Well, well here we are again. Labor Day came and went before we knew it. The air is turning a bit more crisp, the leaves are deciding to alter their appearance, the RNC and DNC have had their spotlight and yet another presidential election lies dead ahead.

Four years ago I provided a breakdown on Barack Obama’s social media strategy as a country full of wide-eyed young voters aggressively took to the polls to support a new leader’s vision for change. At the time, we watched closely as the pool of candidates across party lines raced to embrace the proven power of social media to help grow their respective support bases. Without a doubt, Barack Obama stole the social show as his team of InterWeb savvy staffers took to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and other channels to weave together networks of fanatical support.

Fast forward to 2012 and things feel…well, a bit subdued. In fact, it’s quite odd.

Four years ago, I was amidst the masses in Chicago swept up in Obama hype. A campaign poster hung in my office.  I frequently lent my social support and did my part with donated campaign dollars. I even thrived on the quick high I would get on my evening commute staring up at various campaign support offices flooded with Obama gear. Four years later and there is no denying that the hype has decreased significantly. The Obama groundswell platform based on “hope” and “change” has shifted to a platform message of “forward” – a plea for the country to come together and stand together.

Personally, I have been surprised by the lack of buzz and surround sound communications I recall from 2008. Outside of an Obama-lead Facebook post or tweet, political commentary across my social networks has been all but minimal. Friends that were once equally as ecstatic and excited as I four years ago now actively shy away from deep political conversations at the dinner table. In short, the build up has been slow and steady for both candidates, but it’s safe to assume we’ll all see a flurry of online activity as we near towards November.

In 2008, the use of social media in the presidential campaign race transitioned from being a novelty to a refined science. Obama’s team of young social marketing strategists had a set game plan and it worked like a well-oiled machine. But the playing field has changed in 2012. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are no longer novel but rather mainstay and expected communications channels around the election. According to a post last week by @mattwhiting on Urban Times, this election season will find two-thirds of social media users ages 18 to 34 taking to social media sites to learn about the candidates.

So, with less than two months left until the big day, what are social strategists on either candidate’s campaign team to do?

I thought it would be wise to turn to someone who has seen it all unfold from the inside. Fellow Weber Shandwick colleague Bradley Portnoy spent time in 2008 as a member of Obama’s new media team. I asked Bradley how he thought the social media race would differ this time around and he was kind enough to provide the following insight:

“In 2008, the campaigns were highly focused on user acquisition, at the expense of a more nuanced strategy. Now, with the American public having firmly integrated social media into their daily lives, the campaigns must determine what will drive their bases to action, both on- and offline.

Both campaigns have made excellent use of sharable content and are staying on-trend with social media best practices. What remains to be seen is which conglomeration of online strategies is best integrated into each campaigns’ overall structure; the Romney campaign has outsourced most development, while the Obama campaign has rebuilt most tools in-house. Whichever strategy works out best will provide a future blueprint for how campaigns operate in the digital space.”

Building upon Bradley’s insight, let’s take a quick look at both candidates’ broad digital footprint:

Team Obama

Followers: 19.3M+

Likes: 28.1M+

Subscribers: 217k+
Video Views: 222M+

Team Romney

Followers: 1.0M+

Likes: 6.2M+

Subscribers: 17k+
Video Views: 20M+

Granted these are just numbers and not measures on engagement and interaction. Furthermore, Team Obama has in fact had many additional years of hard social marketing under their belt. But, it sets the stage for each candidate’s existing foundation.

As crunch time nears, here’s how I see it playing out in social media world for the winning candidate.

1. It’s All About Scale

The fundamentals are in place for both campaigns and in 2012, we’re dealing with a matter of scale. Consider this advantage- every time the Obama camp or the man himself (or the First Lady) tweets from @BarackObama, there are 19X as many people potentially viewing the communication than a single tweet from @MittRomney. Similar multipliers apply across other main social channels which naturally means Obama has a much larger embedded online base to mobilize at any moment. This came to life last week as Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton and finally Barack all spurred Twitter activity throughout the Democratic National Convention overpowering Twitter volume generated during the Republican National Convention.

2. Keep the Creative Edge

While daily community management is essential for both campaign teams to keep their support base engaged and active, the creative edge across various activations will be essential to helping spike engagements. Recently, Obama nailed it with a surprise Q&A on Reddit.com. The chat was incredibly well received by the community of social influencers and demonstrated Obama’s close tie to technology and the power of social networking. The Romney camp has yet to push the boundaries to date on anything outside of traditional block and tackle social engagement.

3. Focus on the Right Content, at the Right Time, in the Right Channel

Team Romney’s digital director, Zac Moffatt, noted last week on FoxNews.com that his camp is focused on quality versus quantity when it comes to content volume in the social sphere. According to Moffatt, “Barack Obama tweets 30 times a day – that’s not how we want to use Twitter.”

The point Moffatt seems to miss is that Team Obama has a better grasp on the volume of content that is necessary to make a dent and be successful in today’s content-driven world. As opposed to using Twitter as a firehose, Team Obama is being smart in recognizing that different people engage with Twitter at different times throughout the day. Spreading out content and amping volume increases the likelihood that you’ll catch eyeballs and drive engagement with different audiences.

The baseline volume of existing likes and followers is also critical for quick, timely responses. For example, during the Republican National Convention, Team Obama responded to Clint Eastwood’s imaginary chair address with a short and incredibly impactful response:

The response has driven more than 503,000 likes and 83,000 shares to date on Facebook quickly overpowering deterring attention away from any social traction and online engagement by Team Romney.

Last week, Team Obama was also quick to capitalize on the momentum of Bill Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention with a return to the timely micro-donation approach that worked so well in 2008.

As the battle ahead continues for Obama and Romney, my clear vote on social strategy rests with Team Obama. Comments and thoughts are of course welcome as it pertains to your own insights and assessment of each team’s social strategy.

Regardless of which side of the fence you sit, the importance of getting out to vote is paramount. The election will be a tight one and as always, it’s our civic duty and incredible privilege to study the issues and have a voice in determining our nation’s leader. Go vote!

Image courtesy of DonkeyHotey.

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