Last week, I posted about the effects of viral internet content on campaign strategies and the media’s coverage of the content. This week, I will focus on the way this content goes viral: through the crafting of contagious content. I will focus solely on the Obama campaign’s use of Facebook to demonstrate the methods that campaigns use .
Jonah Berger, assistant Marketing Professor at Wharton University, researched the underlying psychology of viral content and how marketers can use this information to craft contagious content. Though his book on the research, Contagious: How to make products, ideas, and behaviors catch on, will not be out until next year, he offers insight into one of the six ways (that he analyzes) content goes viral. He attributes viral content to emotions that activate people. These emotions can either be positive or negative, but negative emotions tend to activate internet-users more so than positive ones. In addition to Berger’s research, blogger Jeff Bullas offers a 9-step plan to improve social media marketing, the most important of these steps is to know your audience. I will combine the knowledge of Bullas and Berger to demonstrate how emotional, targeted political messages are disseminated through Facebook.
There are multiple ways that the Obama campaign can target the candidate’s likely voters and disseminate contagious content on Facebook. The three that I will focus on are advertisements that appear on the right side of the newsfeed, what gets posted to the candidate’s official page and the influence of the “like” button.
According to Facebook, the advertisements that appear on the right side of the newsfeed are tailored to each user based on cookies. Daniel Kreiss explains in his book Taking Our Country Back why Strategic Telemetry, a statistical analysis firm, was hired to create a 0-100 scale based on the characteristics of a likely Obama voter (179). Information that is compiled by cookies can be used to determine how likely a user is to vote for Obama. They can then be ranked on the scale that Strategic Telemetry created. As Bullas argues, successful audience targeting is essential to creating viral content. As my Facebook homepage illustrates, I am a likely supporter of Obama. Instead of advertisements trying to get me to “learn about a specific candidate,” they often pertain to early voting and finding out how to early vote as a means to mobilize me as a supporter. Though this content is not meant to go viral, it is none-the-less an important means of targeting.
Moving on to the official Barack Obama Facebook page, content that is posted there includes graphics that highlight successes of his presidency along with the weaknesses of his opponent. These graphics are effective in two different ways. First, the graphics eliminate complicated rhetoric and hit on key issues that would tend to mobilize his likely voters: healthcare, wall street reform, student loan reform, etc. These are targeted towards strong supporters because they do not automatically show up on newsfeeds. The page must be actively sought-out in order to see what the campaign is posting. Second, these graphics are all cohesive and are reflective of the Obama “brand.” According to Kreiss, Obama’s New Media Division in 2007 wanted to brand the candidate in order to “reinforce the meaning of Obama’s candidacy and inspire collective action” (138). A distinct “Obama brand” and a cohesiveness is present on each of the graphics. This content can go beyond graphics and include videos or stories of supporters that would evoke emotion from visitors and perhaps lead them to share the content with the rest of their friends..
“Liking” content on Facebook has become a way for users to share information with their friends. Recently the networking site made it possible for user to see what pages their friends like “to help people find new Pages, events or interesting information.” The activity of a user’s Facebook friends is seen on that user’s newsfeed. This can target a broader audience than that of the page alone since the content is seen by the user whether he or she actively sought information about the candidate or not. “Liking” disseminates the information from Obama’s official page to friends who may have similar interests.
Social media platforms have made it easier for candidates to target voters emotionally based on stored data used by the campaigns and the existing features that platforms like Facebook already had in place. With the increasing presence of social media, the ability to create viral content in the hopes that it will get picked up by the media is greater. Facebook is one of many platforms candidates can use to make contagious content more visible to a target audience.