Social Media Helped Abercrombie Win

UPDATED | As part of its regular “Social Wire” segment, KITV reported that local political analyst Neil Milner concluded that social media could have helped Neil Abercrombie win by a wide margin over Mufi Hannemann on Saturday.

Yasmin Dar reports:

Two big factors of success have to be transparency and engagement of the candidate. Both Abercrombie and Hannemann had a strong social media campaign. Hanneman had significantly more followers and fans on Twitter and Facebook than Abercrombie, and he had his website translated into different languages, which was unique to only his campaign. But some social media experts say Abercrombie emphasized that it was really him on social media, engagning and talking to his supporters in a real-time conversation.

See the brief segment on the KITV website (“Social Wire: Social Media Campaigning“), or view it on YouTube.

I contacted Milner to ask if he could expand a bit on the comments that KITV only summarized. He quickly replied:

My statement about Neil’s use is really based on very tentative evidence, part of the post-hoc explanations for a huge surprising election result. In my own interviews, I made two points: Both candidates used social media, but I sensed that Neil’s was better because it was very interactive, and because it linked nicely with his old fashioned person-to-person grass roots campaign.

To me, [it was] one of the great lessons of the Obama campaign, which Neil certainly knew about and in small ways (anything is a small way compared to the Obama campaign) emulated it. What Neil’s folks learned from Obama was that social media, combined with sophisticated use of voter databases, can be used to target face-to-face work and reinforce it…

I am only surmising that Neil’s campaign was better at this than Mufi’s, but it is as plausible as any other explanation, and certainly more plausible than the belief that the famous Mufi negative brochure turned things around…

A good thorough investigation of this part of the campaign by someone who knows social media as well as political campaigning would really help.

Meanwhile, I had a quick chat with L.P. “Neenz” Faleafine, Abercrombie’s director of social media. She clarified that Abercrombie was not personally posting to Twitter, but affirmed that he and his campaign staff were paying attention to social media platforms, and crafting messages specifically for them.

“I want to make it clear that Neil Abercrombie does not do all of his own tweets, but if there are no tweets coming from @neilabercrombie, it’s because he’s not available,” she explained. “For the most part, he knows, he reads ’em, he gives a reply, and we post.”

She also pointed out an article in today’s Star-Advertiser:

Mix of stalwarts and young guns brought Abercrombie success

For a veteran such as Abercrombie, the campaign was a successful combination of the powerful skills of old-time Democratic campaign organizers and the new technology of the iPhone generation.

Faleafine says she’ll soon post her own observations and reflections on the role of social media in the Abercrombie campaign, but that most of the focus for her and the team is winning the general election in November.

After that, she notes, she’ll hopefully be able to share some interesting numbers and other statistics that will add insight into the role the social web played in local politics this year.

Ryan Ozawa

Ryan Kawailani Ozawa has immersed himself in new technologies and online communities since the days before the web. From running a dial-up BBS in the early '90s to exploring today’s dynamic world of "Web 2.0" and social media, he has long embraced and evangelized the ways in which technology can bring people together.

  • Hmm, that analysis seems … how do I describe it? I don’t want to say shallow, because it was constrained to a sound bite. I just don’t see how that analyst could come to that conclusion given what I saw over the past 18 months. Yes, Neil ran on a platform of openness and engagement, but that doesn’t really draw eyeballs.

    Did anyone see tweeps campaigning for Mufi to the extent that Neenz does for Neil? I campaigned for Neil and I saw a lot of my friends campaigning for Neil on and off line. I don’t think I saw anyone promoting Mufi online, but that shouldn’t mean anything. My social circle is not a mainstream cross-section of Hawaii. Even so, I expected to see some balanced cheering for candidates on election day. I saw relatively balanced tweeting in the last Presidential election, if you adjust for Obama’s online popularity. But this weekend’s tweets looked more one sided that it should have been. I just browsed a couple dozen pages of for #hivote and it seems like Mufi gets mentioned in 1% of all of those tweets. Neil was probably mentioned in about 1/3rd. Ryan’s cafepress store got at least half of the tweets after the 2nd set of results were in.

    Mufi has about 100 times as many followers as Neil (600k vs 6k). Some pundit is gonna use this as ammo to trash talk the effectiveness of social media if someone doesn’t come up with a good explanation.

    Mufi doesn’t strike me as someone who could draw even 10k followers let alone 600k. Given that the entire voter turnout was less than 300k and Mufi got 90k votes, I think it’s fairly safe to say Mufi’s social media influence is bogus. What do you think his real reach is? < 500? At least the Facebook stats look more in line with reality. 5k likes on page vs. 3k likes on Anyway, I think there's an opportunity here for a social media professional to dissect the campaigns and earn some credibility with a honest and critical review of both candidates social media strategies.

  • Great comment, @madmarv. I agree that there’s a lot of rich information and anecdotes out there for someone to do a deeper analysis of just how much a role social media played in the election. I agree that despite Mufi’s 600,000 followers versus Abercrombie’s 6,000, the chatter on Twitter was overwhelmingly biased toward Abercrombie.

    I blogged last year about how Mufi got those numbers, which are due mostly to being placed on Twitter’s “Recommended Users” list. It seems huge, but it also means the vast majority of those followers are outside Hawaii, and probably don’t give a hoot about local politics.

    I’ve asked Neil Milner if he’s published or posted something more substantial besides the summary Yasmin Dar gave in her 30 second segment. If he shares anything, I’ll publish it!

  • Okay… I’ll throw a comment into the mix. Was Mufi’s social media campaign as pervasive as Neil? Nope… not at all. The 600K vs. 6K is really a moot point as Ryan pointed out much of Mufi’s followers were not from here. The other point of note is that most of Mufi’s followers also did not have much influence.

    Neil’s approach of recruiting most social media “leaders” early was the key to the social media piece of this campaign. Neenz, Ryan, Ian Kitajima (Oceanit), Daniel Leuck, Melissa Chang (and some of NonStopHonolulu’s crew like Ed), @LaurieCicotello, etc… at that point, it doesn’t matter what Neil says, it’s what everyone does. And that is what people will heard. The beauty of this method is you can have your social “leaders” bash Mufi so it doesn’t come from Neil himself (and they did). That kept the message on track.

    Now, did social media lead to the win? Well, that’s not as clear as there are so many factors involved. But the social media “leaders” definitely did help. How does that make sense? Social media’s strength isn’t the social media part… it’s the social part. And locking the loudest people in the room is the way to go in politics.

    What I believe is that the crowd effect of social media has made it into the new block vote. In the past, politicians would look at various socio-demographic characteristics to try and maximize resources by focusing on blocks of voters rather than individuals. But social media is a way to gather momentum for a group of people that can be motivated and moved in a single direction.

    Again, my favorite saying… not good, not bad… just different.

  • I like how you frame “social media users” as a “voting block.” In that context, it’s clear that whereas I saw a more even matchup between Abercrombie and Hannemann supporters on Facebook, Abercrombie dominated Twitter. As @madmarv notes, Mufi supporters were almost entirely absent.

    Yes, many of my friends are Abercrombie supporters, but I make it a point to follow just about everyone in Hawaii, and generally follow a diverse set of people overall. I see many anti-Obama and tea party posts, for example, in my timeline.

    Perhaps more tellingly, both Hawaii News Now and KHON were putting out calls on Twitter for comments on the governors race, and both had to essentially beg to hear from Mufi supporters. HawaiiNewsNow found none, I think KHON found one.

    The real difference between the 600,000 and 6,000 followers couldn’t have been more clear.

  • Ditto on the demographic I watch (pretty much anyone from Hawaii). But the “loud” people in social media were definitely in Neil’s camp. I don’t think I know any “loud” people in Mufi’s camp. Note that “loud” isn’t just volume, it’s also built audience through time. I don’t minimize the strength (and work) in building and sustaining an audience.

    For those that have studied mass communications, there’s an old theory of the spiral of silence. It basically says that people are less likely to voice their opinion if they believe they are in the minority in fear of isolation from the majority. I tend to think this is one the theories that can tie to why there is such a “wildfire” effect in social media. It’s preaching to the choir and having the noise get louder and louder.

    In fact I remember reading a little thing from Russ (@ParkRat) about voting for people his friends were voting for because it makes sense that if someone he knows and trust is voting for someone, he’d feel the same. That just came to mind as you said your friends were Abercrombie supporters… and it may be safe to say many of their friends also are supporters.

  • You’ve really got my brain cells spinning, Jared. Another good thought, “the spiral of silence.” A net positive for a popular campaign, but a negative for the minority. Perhaps Mufi supporters felt outnumbered or drowned out on Twitter, and just didn’t jump into the fray? And honestly, if a Mufi supporter had joined the “#hivote” stream, boosting his candidate or criticizing Abercrombie, I wonder how civil the majority would have been?

    But like ParkRat, if I don’t have a strong feeling one way or another in a given race, I’d definitely be swayed to vote the way a friend voted. If I don’t care, I should at least take note of the views of someone who does. I agree this probably happens often, in real life and now amplified by social networks.

  • Hat’s off to Neenz and the team for doing a fabulous job on the social media side. While it’s certainly true that social media “helped” Neil win, the real question is by how much. It might perhaps be a worthy exercise of HSM to undertake an impartial, quantitative analysis of how many votes the social media activity accounted for.

    As of right now, I count 4,979 FB fans, 6,660 twitter followers, and 89 Youtube subscribers. Even if you accept (for discussion sake only) the fantastic idea that each and every fan/follower/subscriber voted in the primary and there was zero overlap, (i.e. if you were an FB fan you weren’t a twitter follower) AND each of those voters we’re either not going to vote at all in the primary or they were planning on voting for someone else, you would get +11,668 votes.

    Mufi lost by 51,699 votes.

    So while it’s absolutely fair to say that SM helped Neil win and I will be the first to say that Neenz did a great job on the campaign, even allowing for the most extremely liberal assumptions it’s safe to say there is little evidence that social media played the defining role in the election. A component of it, no doubt. But the key reason? no. My back of the napkin calculations say that social media probably accounted for about 5% of Neil’s vote or 7,117 votes. That’s absolutely nothing to sneeze at and something to be proud of. Caldwell lost by 8,707 votes to put that into perspective.

    If you folks want to work on a more formal investigation of this I’d love to work on it with you. I worked on 4 political campaigns so far (not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing) and have a bunch of observations and some numbers from what we experienced. It would be good for all to share this.

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  • JPhilipson

    I was there in 2008, when I built the first platforms and accounts for him. Fun times. I left after his re-election, I guess it all went sour? What I most liked about Abercrombie was that he was actually using the twitter accounts at that time.