I often tell people that if there’s one subject I love more than marketing, it’s politics. Considering we’re in an election year, the past few months have been nothing short of entertaining.
In 2004, the Howard Dean campaign really used social media for the first time, embracing the power of the internet and websites such as meetup.com. In 2008, the power of social media was really unleashed, and there’s no denying that the Obama campaign simply nailed social media four years ago. They used it to energize their young voting bloc, to spread the word and create that grassroots wildfire that led to his election. It was smart, it was innovative, and the McCain campaign couldn’t ever seem to get the hang of this whole Twitter thing.
Switch to 2012, and my oh my how things have changed. In 2008, social media success was clearly divided between Democrats and Republicans, with Democrats out performing Republicans. For whatever reason, Democratic candidates just got it. My guess is that younger voters tend to skew Democrat, and at the time the majority of social media users were still skewing younger (i.e. under age 25). It’s amazing how much has changed in four short years, and how the tables have seemingly turned.
Like I said, I love politics, and I’m fairly vocal on where I stand politically. I also follow a lot of candidates, congressmen, pundits and analysts on all of my social media networks, and I have to say that this election cycle, conservatives are nailing this Twitter thing. Seriously. I’ve lost count of the number of hashtags people such as Michelle Malkin, Dana Loesch, the Twitchy team and others have created and gotten to trend not just for minutes, but for hours at a time. As I’ve watched these hashtags trend (and even participated a few times), I’ve also tried to figure out what it is that makes them trend. Let’s face it, politics is nothing more than personal marketing, and even though politics is supposedly one of those “forbidden” subjects, I think marketers could all learn a little something from watching what trends and what doesn’t this political season.
So far as I’ve seen, the things that trend and keep trending for more than 30 minutes seem to be those that are funny, witty, extremely current and relevant. One of the first times I noticed this was right after the Romney campaign referenced an excerpt from Obama’s “Dreams of My Father,” in which President Obama admits that while visiting his father he ate dog meat. The Interwebs took this story and ran with it (as they should have–it’s a great opportunity for snarky jokes to abound, no matter which side of the fence you’re on), and along came a very tongue in cheek hashtag–#obamadogrecipes–that ended up inspiring several memes. While the Obama campaign was a bit up in arms about it, even MSNBC’s Joe Scarbrough had a good laugh over the whole deal. And even though this happened back in April, the hashtag is still being used.
When the Obama campaign released The Life of Julia, #julia quickly became a trending hashtag. If I recall correctly, it was started by Democrats as a way to promote Obama’s latest campaign piece, but then Republicans quickly took over because they were pretty insulted by the whole thing, not to mention the fact that just days before Twitter had been all abuzz over the “composite” girlfriend Obama talked about in his biography. Parody accounts were created, blogs were written, and several conservative websites created alternative lives for Julia. Again, the responses were mostly funny, but some were serious. The key, though, was that people got to talking.
There are many, many other examples, but the word count for this thing is already close to 600. The thing, though, that I’ve been thinking about the past few months is that marketers have a lot to learn from politics, or at least how political commentary goes viral. Some of us would give our left foot for a piece of content to go viral, and yet most of us never figure out what the formula is. Mostly, it seems a lot like luck combined with simply having GOOD content that engages Internet users. When looking at the viral nature of hashtags–especially in politics–it seems to me the ones that pick up the most steam and a life of their own are the ones that are funny. Yes, that humor leans more to the snarky side, but I think that’s part of what makes memes so popular in the first place. Some of them are just plain goofy, but a lot of them are just chock full of smart-assed wit (or maybe that’s just the memes I tend to look at?). Still, though, there’s a commonality between hashtags that trend and go viral, and that common thread seems to be humor and intelligence. Yes, while I was writing this a few days ago, #PennState was trending due to the Freeh Report being released that morning, but also trending? #WhatJoeBidenWillSayToNAACP. Both trended for quite some time that day, because both touch on different emotions. The Penn State scandal is despicable, which is something everyone can agree on and has had people talking for months. The Joe Biden one? Well, it’s safe to say that Biden just leaves himself wide open for jokes to be hurled his way. I mean, this is the man who once said, regarding Barack Obama, “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.” The jokes kind of write themselves, amirite?
So what do you think causes a hashtag to trend and go viral? And what can marketers learn from politics this election season in order to help our own campaigns go viral?