit of both, I think. Let's not lose sight that we need to look beyond simple follower numbers before we come to any conclusions. When it came to social media, she forgot that it's really all about engagement, not just eyeballs. Brown didn't beat Coakley because he had more followers, he beat her because he was better at engaging his followers. He stayed on message, and he used social media to get that message out.

It's not the medium or the message -- it's both! (And unfortunately for Coakley and Obama, her messages included (paraphrased) "I don't care about Boston sports," "I'm not really that much of a people person," etc.)

Oh, and lest we forget our independent candidate, here's a screen grab from his Facebook fan page that captures his campaign in a nutshell:

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7 comments to Was it the Medium or the Message?

  • […] lack of campaign skills –Read this great blog post on it by my friends over at Fresh Ground Communications). It may have something to do with HOW the White House is communicating its message, which is […]

  • Great review Todd – I will also add that it’s a little bit of community management 101. If you don’t create a small group of energized community leaders (i.e. cheeseheads), you simply cannot gain energy with a wider group. I just didn’t see a lot of passion coming from the Martha Coakley camp and I certainly didn’t see her seek out or cultivate that group… and although I’m not a fan of ‘vote for her because she is a woman’, she had that passionate support early on and let it die out.

  • I see your point. It seems her social media outreach mirrored her generally casual approach to the campaign.

    It seems like people were locked into change regardless of the candidate/views.

    I wonder if her campaign used social media better how many more connections she would have made?

  • Lisa

    I give credit to Brown for running a great campaign, but I think the difference in social media is a symptom of the disease but not the whole disease. My credentials are that I live here in the Commonwealth and vote Democratic, including yesterday for Coakley. My Wednesday morning quarterback (to paraphrase Martha) is yelling at me for not voting in the primary. Dems unfortunately chose an unappealing candidate at the wrong time. It is about the perceived lack of warmth in Martha, her lackluster stumping, her inability to reach out to the base…I just started getting calls a few days prior to the election. Too little, too late. She ran a bad campaign, attacked Brown in all the wrong places, disappearing rather than getting out for photo ops in a sweater shaking hands. She assumed which was the fatal mistake.

  • Scott Lewis

    The thing that got out the independent vote and made sure the Republicans got to the polls had more to do with what’s been going on in D.C. than it did with Coakley as camndidate or her campaign. Could a different candidate or better campaign have made a difference in the final outcome? Maybe but both would’ve needed to be remarkably better.

  • Lisa

    Not sure if you live in Mass., Scott, but I do and I respectfully disagree with it being more DC than the candidate. The way you describe it is how I see it positioned in the major media outlets and I don’t agree. Obama’s approval rating is still higher than nationally here in Mass., our unemployment is lower, and there is a higher approval percent for healthcare reform here. The majority of the problem was Martha, behind that in importance sadly IMO was Brown’s attractiveness and persona…I say sadly not because he’s not a good guy but sadly that lookism would have such an impact.

  • The social outreach (offline) and the social media (online) is a reflection of the candidate’s organizational abilities. Simply put, one candidate did a significantly better job. Thanks Todd for the analysis.