Tom O’Neill: Digital Communication’s Impact on 2016 Election

Dear Friend,

220px-Thomas_P_O'Neill_III“All Politics is Local” has become a familiar adage. But the words were more than just a saying – to my dad they were a deep belief. It meant shaking a hand, looking someone in the eye, listening to a personal story. My dad didn’t just speak those words, he lived them.

The world has changed. Communication has changed. Political campaigns have changed. But while the tools used in today’s campaigns are vastly different from when my dad ran for office, and the pace in which we share information and interact with each other is exponentially faster, the fundamentals of campaigning remain the same.

Now, more than ever, my father’s philosophy still rings true.

The 2016 presidential election season is in full swing. The first Republican primary debate is just days away and a record number of candidates crisscross the country, hoping to gain an edge on their primary competitors.

But in the 2016 election, whether the tool is 140 characters shared in a tweet, an online comment or complaint, an email blast or a viral video, every interaction with constituents matters. There may be more ways to engage with audiences than ever before, more channels of communication. But at the end of the day, whether it is in politics or business, the public wants to be heard. And more importantly, people want to know that leaders are listening.

Since a large part of conversation today takes place online, it is critical that we listen digitally. Digital platforms and social media listening tools offer us the opportunity to instantly and constantly interact with each other, to measure sentiment, to see which messages, images and hashtags resonate, and to see who is most influential to a specific candidate, cause or marketing campaign. The amount of data at our fingertips is endless. The key is to know how to effectively integrate this information into your overall communications or campaign strategy to get out the vote, relate with your audiences, change opinion, or advance your agenda.

Social media can be used to sway the undecideds, but it is also very effective at identifying previously undiscovered pockets of supporters and inspiring them to act. Just because you’re a trending topic on Facebook or Twitter, doesn’t mean that those people creating buzz about you will actually show up to the polls to vote or take on your cause. By zeroing in on specific geographies on digital platforms, campaigns can now tailor their calls to action to microsegments of supporters, giving new meaning to my father’s old adage.

The breadth and depth of digital media and the 24-hour news cycle has forced candidates, campaigns and companies to refocus their strategies and reimagine the ways in which they connect with target audiences; and the opportunity for disengagement or non-engagement no longer exists. Even as social media continues to take on a more pervasive role, traditional media and grassroots outreach remain important, with one tactic never acting as a substitute for another.

Tom O’Neill

Chief Executive Officer

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