“Let’s do two rounds of voter ID robocalls: evangelicals age 55+ and those who voted in the last two election cycles.” This should sound familiar to any political operative worth his salt.
Campaigns have used microtargeting for decades, mainly through direct mail and telephone marketing, and in the past few years through social media. There are new social networks popping up monthly, but only the largest and most stable get to the life stage where campaigns can actually take advantage of them with microtargeting. This life stage usually coincides with the need for a social network to start creating some serious revenue. As social networks build out their microtargeting permissions, political campaigns can pay to take advantage.
Twitter is now at the revenue-creating life stage, which means real-time microtargeting is here. Why settle for unidirectional message delivery to targeted voters when you can now achieve bidirectional interaction instantaneously?
Twitter allows for microtargeting via two different avenues: directly advertising on the Twitter platform or by using Twitter’s API to create custom applications with some of the website’s data. The custom applications that can be built from Twitter’s API specifically for campaign purposes are robust and allow real-time communication with microtargeted voters. Other avenues, such as direct mail, email and Facebook allow microtargeting message delivery, but not the same real-time interaction.
The technology is already showing great promise in actual practice and in mimicking polling results. Our company—Digital Acumen—has built “Dapper,” a custom Twitter application. It allows candidates to target, say, voters on Twitter over the age of 45 who primarily vote on faith-based issues. Moreover, the campaign can instantly interact with those voters to see if its internal and public polling numbers are accurate.
In February, our “Buzz Meter” accurately tracked and presented sentiment numbers on how voters on Twitter in Michigan and Arizona felt about each GOP presidential candidate. These numbers pre-empted the Real Clear Politics polling average in those states by four days. Sampling sizes vary, and the types of interactions vary as well, but the sentiment discovered allows the campaign to either stick with a message that’s working or quickly change course.
In the next few years there will be a paradigm shift from static information, such as mailers and robo-calls, toward real-time interaction. When we turn on the TV, listen to the radio or browse the Web today, we find most media outlets telling us to join them on Facebook, tweet at them and engage them online. Steadily, the age of political communication through static mediums is going to fade away as targeted real-time interaction takes its place. We’re now in the beginning of this new age, and Twitter is where it’s being born.
Kellen Giuda is a partner at Digital Acumen, a technology company that focuses exclusively on the Twitter platform and, among other things, previously hosted the first ever all-Twitter presidential debate.