Do the candidates appear to know what the audience wants?
Are they clearly stating what they want the audience to believe about them?
Have they discovered that advertising doesn’t work the way it used to?
How well have they attracted “earned media?”
Meerman Scott says Donald Trump aced this test during the 2016 campaign. His Twitter feed sputtered to life in the early morning hours and went late into the night. He tapped into his target audience’s desire to “fix Washington.” His Make America Great Again message was simple and clear about what he stood for. He spent much less on advertising than did his opponents, and he got much more than his share of free media attention.
What about 2018 campaigns?
My class reviewed the Twitter feeds of the U.S. Senate campaigns in Texas, where Republican incumbent Ted Cruz is fending off a strong challenge from Democrat Beto O’Rourke, and in Montana, where Democrat Jon Tester is in a battle with Republican Matt Rosendale. We discovered that all candidates use Twitter for “real-time communication,” but some post more frequently and demonstrate a better understanding of their audience needs.
Cruz, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, tweeted out Fox News clips of him asking questions and doing live interviews during the Kavanaugh hearings. He tagged Fox and earned more impressions and engagement than did O’Rourke (according to a Meltwater analysis that we did for that week). O’Rourke, on the other hand, had more video views as he finished up a cross-state tour and did daily selfie-videos.
Cruz demonstrated that he is an effective warrior for the conservative cause, and O’Rourke demonstrated a Washington outsider who has a better way.
Cruz won earned TV and print coverage by calling attention to his Judiciary Committee role, but O’Rourke’s “earned media” was a bit more compelling as the local station in each town he visited sent a crew to capture a sound bite as he met with local voters.
Meanwhile in Montana …
In contrast, Jon Tester’s team filled his Twitter feed with photos from a recent outdoors conference he attended, and a parade he walked in. The tweets were few and far between and they did not earn much engagement. Rosendale, his opponent, had the advantage of Donald Trump holding a Billings rally on his behalf. Rosendale’s team tweeted before, during and after that event, tagging the president and thus earning huge engagement.
The classroom exercise demonstrated how political campaigns quickly glom onto what worked in the last cycle. But they are uneven in execution.
The data from Meltwater showed Cruz earned more impressions and engagement in traditional AND social media than did O’Rourke. But the students thought O’Rourke came closest to putting together a Trump-like formula: ever-present in social media, saying and doing things that stand out from the crowd and thus capturing traditional media attention.
The students likely are not Cruz’s target audience, so he may not be concerned by their assessment that O’Rourke — with selfie videos and candid photos of his family — came across as more genuine.
Steve Krizman is a communication and PR change agent who has led innovation in health care, journalism, and higher education. He currently is a tenure-track professor of PR and journalism at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Steve is sole proprietor of Connected Communication, LLC, a consultancy that helps organizations develop integrated PR, communication, and marketing programs. His particular expertise is in the health industry, including insurance, health delivery systems, and digital health.