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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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