A little over a year ago Barack Obama surged to victory using social media to drive his energized base to the polls. Tonight in Massachusetts, Republican Scott Brown turned the tables and used those same tools to help defeat Democrat Martha Coakley and win the Senate seat held by Ted Kennedy for almost 50 years. His victory proves the true power of the web to define the very fabric of our political process moving forward.
Brown Was Everywhere
I had an inkling this election wasn't going to go well for the Democrats when over the last several days I saw Brown's ads everywhere I traveled on the web. This showed he was well financed and that his campaign could use IP addresses to target ads to people from Massachusetts. I don't pay much attention to ads, but I couldn't help but notice his picture everywhere I looked, and it had to have a cumulative if subtle effect to keep the candidate on top of minds of voters as they moved around the web.
Contrast that with Coakley who had far fewer ads, and mostly on sites where you would expect to see them like Boston.com.
The Social Media Factor
The other day, David Meerman Scott, author of World Wide Rave and the New Rules of Media and PR, wrote a piece on Huffington Post on the social media numbers game. Unlike last year when when John McCain knew little about social media, Brown and the Republican machine that supported him showed they have learned a lot in a year. In fact, according to numbers in Scott's post, the Brown campaign blew Coakley out of the water in terms of presence on Twitter and Facebook. She never seemed to have a foothold and it showed.
A friend complained the other night that when she criticized Brown recently on Twitter, she was surprised at the swift reaction she got from Brown supporters. This surprised me too until I read Scott's piece and realized that the Republicans had learned very fast about the power of social media and had mobilized to answer any challenges to their candidate. The handwriting was on the wall.
Nobody Owns the Internet
Obama's campaign team at Blue State Digital did a masterful job of creating the first internet campaign in our history. This campaign shows nobody has a monopoly on these tools. Scott Brown used them just as effectively to gain his unthinkable victory this year as Obama did to get his last year. To be certain the internet was not only the factor, but make no mistake, it was a powerful one.
While I may be personally disappointed by the outcome, a part of me is deeply impressed by the campaign and the underlying notion that if you win the battle of social media and online advertising, you have a good shot at winning the whole war. And these same lessons apply to business as much as they do for politics. Anyone who no longer believes in the power of social media, obviously does so at their own peril. Martha Coakley certainly learned that tonight in Massachusetts.