If the 2008 U.S. Presidential elections were influenced by the candidates’ ability to leverage social media, in 2012 Pinterest and Big Data will be added to the mix.

After all, every politician has had a website, a Twitter handle and a Facebook page for quite a while now. Though a candidate’s reach, numbers of friends, followers and visitors still matter, the way they will appeal, relate and interact with their constituents has changed tremendously. Consider that MySpace was an important part of the Obama campaign’s social media strategy in 2008, that Pinterest hadn’t yet been created, and that the power and possibilities of Big Data weren’t yet commonplace.

The digital world has evolved tremendously since then. It’s all about micro-targeting, context and customer experience now.

We Have the Technology, Why Not Use It?

President Obama aka “the Internet President” reportedly joined Pinterest late last month. It’s probably safe to assume that it’s neither the Commander-In-Chief of the United States, nor his wife, that spend their evenings or predawn hours selecting pins. Campaign strategists, no doubt, carefully curate the first family’s pinboards, selecting which of the things that the Obamas love that they want to share, all in the interest of appealing to voters.

 

Last night the Obamas had nine boards (Obama 2012 in action, Just the Facts, Faces of Change, The First Family, Obama 2012 Store, ObamArt, Pet Lovers for Obama, Obama-inspired recipes and Truth Team 2012) and 92 pins. Though it seems nearly impossible to have an ugly Pinterest page, The “Just the Facts” board is full of powerful infographics.

The First Family page is plush with beautiful photographs (it helps to always have a White House photographer around to catch you at your best) and videos, and the Obama-inspired recipes are geared to help us identify with the Prez, who doesn’t eat chili on cold winter nights or get a plate full of homemade cupcakes on their birthday?

Though we can’t tell that Mitt Romeny is on Pinterest, his wife Ann sure is. She has eight boards including Crafts/DIY, “Things I Love,” Patriotic, Inspiration, Family, Recipes, Campaign and “Books Worth Reading.” She has shared 52 pins. Her recipe board is full of delicious-looking treats like “dessert pizza”, Irish soda bread, and Reese’s peanut butter cup eggs, all of which are presented in Martha Stewart-like style. The Romney family page is full of specially dressed, beautiful people, grandkids included. They look like people we can either identify with or who we’d like to connect to.

After all, that is the power of Pinterest, isn’t it? As Fast Company’s Nathaniel Perez wrote: (Pinterest is)

a powerful concept, one of establishing relevance and connections through shared interests. With Pinterest, it’s the things we like that connect us. It's a natural propensity, one that mimics the way we behave with our connections in real life”

Why Pinterest Appeals

There are other reasons that Pinterest will play an important role in the November election. First consider the platform’s current momentum: it’s gone from almost nowhere, in 2011, to becoming the third popular social networking site on the web (behind Facebook and Twitter, but ahead of Linkedin and MySpace). It’s a place that everyone wants to checkout.

Consider the impact of seeing Obama or Romney pins over and over again as you cruise your friend's boards: they’re bound to make an imprint, even if you aren’t aware of it. There’s also the “female factor” to consider. Eighty-two percent of Pinterest’s visitors are women.

Though we’re clearly talking about how Presidential candidates are using Pinterest, the same applies to commercial ventures. And it’s clearly something worth thinking about. Because Pinterest is subtle, it reaches people in a different way; not only that, but its click thru rates (or re-pins and likes) are high (higher than those of Google Plus and they give Facebook a run for its money).

The Not So Secret, Secret Strategy

Big Data hardly takes a back seat to Pinterest in a campaign strategist’s eyes. Ever hear of micro-targeting or the Obama campaign’s, not-so-secret, secret Project Narwhal? If it’s successful, Narwhal will transform not only the way campaigns appeal to voters but the way that brands connect to consumers as well.

For those who aren’t familiar with Narwhal, it leverages Big Data to profile individual voters (Vs. groups of voters) and to then target online communications specifically toward them. Sasha Issenberg explains it here in Slate.

Obama’s team is working to link once completely separate repositories of information so that every fact gathered about a voter is available to every arm of the campaign. Such information-sharing would allow the person who crafts a provocative email about contraception to send it only to women with whom canvassers have personally discussed reproductive views or whom data-mining targeters have pinpointed as likely to be friendly to Obama’s views on the issue.

If successful, Narwhal would fuse the multiple identities of the engaged citizen -- the online activist, the offline voter, the donor, the volunteer -- into a single, unified political profile.

Full data integration would allow the campaign to target its online communication as sharply as it does its offline voter contact. When it comes to sensitive subjects like contraception, the campaign could rely on its extensive predictive models of individual attitudes and preferences to find friendly recipients.

More broadly, Narwhal would bring new efficiency across the campaign’s operations. No longer will canvassers be dispatched to knock on the doors of people who have already volunteered to support Obama. And if a donor has given the maximum US$ 2,500 in permitted contributions, emails will stop hitting him up for money and start asking him to volunteer instead.

Candidates who have struggled to organize political data that has been often arbitrarily siloed depending on which software vendor had primacy at a given moment will be watching the outcomes of this strategy closely.

The bottom line is that when you get a message from the Obama campaign, it will be targeted specifically toward you (and not to your mother, father, sister, brother or neighbor) and the issues you care about. Someone else in your household will likely get a very different message, geared specifically toward them.

While this may all seem like a little too much of Big Brother, for marketers, content management and customer experience professionals it also reveals something powerful, even if it’s kind of scary -- namely that Big Data can provide us the insight we need to get the right information to the right person, at the right time, in the right format, via the right medium in a very appealing way.

And social media platforms, like Pinterest, make it easy for us to share what we’re passionate about with friends and with people like us (or at least who like the same things we like) and influence them, whether we intend to, or not.

In four short years, we’ve come a very long way.