Planting the Seeds of a Campaign on Social Media

September 7, 2010

The other day I received an e-mail alerting me that George Allen was following me on Twitter. This peaked my curiosity, knowing the former Governor and Senator is exploring a return to politics after his stunning loss to Jim Webb in 2006. The question to ponder is how can perspective politicians utilize social media as a precursor to a campaign?

2012 Presidential hopefuls Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee are obvious candidates to examine for this article but instead we are going to fixate our eyes on the state of Virginia and examine two statewide politicians from opposing sides of the political spectrum.

Heading into his 2006 Senate reelection campaign, George Allen was seen by many as the preeminent face of the Republican Party. Many considered his Senate reelection campaign a mere footnote to a 2008 Presidential run. Then on August 11, 2006 Allen had his infamous ‘macaca’ moment, and the campaign derailed. Allen ended up losing to Jim Webb by approximately 8,800 votes, forcing the prominent Republican into obscurity.

Fast forward to 2010 and it is no secret that Allen is considering a rematch against Webb in two years. Allen is very active on Facebook, with his page consisting of more than 3,000 fans. He is working feverishly to increase his Twitter following. Allen is using social media to promote events he is attending on behalf of fellow Virginia Republicans, highlight articles that expound his political views, discuss sports and promote his new book.

Terry McAuliffe is best known in Washington has the chief fundraising architect for President Bill Clinton and former head of the Democratic National Committee. McAuliffe decided to try his hand in elected office, running for Governor of Virginia in 2009. Despite an overwhelming fundraising advantage and a lead in the polls for much of the primary, McAuliffe succumbed to a late surge from State Senator Creigh Deeds.

Judging by his actions, many belief McAuliffe is considering another run in 2013. McAuliffe is not active on Facebook though he is on Twitter, with more than 2,300 followers. He also regularly updates his Web site, Similar to Allen, McAuliffe uses social media to promote events he attends on behalf of fellow Virginia Democrats as well as highlight interviews he participates in with reporters. McAuliffe is not as active as Allen on Twitter, only tweeting every few days.

Social media is a great avenue for prospective candidates to test the waters of a potential run for office. Politicians can demonstrate their commitment to the community, showcase their work with local political leaders and test messaging. Similar to other aspects of a campaign such as fundraising and community support, it is much easier to build a successful social media infrastructure by planting the seeds before announcing a candidacy.