While a lot of folks are getting lost in the battle between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in what appears to be a race to prove who is least qualified to run the US, the more interesting battle may be between Big Data Analytics and Social Media.
This battle is basically is pitting the old guard, HP, EMC, and HP, against the new guard, Google, Facebook and Twitter. The contest is to see which side can be the powerful tool in this election.
At the last Presidential Election we saw the power of Social Media and it appeared to assure Barack Obama’s win. Yet this time the two campaigns are still using social (though neither is truly standing out) and they have ramped up data analytics massively.
Let’s talk about which technology is providing the best advantage.
Both candidates are pushing information out using Social Media. Much of the efforts appear to be focused on attempting to make the other guy look bad through current or old videos that the competing campaign attempt to take viral. But there is little evidence of the true power of Social Media – the ability to engage and motivate a large group of people into action.
It feels as if this tool is being used as a proxy for old mail and email efforts tied to tarnishing the opponent and keeping his voters at home. Fellow ex-Forrester Alum Charlene Li provided offered an insight a few weeks ago. While it gave Obama a slight edge, it basically said both sides were missing the point of the power of this tool. She does say that, since the Obama’s team is using twitter more they are likely better connected with their constituents.
With only a slight majority expected to vote this year, Charlene laments that much of this effort should be focused on building advocacy. The power of social media isn’t just tied to making the other guy look bad, it can be used to motivate people to do things, in this case vote.
So, it actually appears like there has been little real progress in understanding this new tool and that puts focus on the other technology, Data Analytics.
What is interesting about Data Analytics in this election is that not only are the two campaigns using it heavily to determine exactly what voters are interested in to make adjustments to ads, speeches, and engagements real time, they are also being used to help voters figure out which candidate they should actually vote for.
Here the tools appear to be used far more effectively by both sides and I think this is likely because the firms that provide these tools provide services that help people implement and use them properly.
Social Networking vendors provide a consumer service that is advertising-based but offer little real training or help in how to use the service to manipulate these users (I’ll bet this changes over time). As a result, Data Analytics appears to be having a bigger impact than Social Media, largely because it is being used more effectively.
Wrapping Up: Not Either Or
While I’m positioning this as a competition between the two technologies, that isn’t really true. What I’m actually pointing out is the difference between implementations. The reality is that the two technologies could be used together very effectively: Data Analytics to provide data on which approaches are the most effective – and give real time feedback on the results – and Social Media for the engagement. The effective combination of the two tools would be massively more powerful.
This suggests a service opportunity for Big Data vendors to learn Social Networking and provide services that link their data analytics offerings with Social Networking platforms to more effectively manipulate target audiences. Outside of elections the result could be a massive boost in the effectiveness of marketing, political and social advocacy, and the shaping of world opinion.