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The candidate winning on social media

Weeks before the Democratic candidates took stage in Las Vegas, their campaigns were busy preparing for the equally important, off-air conversations that saturate social-media platforms. Based solely on the candidates' use of social media during the debate, there was no contest: Hillary Clinton was the clear victor.

Successful social-media strategists understand that viral opportunities are fleeting. The window of opportunity often disappears minutes after an event. Successful rapid responses appear to be spontaneous, but most are carefully constructed and planned.


Hillary Clinton at the presidential debate on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas.
Getty Images
Hillary Clinton at the presidential debate on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas.

While there is always room for spontaneity in political debates, campaigns' social-media teams should have a strong enough understanding of their candidates key talking points on every issue to successfully pre-write mounds of copy – hundreds of pre-vetted tweets and graphics which only require small tweaks before their timely post.

Given Clinton's vast resources and unparalleled access to the lead strategists and tools that defined Obama's 2012 campaign, it is no surprise that her campaign employed a top-notch strategy to amplify her message. It is, however, surprising that neither Bernie Sanders nor Martin O'Malley generated shareable content on their Facebook pages during the debate – a huge opportunity squandered. Meanwhile, Clinton's first debate Facebook post received over 20,000 likes and over 1,000 shares.


But, what Clinton's campaign did best was probably hidden to the average media consumer. Whenever her campaign tweeted issue specific messaging, it included a shortened URL, which linked to a trackable sign-up page. This will allow the campaign to identify these potential donors and volunteers by the issues that brought them into the campaign and ultimately use that data to buy targeted programmatic advertising buys and send super targeted emails to these voters in the future. More impressively, each link led to an issue specific landing page, thus potentially increasing the user's engagement and likelihood of signing up. This data-driven approach was pioneered by the Obama campaign and is sure to pay big dividends down the road.


Meanwhile, strangely, Sanders was retweeting a Time article headlined "Hillary Clinton takes control in first Democratic Debate." Absolutely baffling! More than half of Sander's tweets contained links to pages other than his own website, which is ALWAYS a missed opportunity to fundraise. O'Malley made this same mistake and both of their email lists will suffer because of it.

Jim Webb wins for best amplification of grassroots (organic) tweets and messaging. While his digital team didn't have much original copy, they aggressively found and retweeted the best in-the-field tweets regarding the senator.

Lincoln Chafee's digital presence somehow managed to match the dryness of his on stage performance. Enough said.

While Nov. 8, 2016 may still be over a year a way, after last night's debate it is clear that Clinton's campaign is taking the lead when it comes to social media, and beyond that, to identifying voters by the issues that matter most to them.


Commentary by Reed Scharff, the senior analyst for market integrity at OpenX, a web and mobile advertising technology firm. Prior to OpenX, Scharff served as the data director for President Obama's campaign in Pennsylvania, where he managed a team of analysts responsible for translating behavioral modeling into an efficient field strategy. In 2014, Reed took a short leave-of-absence from OpenX to serve as the National Analytics Director for NextGen ClimateAction. Follow him on Twitter @reedabc.