Opinion: Social Media Played Large Role in Maryland’s Race for Governor

| November 6, 2014 | 1 Comments

I first heard about the Change Maryland Facebook page in late 2013 while listening to a City That Breeds (CTB) podcast on my iPhone.

The previous sentence would probably make zero sense to anyone eight years ago when Martin O’Malley was first elected as Governor of Maryland, but get used to it: social media is huge.

The Change Maryland Facebook page was created by the Change Maryland organization, which started in 2012 and is led by new Governor Larry Hogan (R). It is described as “The campaign fighting to bring fiscal restraint and common sense to Annapolis,” and it probably had about 60,000 followers the time I first saw it. As a professional in the world of multimedia, my first thought was, “Wow, they have built a really large audience.” Well, they continued spreading their message, it caught on, and their following grew exponentially.

I’ve been a business owner for more than 11 years. I remember my early days when guerrilla marketing was the only way to reach out to new followers or customers on a limited budget. Occasionally you would receive some good press or were mentioned on a group’s email list, but that was about as big of a victory as you could get at the time. It was tough, there were only so many hours in the day and finding your niche audience wasn’t nearly as easy as it is now.

When I started SouthBMore.com three and a half years ago, social media was truly taking over the internet with Facebook accounts almost as common as email addresses. Twitter was also becoming very mainstream. I started a Facebook page and Twitter account for the site immediately and was blown away by the ability to reach such a widespread audience.

A large percentage of visits to SouthBMore.com come from direct social media links and nearly every meeting we’ve ever been in with a marketing team includes a discussion about social media presence. The power of social media is evident every day as a business owner and its influence seems to only be getting stronger.

I attended an event this year where Ravens Vice President Dick Cass was the guest speaker. He spoke about the business side of the Baltimore Ravens and about 20 minutes was dedicated to the organization’s focus on social media and how it helps direct people to their website. Cass explained that since Baltimore was one of the smaller media markets in the NFL, they knew they needed to produce great coverage on their website to grow their fan base and reach beyond the limitations of the Baltimore market. That strategy has been successful as their web traffic and social media reach is in the top half of the NFL.

With Change Maryland’s following, they were able to spread their message on a daily basis to members of Facebook, which was recently estimated to be used by 71% of internet-using adults. However, it is not just your Facebook followers who see your posts. “Post Reach” grows when your followers like, share and comment on your posts, which leads to the posts showing up on their friends’ pages. Post Reach in a good week a can easily be four to ten times the size of your following.

What can’t be measured is the amount of people who talk about what they’ve read and heard on social media to their friends, colleagues and families. I can tell you that SouthBMore.com’s monthly visitors count is significantly higher than our following or reach on social media.

Larry Hogan officially announced his candidacy as a Republican candidate for governor in January of 2014 and immediately I thought that Change Maryland’s following on Facebook could be the unexpected wildcard in this race. Everyone I discussed this with told me I was crazy. By election day, Hogan’s Change Maryland Facebook page had a following of more than 125,000 followers (more than 3,000 new Likes since winning the election) and likely a weekly Post Reach of more than a million due to the large amount of interactions on all of their posts. For comparisons sake, The Baltimore Sun has a Facebook following of 64,671 and television stations WBAL-TV and WJZ have a following 142,259 and 160,410, respectively. Just like the Ravens, Change Maryland was able to essentially create another major media outlet in Maryland.

The Hogan team also pounded the pavement campaigning in every corner of this state with that old school guerrilla marketing. I know this because they let everyone know about it every day on the Change Maryland Facebook page. The Brown campaign also had a good showing on Facebook with a following 17,000, which most businesses or small publications would love to have, but with probably only about 5% of the influence of Change Maryland’s page when you factor in “Post Reach.”

As you’ve heard by now, Larry Hogan upset Anthony Brown by more than 70,000 votes in a state that is described as “one of the bluest in the nation.” As victory for Hogan was becoming inevitable on Tuesday night, campaign spokesperson Adam Dubitsky told WBAL’s Deborah Weiner, “Larry was upstairs and was on social media, obviously he is a big fan.”

A plethora of factors can be attributed to explain how Hogan pulled of this upset and most media outlets have chimed in on why they think it happened. In my opinion, the rise of a relatively unknown businessman who pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the country would not have been possible without an incredible Facebook campaign.

Larry Hogan and his team have promised to Change Maryland and time will tell if they are successful in that goal, but there is no doubt they have changed what is possible with a strong social media campaign.

About the Author:

Founder and Publisher of SouthBmore.com, longtime resident of South Baltimore, and a graduate of Towson University. Diehard Ravens and O's fan, beach volleyball enthusiast, dog lover, and "bar food" foodie. Email me at [email protected] and follow me on Twitter at @SoBoKevin.
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