By Manuel Feldmann, M.A, PR Specialist FJS ; Professor Vishal Sachdev, PhD (Director of the Illinois MakerLab); Natalie Papazian, B.Sc, Shanshan Thompson, M.S. and Mark Benson, MBA
Politicians, who run for national office in many political systems around the world have already used digital channels to great effect-building an audience and promoting attributes of their personal brand. In the United States, for example, former President Barack Obama zoomed to popularity in the 2008 Presidential election campaign by using digital channels such as social media platforms.(1) More recently, current President Donald Trump emerged as the Republican Party’s front-runner for the Presidential nomination by speaking directly to his followers on Twitter and providing his commentary on the current political situation from his own point of view.(2) However, in some countries, while social media is favored, it is still not being used perfectly, as in the case of the 2017 German Bundestag election campaigns. Social media’s potential in political campaigns has not been exhausted, especially when it comes to two-way- communication with voters. Indeed, there is room to improve.
That is why we want to present five arguments for why and how to use digital marketing tools for political communication in national political campaigns. In doing so, we tried to connect these recommendations to the topics found in the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Digital Marketing Specialization courses.
1. Websites: The Center of Your Campaign and Your Content Marketing.
Websites are still the classic tool of digital marketing. While social media dominates the headlines, websites should always be the center of a campaign. Imagine the website is a sun orbited by social media, email, and other digital tools, with each piece of this digital solar system connected and feeding information to each other. Homepages are where all information is gathered, where PR materials are found, and where other informational materials are provided, including downloads including flyers, articles, press releases, and brochures.A website might also contain announcements about upcoming party events. So to say, the website is at the center of a Content Marketing strategy. Another advantage of the website is, that you have full control over the design and content of the page.This level of direct control is limited on external platforms like social networks.
Additionally, websites help with the data analytics of your campaign. Specifically, the trail of every visitor to a certain website can be tracked digitally. Using the IP address, the political campaign can track the website visitor’s location. If this visitor fills out a simple popup questionnaire form and indicates demographic information, education level, and other personal details, the website owner can adjust the campaign. We can even see possibilities with inbound marketing in a political campaign. It is also possible to address targeted correspondence.
- Digital Channels: Social Networks as the Center of Two-way Communication
While websites only allow for one-way communication (ignoring some exceptions such as the integration of a forum or email), social media is the “king” of digital interactions. Here, communication with voters and followers is at the forefront or should be. Within social media, so-called social networks play the most important role. Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn etc. are currently the most popular platforms. The technical prerequisites of social networks allow fast and easy integration of content and communication. Political institutions or politicians could host Q&A chats with citizens or reply to comments to improve their engagement. So to speak, it is the way to be digitally closer to the citizen and to communicate with voters.
- Video Marketing: Set Your Own Topics
Until recently, video campaigning in political communication was restricted to televised debates or TV- advertisements. However, the potential of the digital era has significantly changed this situation. Now, every politician with access to Youtube or other video platforms can become a video broadcaster. Politicians can now create videos or offer live streams, set their own agenda and reach a very large audience without editorial barriers. When we look on the past German election campaign, we can see examples of these tendencies. Some parties have used Youtube or Facebook for live streaming or to comment on political topics. We can also see candidates making short video comments on political topics on Twitter.
- Personalization with Digital Political Staging
We have seen the personalization of campaign communication in presidential systems, such as in the United States and France, for decades. But also countries with parliamentary systems can benefit from personalization, especially since the rise of digital channels. In countries like Germany, we can see an increasing importance of personalization of candidates in the past years. And here digital platforms can help. Youtubers are the best example to show how powerful this tool is: with “Unboxings” or “Follow Me Around’s” many of them reach millions of viewers. In the European context, researchers very often speak of an Americanization of the political communication. This means, from a scientific view, personalization, implementation of show effects, as well as event character are blended into election campaigns. This is a way to promote specific attributes that the politician for national office would like potential voters to know.
- Marketing Analytics: Transfer the Tools from Business to Political Communication.
“Marketing Analytics” is also very important in a political marketing campaign. We have to analyze data before, during and after a campaign to know how to create our digital marketing plan, how to adapt to current developments, and if the plan was successful.
There is an important distinction between business marketing and political marketing– business marketing attempts to maximize sales or future cash flows while a national politician hopes to gain the highest possible vote count. However, it is also important for politicians to know their target audiences, develop a plan and follow it unless it requires an adjustment. When analyzing whether a digital marketing plan is successful or needs to be adjusted, these questions are essential to ask:
- Have we reached our objectives?
- Could the marketing campaign mobilize voters? And if so, which ones?
- What has changed compared to the initial situation?
- How is the mood on social media?
We have discussed how elements of digital marketing can also be applied to political campaign marketing. The politician’s website should be featured front and center, augmented both by digital channels allowing two-way communication and video marketing on YouTube to point out attributes of the politician’s brand. Greater personalization of the politician is also very possible. A digital marketing plan with a clean marketing analysis from time to time will help ensure success. Of course, there are many more aspects from the digital marketing area that can be considered. But if the five listed are used optimally, it can lead to a winning political marketing campaign on digital channels.
(1): This New York Times editorial from 2008 highlights former President Barack Obama’s successes with social media during his initial campaign for the Oval Office: David Carr, “How Obama Tapped Into Social Networks’ Power,” New York Times, November 9, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com /2008/11/10/business/media/10carr.html. An article touting Obama’s successful 2012 campaign is available in Fast Company—Amber Mac, “Social Media Insights Inspired by Barack Obama, America’s First Social President,” Fast Company, September 7, 2012, https://www.fastcompany.com/3001091/social-mediainsights-inspired-barack-obama-americas-first-truly-social-president.
(2): Amanda Hess, “How Trump Wins Twitter,” Slate, February 18, 2016, http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2016/02/donald_trump_is_the_best_at_twitter _here_s_why.html.
Photo credit: Manuel Feldmann
Manuel Feldmann, M.A. is a PR Consultant, FJS. Moreover he is a Political Scientist and a Political Scientist South Asia (M.A.) with a focus on Political Communication and Digital Marketing. He has also a degree in Public Relations from the “Freie Journalistenschule Berlin”. In addition, he has specialized in Social Media Marketing, Digital Marketing, International Marketing + Cross Industrial Growth and Digital PR through various universities. He is an Illinois Community Ambassador as well as a mentor for all six courses in the Digital Marketing specialization. He is also working on his PhD in Political Science. Manuel is also an Ambassador for Hootsuite and was press spokesman of various music companies. He is also part of the Brandsensations Inbound Marketing team. 2018 he volunteered as a digital campaign specialist for the german politician Verena Schmidt Voellmecke, who was running for office in the Bavarian State Elections. Since 2019 he is also personal assistant of Sebastian Alscher (party chairman of the german Pirate Party)
Professor Vishal Sachdev, PhD is a Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is the co-founder of the Illinois MakerLab, the first 3D Printing lab in a business school. He is the faculty lead of the Capstone course in the Digital Marketing Specialization by the University of Illinois.
Natalie Papazian is the Digital Marketing Project Manager for the iMBA business specializations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a former Sales & Customer Relationship Future Leader Intern at PepsiCo. She is a fourth-year undergraduate student studying marketing and supply chain management.
Shanshan Thompson works as an Admissions Consultant in China, helping Chinese students get admitted to top American universities. Currently, she is part of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Social Media Community Ambassador team.
Mark Benson, MBA, is a graduate of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Digital Marketing Specialization via Coursera. He enjoys collaborating with his colleagues on the Illinois Community Ambassador team. When he is not pursuing additional studies, he appreciates helping guide current students in the Digital Marketing Specialization Capstone Course create award-winning digital marketing plans.