President Obama’s first campaign event kicked off on Facebook this afternoon just a few hours after Micah Sifry at TechPresident did a basic overview of the online landscape of for the 2012 race thus far.
Sifry’s attention-getting headline – “It’s not Facebook, It’s the Data, Stupid” – seems to be an indictment of social networks. But his key point is that knowing the audience is more important than having thousands (or even millions) of friends, followers, or likes. It’s a point that many have made since 2008 repeatedly, yet it isn’t repetitive. There are still folks who believe that online success is measured by the easiest metrics of Facebook and Twitter, and not in the more difficult (and final) measurement of votes on election day. Ultimately, success or failure of the online campaign is tied to the success or failure of the overall campaign:
Facebook and other third-party social network platforms aren’t the central battlefield. It’s data and targeting and figuring out how to use online strategies to enable motivated volunteers to identify, persuade and get out the vote.
Sifry does miss an important shift in voter engagement, though. He downplays Facebook, noting that the Obama 2012 effort still has the advantages of the MyBarackObama.com networking infrastructure left over from 2008 (with roots stretching back to the nascent Howard Dean effort in 2003). But that campaign architecture is outdated if it doesn’t work with Facebook.
Consider that in the 2004 and 2008 election cycles, social networking was a varied market. Friendster, MySpace, AIM, Friendfeed, Twitter, and of course Facebook all had significant shares of the market at one point or another. Now, Facebook is the unquestioned market leader. What’s more, Facebook is built as a platform for other services. For instance, the biggest social network to gain traction since the Obama campaign, Foursquare, allows you to sign up for their service by using your Facebook log in.
There’s no room for MyBarackObama.com in the modern online media and networking environment unless it works seamlessly within the Facebook interface. If the Obama campaign tries to copy 2008 tactics in 2012 they will fail.
Sifry talks glowingly about the Facebook apps deployed by the Pawlenty and Obama campaigns – and rightly so, because these little programs are monumentally important in bridging the gap between social networking success and data management. Liking a page is a tangential connection, that can be severed easily and surrenders little information; running followers through an application that allows them to submit contact information and self-identify their interests and issue priorities is much more powerful.
The idea that activity on Facebook is separate from data management is a recipe for a losing campaign; the winner in 2012 will have both working together. (And despite the attention-grabbing headline, Sifry seems to get that.)