What Impact is Social Media Having on the Presidential Election?

Now that the Republican and Democratic National Conventions are over, we are quickly approaching the finish line to see who will become the President of the United States. How will social media affect the outcome of this (and future) elections and what activities can we expect to see in our Facebook and Twitter feeds?

One way that we can predict future happenings is to see what took place in the past. Reporters Clive Cookson and Ling Ge wrote an interesting article in The Financial Times about an experiment that took place on Election Day in 2010. “On November 2, 2010, the day of US congressional elections, 61m Facebook users in the US saw a non-partisan ‘get out the vote’ statement at the top of their news feed. This ‘social message’ included a clickable ‘I voted’ button, a link to local polling stations, a counter showing how many Facebook users had already reported voting and, most importantly, up to six pictures of the individual’s Facebook friends who had reported voting.

“But 600,000 people were randomly assigned to a second group that saw a modified ‘informational message’ that did not show faces of friends. The third group, also of 600,000, received no election day message at all from Facebook,” explains Cookson and Ge.

The results were impressive: reminding people to vote via Facebook increased participants by over 60,000 votes. The group that was sent the “I voted” message sent another 280,000 voters to the polls.

“Social influence made all the difference in political mobilization,” said lead author James Fowler of UC San Diego. “It’s not the ‘I Voted’ button, or the lapel sticker we’ve all seen, that gets out the vote. It’s the person attached to it.”

SocialMediaMagic.com also agrees that voter numbers are likely to increase with the use of social media. In an article pertaining to the upcoming election, they comment that, “the 2012 candidates might prompt young supporters to record Youtube videos of themselves, their thoughts and why others should participate. These real world testimonials may be the hidden glue in an otherwise wayward social campaign.”

Social Media Magic also brought up the idea that QR codes will start to take a bigger role in campaigning (you know, those little black and white encoded squares that are found in a lot of advertisements. You take a picture of it with your smart phone to learn more about the product). “Seeking a way to interact closely with their voters, candidates might rely on QR codes connected to real world functionality, to send a message and prompt actions. These QR codes can help with a number of candidate problems, namely donations, endorsements and organizational ability.”

QR codes have also been taking a large role in fundraising efforts. It has been suggested that candidates place these codes on signs, banners, t-shirts, and other promotional materials to get the word out. It can also be a way to share exclusive updates, behind-the-scenes insights, or allow a set donation transaction with the click of your phone camera.

Whether you’re a small town politician or a local nonprofit, this upcoming presidential election is changing the way we think of fundraising. The candidates know that the more places they are at, the more voters they can connect with whether that be in person, online, or through a QR code. As they pave the way down this uncharted path of innovative social fundraising, the best thing we can do is watch and learn.

Twitter’s Political Index: The Newest Frontier in Democracy

Gone are the days of soapbox politics, trucks equipped with megaphones, and cardboard signs littering every intersection. Now the best way for a candidate to get their name out and reach voters is through mobile technology. From assessing voter sentiment to online political fundraising, the internet continues to become a staple in the modern day electoral process.

On the cusp of social media trends is the ever-increasing presence of Twitter. With the introduction of Twitter’s Political Index, up to the minute sentiments and public opinions are only a mouse click away. “Twitter teamed with data analysis firm Topsy and polling companies The Mellman Group and North Star Opinion Research in order to evaluate and weigh the sentiment of each day’s tweets regarding Barack Obama or Mitt Romney as compared to the 400 million tweets sent on other topics,” explains PCMag.com writer Stephanie Mlot. “Twitter doesn’t intend for the Index to replace traditional polling, but instead reinforce it, providing a better-rounded picture of the general public’s feelings toward the election.”

Adam Sharp, Twitter’s head of government, news, and social innovation commented on Twitter’s blog, “Just as new technologies like radar and satellite joined the thermometer and barometer to give forecasters a more complete picture of the weather, so too can the Index join traditional methods like surveys and focus groups to tell a fuller story of political forecasts.”

But really, how reliable is the information that is being posted concerning voter opinions on this new electoral resource? The first concern that comes to mind is that users of social media are probably in a younger demographic therefore skewing an accurate slice of what the voter demographic looks like. However, pingdom.com reports that the largest age bracket of Twitter users fall into the 35-44 year old category making up 25% of their audience and 64% of Twitter users are over the age of 35. (Just in case you’re interested, 61% of Facebook users are 35 and older.) Another question regarding reliability concerns whether or not the opinions voiced provide an accurate view of a slice of public opinion. Techland.Time.com shares that “the average Twitter user is a female, age 18-24, with a split between people making less than $30,000 and people making $50,000 – $74,999 a year. Most have a college degree or higher and live in an urban setting. The survey asked a random sample of 2,257 adults. Hispanic (18 percent) and African Americans (13 percent) are twice as likely to use Twitter than Whites (5 percent).”

So how does this political index actually work? BuzzFeed staff reporter Matt Buchanan has a great summary: “Topsy pores through every single tweet in real time, determines which ones are about Obama or Romney, and then assigns a sentiment score to each tweet based on its content. That is, whether it’s positive or negative toward Obama or Romney, and just how positive or negative it is. Add all the data up together and you have something like a real-time approval score for Obama and Romney, determined by what tens of millions of people are saying, which Twitter is going to release daily at election.twitter.com.”

Can you truly put your finger on the pulse of the nation just by logging on to Twitter’s Political Index? Sharp replies that the social media view often mirrors worldwide feelings regarding a candidate and that the last two years’ Political Index scores for President Obama often parallel his Gallup approval ratings, sometimes even foreshadowing future polling numbers.

The advantages to this new resource can be integral for future elections. Damage control, online fundraising, voter communication, streamlining hot topics, and political strategizing can enter into a whole new level with such a vast audience with information accessible in real time. The potential for this frontier is incredible and I am excited to see what happens next!

You Ask, We Answer! Getting Donors Involved with Social Media

We are getting asked some great questions from nonprofit leaders pertaining to online fundraising during our weekly Tweet Ups. Here are the expanded answers that will hopefully help with your social media fundraising goals.

Q: When sharing my story with potential donors, which works better: videos or pictures?

A: Both are great tools. Video can often captivate donors with a greater connection through music, voices, images, and words. It can give more depth to a story, show your personality, and create a stronger emotional pull. While having a professionally made video is great, it is also costly and time consuming. Depending on your cause and the size of the organization, an amateur piece that is interesting and sincere can be just as effective. (Consider the immense number of videos on YouTube.) On Fundly we have a broad spectrum of videos that are uploaded to fundraising pages which range from kids raising money for their schools to large organizations raising tens of thousands of dollars for their cause. While not every visitor to the page clicks on the play button, I’ve never known of a promotional video that hinders donations.

With that said, pictures are also extremely important for that reason: not everyone has the time or interest to watch a promo video. I believe that having some images are a must to grab attention and create a stronger emotional tie. Fundraising is about creating relationships and knowing who you are giving to, both the organization and the patron of the charity, which allows the donor to form a touchstone of who they are helping. In this fast paced and visual society, you need to grab attention and get your point across the fastest way you can.

Q: What is the best avenue to get people involved with my cause? Social networks, email, or street teams?

A: Email is definitely one of the most effective ways to communicate with supporters and has the capacity for the most information. Think about how you compiled your e-mail list in the first place; it was probably through an interest that a person had in your cause and gave a donation, volunteered, or filled out an information card at an event. With e-mails, you are communicating with people who care about your mission which is half the battle!

Social networks are also valuable for getting people involved with your cause. It casts a broader net than e-mails alone. While e-mails are reaching specific people you know, networking sites can advertise your cause to friends of your supporters therefore attracting potential donors.

Q: I have recently decided to run for office, what is the best way to jump start my fundraising campaign?

A: Tell your story, why you’re running, reach out to everyone you know, and encourage them to create personal fundraising pages. The best way for a candidate to get support is word of mouth. Generate interest on social networking sites and have your voters “Like” you on Facebook or tweet about your campaign. Advertise events, where to get signage, or how to volunteer using Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail.

Q: What do you find more effective: suggested giving levels or open donation forms?

A: Utilize both! Suggested levels help donors determine need and make the process easier, open forms give more freedom. Generically speaking, I would take the average donation amount and start a giving level at 50% of that amount then work up accordingly. For example, if the average gift was $50 I would increment the giving levels at $25, $50, $100, $150, and $200. I would also certainly leave a space for whatever the person could give emphasizing that no gift is too small. I would also consider the project that the donations are being used for and the supporters which you are including in your campaign. If you are raising money for school supplies for 100 kids, you wouldn’t necessarily ask for $200. If you are sending letters to your top donors to sponsor a new wing to your building, $200 is a miniscule amount. You may also want to use the formula that if 10% of your donors give to your project, how much would that average out per person and work from there.

Q: We are throwing a school fundraiser, is there a way to get students involved?

A: Getting students involved is always a good idea.  Encourage them to create personal fundraising pages and set goals! What grandparent could resist little Johnny in a video asking in a squeaky voice “Could you please donate to my school’s library so we can have some new books?”  (Check out this post for a great example used on Fundly.) Also, what kid doesn’t love a little friendly competition? You could have a contest and give a prize to the kid with the best video. You could have each class create a webpage and post how much each has raised. You could send e-mails to the parents to get them on board. Take a ton of pictures and post them online to keep the momentum going and to have inspiration for next year’s fundraiser. The possibilities are endless!

Due to the Fourth of July we will not be having our Tweet up this week. However, if you have a question about online fundraising that you want to ask one of our Fundly professionals, we would love to hear from you for our next Tweet Up! Please leave a question in the comment section below or follow #fundraisingtips on Twitter every Wednesday at 11:00 a.m. Pacific time.

Twitter is the Testing Ground for Presidential Election

The fact that social media is being used in political elections is not news; the way that it is being incorporated is. While Facebook may be the most popular social networking site, Twitter has become a valuable testing ground for politicians to experiment with their political fundraising skills and their methods to improve their image. While this medium is certainly a double-edged sword, it is still one to be wielded.

Although only 13% of American adults are on Twitter, its influence has shown to be widespread. Many campaigns have begun focusing efforts on this site in an effort to secure the Oval Office. Heather LaMarre, a University of Minnesota communications professor who studies social media, discussed the shift in The Washington Post, “The subset of people on Twitter may be relatively small, but it’s a politically engaged audience whose influence extends both online and off. It’s not the direct message that has the biggest influence on people — it’s the indirect message.”

One amazing aspect of social media is its ability to enable public interaction with candidates like never before. In the past, the “average Joe” could voice his opinions in an article published in the editorial section of a newspaper or person-to-person in social settings with limited results. Now, he can freely write feedback on a politician’s Facebook page or Tweet a comment about a recent speech for thousands to read. This obviously could have positive and negative aspects that might impact a candidate’s image and therefore causing a need for new strategies of damage control.

“Our team understands that the most important issues in this campaign are jobs and the economy, not the Twitter controversy of the day,” Mitt Romney’s spokesman Ryan Williams said. “But we need to be on top of everything and monitor every aspect of this race. Twitter helps us keep our finger on the pulse of the fast moving pace of new media.”

Twitter has become a new sounding board, battleground, and public forum for the new era of politics. It has also helped with fundraising by guiding supporters to websites, garnering funds to further a candidate’s mission, such as a Fundly donation page. Sharing your opinions is one thing; sharing the fact that you put your dollars behind your beliefs certainly has more power. Plus, the ease of online giving has made campaign contributions more convenient than ever.

Sharing opinions, researching candidates’ stances on the issues, and political fundraising have never been easier because of the social media revolution that we are currently experiencing. While the presidential war may not be won on Twitter, it certainly is a battleground to contend with.

Candidates Still Getting Used to Social Media

I admit that I’m still getting used to the whole social media world. It almost feels like a marketing science experiment: if I post at this time on this day of the week while highlight a specific topic, will my results be higher or lower than my previous one? I know I’m hardly alone; many presidential candidates are also testing the waters of political fundraising using online resources.

I came across an interesting article on IndyStar.com that discusses some intriguing issues that the candidates are facing using the medium of internet communication. In the past politicians could debate on TV, send out flyers heralding their accomplishments and pay for ads in the newspaper declaring their stand on pertinent issues. However, many are turning to Facebook and Twitter to garner support with various results; now the voters can instantly respond which is causing both positive and negative effects.

So why would candidates risk having negative comments written on their Facebook pages? “It’s as much an issue about campaign and candidate identity as anything else,” states Kristina Sheeler, who studies political communication as chairwoman of the Department of Communication Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “If you’re not using Facebook and Twitter, you risk being labeled an old-fashioned candidate.”

Twitter hashtags are getting impressive results in many campaign strategies by drawing in followers who otherwise might never have looked at a candidate’s tweets. One example is when President Obama in a speech in Chapel Hill, N.C. urged students to tweet to lawmakers using the hashtag #dontdoublemyrate to oppose an increase in student loan interest rates. Many politicians are also using Twitter to post stances and opinions to their followers and are even responding to voter comments and questions to create a two-way dialogue that was previously unheard of. This added attention is creating a new platform to reach additional voters with amazing success.

Furthermore, social media has been a recent method for the people to police political claims. There are tens if not hundreds of websites out there that rebuttal arguments and verify facts. If knowledge is power, than our society got a whole lot stronger in the political realm with the implementation of the internet.

Finally, with politicians connecting and communicating online, donations have also seen a dramatic increase due to internet fundraising. Personal and political websites, Facebook pages and online donation sites such as Fundly are making giving that much easier while also connecting to social media outlets.

Social media is certainly making an impact on politics, both locally and nationally. In this new era, it is important for candidates to experiment in this cyber realm to garner voter attention, support and dollars.

Will the Money Keep Pouring in for the Presidential Candidates?

Is it just me or does the road to the Oval Office keep getting longer? It seems like the presidential candidates have been battling it out for an immense amount of time and slowly but surely the field has been narrowed down to a few frontrunners. Will the fundraising dollars to support these monumental campaigns still pour in?

There are several reasons why this election is a landmark in our country’s recent history: first of all, this is the first time in the post Watergate era that neither candidate is choosing to accept public funds. Secondly, a large portion of the monies collected has come from Super PAC’s which were deemed acceptable by the Supreme Court in 2010. Finally, the use of social media to gain supporters and donor dollars has never been used to this extent in any previous election. These factors alone will cause a huge impact pertaining to the results in this November’s election.

Paul Blumenthal of The Huffington Post explains that, “The public matching-funds system began in 1976 in response to the campaign finance abuses of the Nixon administration, uncovered during Congress’ investigation of the Watergate scandal. Presidential candidates who can show broad support through fundraising across the various states become eligible to receive matching funds from the government so long as they abide by strict spending limits. These funds are available for both primary and general election campaigns.” In this election both candidates have declined this option in favor of garnering unlimited funds from individuals and are able to avoid spending limits.

Super PAC’s have been rather controversial but influential, nonetheless. “Super PACs and political nonprofits have already poured more than $100 million into the 2012 elections, much of that on negative ads. Independent group spending this time is expected to easily eclipse the record $304 million spent in the 2010 cycle,” comments Blumenthal.

Social media has been the third major influence on this year’s presidential election. Online ads with Yahoo, thousands of Tweets, the implementation of Facebook pages and countless text messages have become the norm concerning modern campaigning. Not only is this appealing to a newer generation of voters, but it is making politicians more accessible to the public. Online fundraising has also increased creating a whirlwind of support like never before.

The times are changing and so are the ways that the politicians are attempting to climb up Capitol Hill. The winner will be the one who incorporates all three avenues brilliantly.


Online Fundraising Gives a Vote of Confidence to Political Campaigns

Online Fundraising Gets Vote of Confidence in Political CampaignsIt’s impossible to watch the news these days and not see a report about the upcoming 2012 Presidential Election. Regardless of your candidate of choice or party affiliation, you have to admit the contenders are giving it all they’ve got to win the office at hand.  From kissing babies to Google ads, this election is an interesting blend of old and new fundraising tactics.

While television debates, benefit dinners, and rallies are tried and true methods of gaining voter approval, what has truly sparked my interest is how these candidates are connecting with people that can now have their voices heard using social media. By the end of this election, the unchartered waters of online political fundraising will be vastly explored by these electoral pioneers.

In a recent report published by Fundly, we found that online political fundraising is being utilized like never before. We have had three of the presidential hopefuls as clients, plus one thousand other political figures petitioning for various offices. Due to our political clientele on both party lines, we are able to accumulate facts and figures pertaining to online fundraising in a way that has not been possible in previous years. As such, we have found that by the end of January 2012 political online fundraising had increased 53 percent as compared to the previous year. Furthermore, we saw that the daily social fundraising volume in January exceeded December’s average volume by more than 350 percent.

There is a good question that arises amid all of the controversies surrounding the use of PAC’s: will even more focus be placed on social media fundraising as candidates strive to gain public approval? The time, energy and finances invested into procuring funds can be vastly diminished with the launch of a simple Facebook page, some daily tweets on Twitter and taking a few minutes to start a campaign donation page on Fundly.

So why should you use Fundly as part of your campaign strategy? When a stranger asks for money, it’s easy and probable for people to answer “no, thanks.” When a friend asks for money, there is a foundation and level of trust in the relationship which usually produces a positive response like, “sure, I’d love to!”  Friends are also more open to supporting a candidate and hearing their positions when recommended by a friend. This is the basic idea of social fundraising and Fundly helps your campaign reap the benefits. When a donor contributes to your candidate through Fundly, that action can be posted to their Facebook and Twitter profiles to share with their network of friends, family, and colleagues. Not only are they bringing attention to your campaign, but a call of support to their entire social network. The average person has well over 100 friends on Facebook and now you have over 100 potential donors.

While the focus of political fundraising has mainly been on the presidential race, what we are learning from this election can be applied to campaigns for smaller offices, such as mayor, school board advisor, and the like. With Fundly, it’s easy for candidates to set up a website, gather supporter information, and start collecting donations. Regardless of the political position, the methods of fundraising are the same; it’s just a different scale.

The PAC Powerhouse of Political Campaign Fundraising

As I think back to the Constitution and the original form of our government in its essence of democratic purity, I can’t help but wonder what our forefathers would think of the current electoral process.

Would they be aghast at the immense amount of cash raised and spent? Would they be flabbergasted at political fundraising mixed with the advancement of technology? How would they feel about Super PACs? However, I also ponder if these questions are fair to pose in an apples-to-oranges comparison. In a world in which powdered wigs, wooden teeth and only male voters existed, do the same principles apply?

In a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, it was found that 69% of voters believe that PACs should be banned. Furthermore, 78% of independent voters believe that they should be eliminated. Do PACs really deserve such a bad rap?

Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, has already spent nearly $34 million in early presidential primary states on his behalf. Winning Our Future, a super PAC associated with former House speaker Newt Gingrich, has already gone through $16 million. President Obama is also gaining momentum using a PAC; Priorities USA Action is in effect and is run by two former White House aides.

The Washington Post reports that, “All told, super PACs have raised more than $130 million and spent $75 million in the 2012 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Given that the 2012 election isn’t for another eight months or so and that super PACs focused on House races have already begun to crop up, it’s easy to see that number cresting $500 million or even nearing $1 billion before the election is over.

What does the future hold for political fundraising? Online fundraising through sites like Fundly are at an all time high and the candidates are spending time, money and strategic planning on optimizing social networking. We’ll just have to wait and see how technology and major donor giving influences the outcome of the presidential election in November.

The Obama Fundraising Machine

In the early 1980’s when I was about 6 years old my dad ran for County Supervisor. I remember wearing frilly dresses and going to political parties. We ordered hundreds of bright blue and neon orange signs that said “Leadership for the 80’s” and put them up in friends’ yards and on busy street corners.  We canvassed neighborhoods knocking on voter’s doors and had a phone call list a mile long with friends and family members spreading the word. He lost that race and ten years later we repeated the cycle when he ran for School Board (and unfortunately lost that election, too.) He’s not planning to pursue any more of his political ambitions; however, I’m still glad political fundraising methods have changed.

There was an article in The New York Times last week written by Jim Rutenberg and Jeff Zeleny which discussed how President Obama has created an almost corporate-like atmosphere as he pursues a second term as president. Like a well-oiled Silicon Valley techno-machine, his workers are busily scouting out past donors who gave in the beginning and are currently missing in action. “Mr. Obama’s re-election team is sifting through reams of data available through the Internet or fed to it by its hundreds of staff members on the ground in all 50 states, identifying past or potential supporters and donors and testing e-mail and Web-based messages that can entice them back into the fold” reports Rutenger and Zeleny.

President Obama, along with his Republican competitors, realizes that much of the campaigning to win the race will be done on the internet. “With the help of Web developers recruited from the private sector, [the campaign] has dedicated considerable hours creating technology that can make its Web site, barackobama.com, fit perfectly onto any screen, be it an iPhone, Blackberry or Droid — a seemingly small detail that campaign officials say can make a huge difference when it comes to enticing donors or volunteers to stay connected or click a ‘donate’ button” observes Rutenger and Zeleny.

Not by chance or trial and error, but through tangible reports, facts and figures is science being applied to the partnership of politics and social media. No longer are politicians from City Hall to the White House relying on knocking on doors to shake hands with the voters or passing out leaflets boasting of their past accomplishments and future goals. Today’s campaign trail is littered with crisp mailers, a path of Tweets and Facebook fodder to reach the masses and Fundly is proud to be a part of the future of political fundraising.

Republican Candidate Romney Looking for Individual Donors

Can $3 make an impact on determining the future President of the United States? According to Mitt Romney, it can!

“Donate $3 today to be automatically entered to be Mitt’s special guest for Election Night on Super Tuesday,” reads an email appeal from the Romney campaign to supporters. A video was also put on the web petitioning donors to give $20 to battle the “Obama Attack Machine.” With the power of the Super PAC’s and Romney’s own personal bank account rivaling that of a small nation, why would these miniscule gifts tip the scales in Romney’s favor?

Reporters Matea Gold and Melanie Mason from the Chicago Tribune wrote that, “Although he has outstripped his Republican rivals in fundraising, he also is burning through cash. Romney spent money nearly three times faster than he raised it in January, leaving him with $7.7 million. Since then, his campaign has shelled out at least $2.7 million for television advertising alone, according to sources familiar with the ad buys.”

Furthermore, Romney’s donor numbers are vastly different than his political rivals. Just 9 percent of the nearly $63 million Romney raised through the end of January came from supporters who gave $200 or less. The Campaign Finance Institute found that two-thirds of the money he has raised so far has come from donors who have given $2,500. However, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, as well as President Barack Obama, have had about half of their funding come in from small donors.

Online political fundraising is definitely proving to be the favored choice for candidates to reach the masses. “Romney’s campaign is trying to reverse that imbalance by soliciting single-digit donations via the Web. That’s a tactic regularly used by the Obama campaign to gather new email addresses for future fundraising,” reports Gold and Mason.

So which is more important: investing more time into smaller donations to gain voter support or investing less time into major donors to garner more money? With democracy, I would have to say it’s both.

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