Elections have long been fertile ground for scholars trying to figure out the shape of public opinion and the forces that change it.
The presidential campaign of 1960, for example, gave us the concept of pseudo-events like debates and photo ops, which inevitably led to the development of pseudo-qualifications on which dozens of candidates have run ever since (and on which several have actually won).
Indeed, the practice of public relations has arguably lifted more lessons from politics than the other way around. Sometimes the wrong lessons (the use of war rooms and truth squads, negative campaigning, etc.). But also useful lessons (micro-targetting, staying on message, etc.).
Ever since Obama's 2008 campaign, social media has been the dominant platform of campaigning, just as television had been since the 1960s. It was not only the key to the Obama campaign's fund-raising, it also proved to be critical in his ground game of turning out the vote, giving communities of common interest targeted information, and engaging people who had previously expressed little interest in politics.
Social media had been around long before Obama's campaign, of course. But his team was the first to realize social media are not new screens, ripe for advertising messages, so much as on-going conversations with their own rules of engagement.
So it will be interesting to see how long its takes for PR practitioners to internalize the insights emerging from the latest bi-annual exercise in electioneering.
Ben Smith's latest BuzzFeed column hits on a particularly intriguing insight:
"Persuasion works differently when it relies on sharing. ... And the social conversation favors things that generations of politicians have been trained to avoid: spontaneity, surprise, authenticity, humor, raw edge, the occasional human stumble. (Joe Biden!)...
"A few modern politicians appear to have a real feel for the raw emotion and, sometimes, (apparent) spontaneity that people will want to share. Elizabeth Warren's blunt and casual economic 2011 tirade and Ted Cruz's theatrical confrontations (and even his own low-production-value cell phone videos) are the beginnings of that viral populism for which the social web has opened a real space."
How long will it take for major brands to figure out what this means for them?