Gubernatorial Candidates Go Social to Court Millennials

Governor Scott Walker and Democratic candidate Mary Burke have pulled out all the stops during their gubernatorial campaigns, but with election day upon us, the race is still neck and neck. According to the final Marquette University Law School poll, Walker leads Burke 50% to 43% among likely voters, but this gap drops significantly when the poll includes all registered voters, which shows Walker leads Burke 46% to 45%.  With a race this close—and this close to election day—it’s crucial for both candidates to leverage all resources  in order to sway the undecided voters.

The majority of these undecided voters could very well be Millennials, for two reasons: half of Millennials do not align themselves with a political party, and past elections have shown low voter turnout for this generation (forecasts for 2014 are at an all-time low at 23%). This also explains the differences between the two polls—when all registered voters are considered, the race becomes infinitely closer.

So how do you reach and—even more difficult—inspire this unresponsive generation? Go where they live—social media. Walker and Burke have already established a following on social media, mainly through Facebook and Twitter, but how effective are their strategies? Here’s an overview:

Governor Scott Walker

Walker is leveraging both his personal and professional Facebook and Twitter accounts for his campaign. His tone is more serious and matter-of-fact on his professional account where he posts about his speaking engagements and lists statistic after statistic. The campaign continues on Walker’s personal social accounts, but his tone has changed—he is speaking to his audience as a Wisconsinite, not as Governor.  Walker has adopted #WIComeBack as his official campaign hashtag, but he only uses it on his personal social accounts.

Democratic Candidate Mary Burke

Burke has unified her social campaign under #TeamBurke. She also uses #WICanDoBetter and #GOTeV (get out the early vote) regularly.  She established #ClintonWI as the official hashtag for the Burke-Clinton campaign in Milwaukee Friday. Burke has also taken advantage of Clinton and Obama’s substantial social following by mentioning them in her tweets—thus, distributing her message to each of their followers. In a tag-team effort, the Democratic Communications Director Joe Zepecki announced both Clinton and Obama’s campaigns for Burke on Twitter before any other media.

Although many differences exist between the candidates’ social strategies, Walker and Burke have both recognized the opportunity for free online advertising through social media.  Both candidates share and post their campaign ads on their Facebook, Twitter and YouTube channels. In addition, both candidates have tried an appeal approach by showing their support for the Wisconsin Badgers and Packers on Facebook and Twitter.

Now we know what each party is doing socially, but how effective will their strategies actually be at reaching Millennials?

  • Building Trust
    While using two different social accounts to campaign may seem redundant, Walker is showing Wisconsinites two different sides—Walker as Governor and Walker as a person.  However, the tone of his personal accounts is dramatically more personable than his official gubernatorial accounts. Using two very different voices might lead to confusion—whereas Burke uses one account and one voice, which may seem more transparent to voters.
  • Social Media as a Source of News
    Research shows social media is an important source of news for Millennials. Burke has used this to her advantage by announcing Clinton and Obama’s campaigns for her on Twitter. Walker has missed this opportunity by announcing campaign events after the fact, and he made no mention of Governor Chris Christie’s campaign for him earlier in October or this week.
  • Hashtags
    Both candidates use hashtags, which allow people to track the campaign and to participate in the conversation. Burke has established multiple hashtags, and therefore multiple conversations that people can use to interact with her campaign. However, this could backfire if users don’t understand the purpose of a particular hashtag since #TeamBurke is the only one she uses consistently. It’s also more difficult to track multiple hashtags.
  • Engagement
    Walker and Burke have extremely little interaction with individual voters on social media who do engage them by using their hashtag or tweeting at their profile. This makes the conversation seem one-sided. Both candidates are missing this opportunity to engage with voters on an individual level through social media.
  • Visuals
    Images and video enhance posts immensely because they are attention grabbing and sharable content. By posting their campaign ads on social media, Walker and Burke have created attractive, sharable content that voters can add commentary to, further allowing them to participate in the conversation.
  • Common Ground
    Establishing common ground with an audience is another important part of building a relationship with them, which also leads to trust. This holds true for politics as well because voters want a representative that will understand their needs, someone they can relate to.  By showing their support for the Badgers and Packers on social media, Walker and Burke are creating another opportunity for voters to relate to them.

Since the candidates are still so close in the polls, it’s difficult to prove any correlation between social strategy and votes until election day.  However, if you tune into TMJ4/WTMJ on election day and night, our Social Media Marketing Manager Katie Klein-Murphy will be providing a more in depth social analysis and insights on the 2014 Wisconsin gubernatorial election.

*Blog updated November 4, 2014