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How Social Media Became THE Destination for Election 2012 Predictions and PR Lessons

The 2008 US Presidential Election may have been referred to as the “social media election” but that was then, and this year’s election campaign season was unlike any before it.

Four years ago, 1.8 million tweets were sent on Election Day. But now, in 2012, there are 1.8 million tweets sent every eight minutes.

This Election Day, Twitter narrowly avoided a much-expected crash, peaking at 327,452 tweets per minute as a re-elected President Obama was called by news organizations around the country – including even veteran journalist Katie Couric who was given the job of social media expert during ABC’s election night broadcast.

I have been closely following the election all year as our client Attensity analyzed social media conversations about everything from the Super Tuesday primary elections (for which Attensity correctly predicted Gov. Romney as the top vote-getter), to the Presidential debates, to the most recent Election Day (for which Attensity provided Yahoo! and Bloomberg TV with real-time social analytics). In the end, Attensity found that, while the spread was much larger in social media, the candidate with the most voter support in social media won.

For this election, age demographics particularly seemed to be one of the largest dividing lines. Perhaps younger voters weren’t tuning in to watch the election results on the evening news this year (Twitter and Facebook are much more convenient), but they were watching some TV—namely the comedic satire news programs such as The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

Making guest appearances on these shows gets viewers’ attention by meeting them on their terms. But, it wasn’t just appearing on a nightly news program that stirred so much attention and engaged so many conversations—it was the use of social media during the interviews. With hashtags on Twitter, watchers and (potential) voters were able to engage with each other in an easy, portable way. In fact, 39 percent of US adults have engaged in political activity on Facebook or Twitter. Additionally, research has shown that social media users in the US are six times more likely to go to a political convention, three times more likely to influence other voters and two times more likely to actually vote.

That sort of potential offers a clear lesson to make sure your business or client is where the people are: online! Make a point to be engaged on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites.

As the election comes to a close, the politicians who did best in social media are the ones personally invested in a digital strategy that was integrated into all aspects of their campaigns. For instance, the time the largest number of people were engaging on Facebook was during prime time TV viewing hours, and the smartest campaigns ran their ads then on TV and also on Facebook. That way a constituent might have seen a commercial on TV and had that message reinforced with a Facebook ad that told them which of their friends support that candidate.

The benefits of harnessing this kind of knowledge in social media extend well beyond politics into any client’s industry.

At the moment, the number of active Facebook users of voting age is about 150 million, and they each have an average of 130 friends—so there is a gigantic potential for people’s opinion to be swayed. While the numbers may not be quite as astronomical for your business or client, the opportunity to build your brand and target potential customers is certainly there.

Jordan Hubert can be reached at jhubert@sterlingpr.com. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jahubert.

Photo credit: http://www.facebook.com/FamilyGuy

Lisa Hawes

Running “Deep,” Instead of Running Away

GM’s Chevrolet Volt

“Chevy Runs Deep”

When GM auto company Chevrolet introduced this new slogan late last year, few knew exactly what it meant. According to Chevy’s advertising agency – Goodby, Silverstein & Partners – “Chevy Runs Deep” is meant to be used in such a way that it will solve past marketing problems faced by the car company, including an overly heavy focus on nostalgia instead of the future.

Everyone knows that scandal sells. For that reason, we tend to focus on the negative, sometimes bone-headed moves made by large companies — from BP to Netflix — while paying scant attention to things handled well. So, as we finish up the year, let’s raise a glass in honor of GM, as it recently making good on the promise of the Chevy slogan by proactively addressing a potentially explosive issue, instead of running away from the problem. This is worth acknowledging and applauding. Here’s the background:

In late November, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that its side-impact crash tests resulted in battery fires in three Chevrolet Volts (the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle manufactured by GM). However, to date, no actual customers have experienced any fires; the problem has occurred only in the NHTSA tests.

Within just three days, GM CEO Dan Akerson announced a loaner car policy for any Volt owners concerned about safety. The policy was to remain in effect until NHTSA and GM completed further tests to resolve the battery issue. GM was even willing to re-purchase Volts from any fearful owners. Only 33 Volt owners contacted the company for a loaner, according to the vice president for Chevrolet U.S. sales.

Serendipitously for GM, Consumer Reports issued its annual car owner-satisfaction survey a few days after the NHTSA announcement, which awarded the top honors to the Volt. The Volt also remained among the highest-rated cars on the IIHS (Insurance Institute of Highway Safety) annual list announced in mid-December.

Why did the Chevy Volt not experience a media firestorm similar to the one suffered by Toyota in early 2010 due to its (perceived) faulty gas pedals?

GM started this trial by fire from a position of strength, due to its universe of clearly happy Volt customers. Instead of stonewalling the NHTSA report, the company took a proactive stance and quickly implemented a plan to address customer queries before those queries were even made. Happy customers, while perhaps slightly concerned, remained generally satisfied. GM didn’t give them an opportunity to whine, so their complaints didn’t stoke a media fire. The immediate loaner plan and buy-back offer defused the situation before it could get out of hand.

I wondered how this was reflected in social media, so I used a social analytics solution from our client Attensity to analyze the general sentiment around the Chevy Volt crisis in sites such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs, forums and others.

The results using Attensity’s solution showed that neutral comments accounted for 64.7% of Chevy Volt-related discussions in social media over the last month, with many of the comments simply a relay of various media reports, rather than original comments from disgruntled customers.

I found the most commonly used words across social media related to GM and the Volt situation – “GM Volt fire,” “Electric Cars,” “Battery” – to be equally neutral, without proximity to or association with negative terms or expressions of condemnation.

I also tracked the top trending dates around the Volt, and, accordingly, the spikes in chatter over the last 30 days coincided with the major related news announcements shared within social media: the Nov. 25 announcement of the NHTSA investigation; the Nov. 28 Consumer Reports survey; and the Dec. 5 identification of a coolant leak as a possible cause of the battery fires.

Even individual tweets illuminate the generally optimistic attitude toward the Chevy Volt:

Although 2011 sales for the Volt aren’t as high as expected, GM, with continued proactive PR and customer feedback management, looks to “run deep” with a strong future.

UPDATE: As of January 5, 2012, General Motors has advised Volt owners to return their vehicles to the dealer for minor repair. Dealers will add steel to a plate that protects the Volt battery, spreading the force of a crash over a larger area. The repairs — which would fix 8,000 Volts on U.S. roads and another 4,400 still for sale — fall under a “customer service campaign,” which is similar to a safety recall but allows GM to avoid the bad publicity and federal monitoring that come with a recall.

Lisa Hawes can be reached at lhawes@sterlingpr.com. Follow Lisa on Twitter @lisakayhawes.

Photo credit: davydeagle via Flickr

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The Science of Social Media

As PR practitioners, most of us would describe our craft as more art than science. That's because every company, every brand is different, and there's no such thing as a formulaic "one size fits all" approach. That said, many influencers in the social media world have attempted to do just that – with claims that one particular time of day is best to post on Facebook, or that brands should tweet X times per day for maximum efficacy.

As it turns out, there are certain patterns that can predict whether a Facebook or Twitter post will have maximum impact, but those trends are found within the individual brand. Even within the same industry – or the same company, for that matter – differences can be huge. For example, GM's audience is different from Ford's, and the audience for the Focus is different from that of the Explorer.

A new social media management and analytics company just launched last month, and has discovered how to harness the science behind social media and offer brands real-time predictive analytics to help them get the most of their social media efforts. Watch this WebProNews interview with Prosodic CEO Leigh Fatzinger, as he describes how his company is changing the face of social media analytics (full disclosure: Prosodic is a client of ours).