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How Social Media and Big Data Won the US Presidential Election

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In 2008, Barrack Obama, then a Democratic Senator from Illinois, knew the old political playbook wouldn't work. Not against a heavyweight like Hilary Clinton. So Obama and his team turned to social media and the internet... and the rest is history. In this election cycle the difference between the Democrats and Republicans, and how they deployed social media and big data, was as far apart as their political positions. The result, another Obama victory, and a resounding defeat for the old rules of online engagement.

From now on, those who outgun and outsmart the other party, using social media and big data, will win. We are entering a technology arms race, which is something brands would do well to learn from.

TIME magazine and the Atlantic have undertaken some fascinating in-depth pieces on the campaigns. Bloomberg published similar articles before the primary campaigns had resulted in Mitt Romney being announced as the Republican candidate.

At the end of the day, the best social media tactics in the world won't make a candidate electable. The same applies for brands. Here are the three lessons brands should take from the US election:

Dinner with George Clooney

Political campaigns have to come up with all kinds of innovative ways to raise funds. Data showed that women, especially high-net worth women aged 40-49, in California were willing, if not eager, to part with their money to have dinner with George Clooney. The same concept was applied to the campaign, and thus the "Dinner with Barack' contest was born.

Keep Data Accessible

2012 has been the year big data has really taken off. It is expected that 2013 will see this set continue, so everyone from the largest brands to SME's should be trying to find a way to leverage data - both internal (customer) and external (the consumer web - where 80% of actionable data exists, according to Google).

But it needs to be accessible, and therefore, actionable. There are hundreds of analytics tools available. Pick the right one for you in 2013 and use it to make social media, SEO, and marketing decisions. If done correctly the results should be like the US election: a resounding victory.

Test The Data

Just as content is no good without SEO, and social media is pointless without engagement, so data increases in value when it is tested. During the election many emails, and other direct forms of contact between the campaign and the public, were test versions. Analytics showed what worked and what didn't. Much like business development emails - some work, some don't. Some raised millions in a matter of minutes.

The greater insight you have into your customer base the better you can focus your interactions, which is a lesson this election has demonstrated very effectively.