Massachusetts Senate race: Democrats forget about social/mobile media

Last night Republican Steve Brown won a tough U.S. Senate seat to replace the late Ted Kennedy, defeating Martha Coakley, the state attorney general. (Interactive map, here). In a high-stakes election that could kill Obama’s health reform bill, social media should have played an important role. It did, but surprisingly, it was the GOP that owned social media. I’ve been scratching my head trying to figure out why the party that had a tickle trunk full of social media innovations in 2007-08 seemed to have ignored the medium until the very end when it was clear they could lose. Perhaps that’s all it was: the assumption that Kennedy’s seat would never leave Democrats’ hands. (This is the bluest of the bluest states, after all…) Whatever the rationale, Scott Brown’s social media team showed off the power of social media in getting out the vote.

And to put things into perspective, consider this account of where Scott Brown’s campaign sat months ago (h/t: Colin Delany):

The fundamental dynamic of the race fell in place months ago, when Brown set off in a pickup truck for the only campaign the Republican could afford: retail, door-to-door. The campaign was so strapped for cash that aides described the $40,000 spent in the primary as a major hit. Brown could not afford to mail out absentee ballots, often so crucial in a close race. “So our program consists of e-mail and Facebook and Twitter,” said Eric Fehrnstrom, a campaign official.

As my colleague Lanny Cardow has already pointed out, while the Democrats fought bitterly for “Ted Kennedy’s seat” – the GOP reminded them that its in fact the people’s seat.

More from the Washington Post:

Coakley was rarely in position to detect the growing anger Brown would channel. Her strategy called for cultivating the local Democratic leaders who could be relied on to turn out enough of the faithful to win a special election, traditionally a low-turnout affair.

“I didn’t think relying on the governor and the mayor and this whole trickle-down voting was going to work,” said Sandy Fleishman, 69, a campaign volunteer at the Clinton rally. “I’m part of the old-fashioned politics. To a lot of people who don’t follow the issues, you shake their hand, you’ve got their vote.”

And in 2010, you can use the Internet to get the next best thing to a hand-shake: interaction with the candidate online. For its part, the campaign is responsible for helping its supporters get out the vote. And guess who had an app for that? Yup, and Brown’s app wasn’t just a glorified web page containing his bio and latest videos. It literally put a walk list in supporters’ hands.

Leading up to yesterday’s vote, the campaign ran targeted online ads to convert supporters into volunteers. Showing off the cost-effectiveness of digital advertising, Brown’s team targeted ads at people living within 30 miles of the campaign’s 10 regional field offices across the state, using what is now a standard tactic, the Google surge (h/t. ClickZ).

On Facebook, Brown’s fans numbered 49,000 on Friday and last night sat at over 100,000. Compare that to Coakley’s Facebook appeal: 10,400 fans on Friday and just over 18,000 this morning. The big difference though, is that Brown has spent time building a base of supporters in his current position as state senator.

On Twitter, Brown grew from 7,775 to 15,000 in that time, while Coakley grew from 2,800 to 4,000. The Brown campaign used Twitter hashtags to raise awareness of his campaign. If you check out his Twitter page, you’ll see that it was re-designed for GOTV efforts: http://twitter.com/scottbrownMA.

They also understood the importance of building a supporter list and asked supporters to text their support — allowing the campaign to capture their info for future use (read, GOTV).

Of course, campaigns need money. And we all know how Obama raised buckets of money online. So did Scott Brown. Last Monday, his campaign organized a “money bomb” and raised $1.3 million, and $1 million a day for the rest of the week.

So in early 2010, the score sits at 1-0 for the GOP from a social media campaign perspective. It’ll be interesting to see what transpires in November. The GOP definitely has momentum, and some bright new media folks working for them. I’d say they’ve got the edge now.

Update: Coakley’s new media team defends itself.
Image credit: Mark Sardella

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