Romney Campaign: Square “Could Be Huge,” And Other Digital Trends In Politics

Zac Moffatt, digital director for the Romney campaign, talks shop on Square, Instagram, Twitter, and the “On-Demanders.”


If 2008 was the year that Facebook and YouTube cracked the mainstream in politics, then 2012 will be the year that most every other digital tool breaks the dam wide open on the campaign scene. It’s no longer enough for politicians to just be on Twitter–now almost all serious candidates aiming for a seat in Washington must be on Tumblr, Google+, Foursquare, and more.

“I think people who vote for us will watch our videos, share them on Twitter or Facebook or elsewhere, and maybe never go to our website,” says Zac Moffatt, digital director for the Mitt Romney campaign. “That’s very, very different from any other time in our history.”

When the Republican front-runner released his jobs plan, for example, he introduced it to the public as a Kindle Book. Using Pay With A Tweet, the social payment system, constituents could download a copy if they tweeted about it–an exchange to help Romney’s jobs plan go viral. “It got us to No. 9 on the best-seller nonfiction list,” Moffatt says. “And I’m not going to lie: A 120-page jobs plan does not normally become a top 10 Amazon Kindle read.”

In other words, to reach modern-day voters, campaigns are more and more appealing to digital networks and advertising rather taking traditional routes. Here’s how Moffatt sees the field shaping up in the rest of 2012.

Square: Empowering Mobile Fundraising


“We’ve been looking at this for a long time,” says Moffatt of Square, the device that lets users accept credit card payments on smartphones and tablets. Both the Romney and Obama campaigns adopted the service in January for fundraising.

“The long-term goal would obviously be that you could have supporters download the Mitt Romney Square app, so that money routes directly to Romney’s campaign–people can be empowered to do what they need to do,” Moffatt says. “It could be huge. No one is going to argue that mobile is not going to be a massive part of the future, but the question is whether it hits critical mass in 2012.”

Instagram: Still Too Early?

President Obama may have joined Instagram, the popular photo-sharing app, last month, but Moffatt has hesitated to sign up Romney. With 15 million (global iPhone) users on the service, the question remains whether it has enough reach to make an impact. The same could be argued of Foursquare, Google+, and other up-and-coming social networks. “I would love for us to do more with Instagram, but the challenge is what level of availability you could provide,” Moffatt says. “I don’t know if you’d get on Instagram and say, ‘Okay, now I think we’re going to win the election.'”

Twitter: It’s About Engagement, Stupid

Much has been made about Twitter follow counts, from Newt Gingrich’s peculiarly high 1.4 million followers to the massive reach of Obama’s 12.3 million followers. The Romney campaign boasts just about 325,000 followers.


But Moffatt says going forward campaigns will pay less attention to the number of followers one has (though clearly that is an important metric), and more attention to the level of engagement. The Romney campaign pays attention to its average number of retweets, the percentage of its followers who have retweeted at least one piece of content, and the reach and influence (or Klout) of their own followers. “They are people who become a part of our community,” Moffatt says. “So that’s why when we talk about engagement–for me that would be the criteria–if I saw that start to drop, I’d start to get really nervous.”

DVR And The “On-Demanders”

Roughly 75% to 80% of campaign advertising is on paid media and TV, says Moffatt, which is why DVR and TiVo are making it increasingly difficult for campaigns to effectively reach viewers through advertising. “There are people who no longer watching real-time television other than sports; we call them ‘On-Demanders,'” Moffatt says. “Our argument in 2012 is: How do you find people who don’t watch live TV? How do you talk to people who otherwise would be missed?”

Working with a digital advertising firm in Florida, the Romney campaign did what Moffatt calls “off the grid targeting,” or advertising targeted toward constituents likely to fast forward through commercials. “We actually ran a massive online advertising campaign in Florida just at people who would otherwise not see our TV spots,” Moffatt says. Who knows if the target group will ever be big as soccer moms were for the Clinton campaign in 1996, but it can’t hurt.

Don’t Forget The Importance Of Google AdWords


GOP hopeful Rick Santorum certainly knows why. But in all seriousness, Google AdWords is likely one of the most powerful tools for intent-based marketing. The Romney campaign has used it not just for basic keywords, but for contrast marketing.

In Florida, for example, a search for “Newt Gingrich” would’ve turned up ad results for the Romney campaign. “We do it all the time in different locations,” Moffatt says. “We bid against people names. The balance you’re going to find with the algorithm is the relevancy and what you’re willing to bid for. It’s always going to be challenging for someone to bid on Mitt Romney’s name and to be above us in the bid because we spend a lot of time focusing on SEO, and we spent a year building this. But we find we can bid on other people’s sites because they not have put that amount of time in.”

Geo-targeting has become especially important, too, with ads customized depending on one’s location and access point (whether via a laptop or mobile device). “If you’re in Sioux City, Iowa, you’re getting an endorsement message from Senator [John] Thune because he’s in South Dakota, and his market rolls over in that area that supports Mitt,” Moffatt says. “On mobile phone you’re getting a different message, either ‘click to call a caucus’ or to get direction.”

Adds Moffatt, “These are simple little things that make all the world of difference.”

[Image: Flickr user Daniel Olines]


About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.