Consumers’ lives are increasingly being reshaped by the constant possibilities of being ‘connected’. With digital technology being more readily affordable everywhere, consumers now spend a considerable amount of time online. In the USA for example, according to data from GfK Roper Reports Worldwide, consumers spend in average 19.7 hours per week using the Internet, which is more than one full day in seven, assuming they get some sleep as well!
Being able as a business or brand to capitalise on digital developments such as the use of social media will be the biggest opportunity and challenge looking ahead. The US elections are the latest example of how institutions can successfully use online platforms when it comes to communicating with the global connected consumer of today (and tomorrow). That President Obama’s confirmation of his victory came via Twitter just minutes after the first US television network called his victory was very fitting given that online technology has played such a big role in his campaign.
The timing for the use of social media on such a scale was of course just right. Four years ago social media was still relatively small (Twitter for instance was still reserved for a very small audience) and tablets and smartphones had not yet gone mainstream. By 2012 consumers had completely different behaviours – in 2012, 48% of US consumers with access to a mobile phone used their device to go online vs. only 14% four years ago.
During the 2012 US presidential campaign, US consumers themselves were keen to share their thoughts online. They sought out information on YouTube and other social media platforms and they proudly announced on Twitter and Facebook that they had voted. This is in line with a wider trend where consumers adopt new behaviours using social media: consumers link up with fellow networkers and move away from DIY (Doing It Yourself) to DIO (Doing It Ourselves). They rely on personal friends and strangers alike for everything from brand recommendations to getting involved with political activities.
The fact that the likes of Twitter are becoming more mainstream means that social media records are constantly being broken. According to Twitter’s official government and politics account there were 20 milllion tweets on election day making it, ‘the most tweeted-about event in US political history’. And when Barack Obama’s win was announced, Twitter had a peak of 327,000 messages a minute. Barack Obama himself currently has 23.2 million followers. His tweet, ‘four more years’, was the most popular tweet ever with over 500,000 re-tweets and counting. The same photo of Mr. Obama hugging his wife appeared on the President's Facebook account and has been the most liked photo ever with 3.3 million hits. All these examples show how powerful social media can be and the sheer number of people that can be reached in a very short amount of time.
Barack Obama started using social networking during his campaign in 2008. However one key difference this time round is that his team has married social media with statistical analysis and behavioural sciences, making it more powerful than ever before. One of the most compelling insights of election night was that the results were breaking exactly according to the predictions made by the Obama campaign number crunchers.
Political campaigns often point the way for business in the USA, such as John F. Kennedy’s pioneering use of TV ads in 1960 or the Bush team's use of the internet in 2004 to build up an army of millions of volunteers to get out messages for the campaign and get out the vote on election day. It will be interesting to see how the pioneering tactics of the Obama campaign in 2012 work their way into non-political marketing campaigns.
Photograph: Gabriel Bouys/AFP