Social media and Maine’s gubernatorial campaign

camplogo3Despite all the hoopla about the power of social media tools in political campaigns, what metrics can we use to determine if those tools are effective?

While just about anyone can set up a Twitter account or create a Facebook page, social media tools are only as effective as those who are using them.  Although it is widely accepted that social media tools played a big part in President Obama’s 2008 campaign, that type of success is not guaranteed by simply using social media as part of a campaign strategy.

When it comes to Maine’s 2014 gubernatorial race, which of the campaigns is best using social media? More importantly, how do we set aside our individual biases and evaluate the campaigns based solely upon their social media metrics?

At the Brookings Institute’s Center for Technology Innovation, Darrell West offers a mixed review regarding social media and campaign engagement and the awkward transition to actual governance.

Social media are the ultimate in disruptive technology. They change information delivery, business organization, online content, news coverage, and the manner in which individuals process new developments. As shown during the 2008 campaign, these digital tools represented a textbook example of voter mobilization and electoral impact. They were, in the words of Engage Partner Mindy Finn, the “central nervous system” of campaign organizations.

Using social networking outreach tools such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and Twitter, a number of Democratic and Republican candidates raised money, identified supporters, built electoral coalitions, and brought people in closer touch with the electoral process.

You may recall a somewhat silly and lighthearted piece about Maine’s gubernatorial campaigns that I posted a couple of months ago. Then, I jokingly said we should dispense with the standard election process and use social media metrics to determine the winner. I examined each of the campaign’s current metrics.

Twitter FollowersToday, I have decided to track those metrics on a regular basis and to blog frequently about those campaigns and their use of social media.

Over the last 60 days, each of the Maine gubernatorial campaigns has been active on various social media platforms. But before we begin, it’s important to note that Democrat Mike Michaud is the latest entrant to this race. Both Governor LePage and Eliot Cutler carried over their respective social media support from the 2010 campaign.

Nonetheless, Michaud has seen the greatest increase in social media traffic, earning a 21 percent increase in the number of Twitter followers @Michaud2014, moving from 1,219 Twitter followers on January 20 to 1,475 followers as of March 20, 2014.

Although Governor LePage (@lepage2014) has the greatest number of Twitter followers (1,698) his metrics have increased only 8 percent during the same time period.

Eliot Cutler (@EliotCutler) saw a 10 percent increase in Twitter followers, from 1, 153 to 1,269 followers during the same period.

Facebook LikesOn Facebook, Cutler still dominates in the total number of Likes for his campaign page (19,824) but saw only a 4 percent increase over the last 60 days, while both Michaud and LePage experienced increases of 10 percent.

LePage’s Facebook page had 18,438 fans on March 20, compared to 16,791 fans on January 20, 2014.

Michaud’s Facebook page had 11,600 fans on March 20, compared to 10,529 fans on January 20, 2014.

When viewed overall, it would appear that Team Cutler has the steepest hill to climb, so far.

Note: Though it’s generally common knowledge, it must be noted that Twitter followers and Facebook fans do not translate directly to the number of supporters for a political candidate. As an example, I follow all three campaigns on Twitter, but will only be voting for one candidate.


With a little help from my friends

A few weeks ago I decided to try a social media experiment.

Given that many of my Facebook friends are fellow political junkies who cross the full spectrum of political affiliation, and given that discussions about “income equality” and minimum wage standards are becoming more frequent, I decided to sample my friends’ opinions in an amateur poll.

But this poll would be different. It would be completely transparent, meaning that respondents would be able to see responses from other respondents and that all responses could be viewed publicly. This poll would also allow respondents to self-select regarding their participation.

Before I proceed any further, I want to thank each of the respondents for their willingness to participate. For the most part, I don’t personally know most of those who responded. And that is the beauty of social media: the ability to connect and share ideas with others who are sometimes far outside our more traditional circle of friends and acquaintances. Each of these respondents, unlike those who participate in a traditional poll, were willing to share and “own” their opinions and answers publicly.

Though I was hoping for 50 participants, I decided to wrap up data collection after three days (December 8 – December 11, 2013) with 42 participants, including my own answers. The pool of respondents reflects about 5 percent of my 736 Facebook friends.

Now before anyone starts hyperventilating about this poll, its accuracy or its methodology, let’s clear up a few things:

1.) This is an amateur poll; a social media experiment. 2.) It was not paid for nor authorized by anyone; 3.) It is not intended to represent anything other than informal sampling of people I am connected to on social media. 4.) We must also assume that respondents were honest with their responses and did not alter their responses after the data was analyzed.

With all of that out of the way, let’s now look at the data. Clearly, the poll was weighted by male responses, but was nearly evenly split by political affiliations. Among the 42 respondents, there were 17 Democrats; 12 Republicans; and 13 Independents or un-enrolled. Thirty-one men and 11 women participated in the poll (Figure 1.1)

Figure 1.1
Figure 1.1

The poll was limited to three questions. The original Facebook post, along with the various replies and comments, can be viewed here.

Asked and answered

Question 1 asked respondents: What is your “fair share” of taxes (combined fed, state, local)?

Several respondents and others expressed disdain for my use of the word “fair” in the question. I responded that the word “fair” is certainly a subjective term, but the responses would also be subjective. Respondents were given three responses to choose from: A.) Less than you are now paying? B.) What you are currently paying? or C.) More than you are now paying? One respondent declined to answer the question.

Figure 2.1
Figure 2.1

There were no big surprises here. I was expecting to see a sharp divide between Democrats and Republicans, assuming Republicans would almost universally answer that they are already overtaxed and paying more than their “fair share.” What is interesting? Three Republicans (25 percent of Republican respondents) said they think their current tax obligation is “fair.” Both Democrats and Republicans, however, expressed frustration about local taxes rather than state or federal tax rates. See the chart (Figure 2.2) below for the breakdown of responses.

Figure 2.2
Figure 2.2

Question 2 asked respondents what they considered to be a “fair” minimum wage, providing four responses: A) Current minimum wage ($7.25/hour) B.) No less than 50% of the state’s median income. C.) No less than 75% of the state’s median income; or D.) There should not be a minimum wage.

 Nearly 30 percent of respondents expressed confusion regarding responses that were tied to the state’s “median wage,” saying they did not know the current median wage or that it was a poor alternative for determining a state’s minimum wage requirement.

My theory is that minimum wage should be required by the federal government but not set to a national standard, other than as a percentage of a particular state’s median income.

My reasoning? Someone earning $7.25 per hour in Maine has less economic capacity than someone earning $7.25/hour in Tennessee, which has lower cost of living expenses. This disparity becomes more apparent in large urban areas, such as New York City or Chicago, creating an unlevel playing field.

For further clarification, it’s important to understand the difference between a “median” income and an “average” income.  Median is simply the half-way point when looking at all recordable wages in a specified group. while it is common to discuss “household” median income, I used this chart from the University of New Mexico to compare median personal incomes among the 50 states. Maine ranks 28th with a median personal income of $39,481. This means 50 percent of income workers in Maine make less than $39,400/year.

If a Maine adult is working 40 hours at minimum wage, that person would be earning a gross income of $15,080 (assuming working 52 weeks per year). If we changed the state’s minimum wage to be no less than 50 percent of median income, that same person would now earn: $19,700 annually, considering an hourly wage of $9.47/hour. Lets see what my friends said:

Figure 3.1
Figure 3.1

As we can see in the above chart (Figure 3.1), there is an almost even split between those who favor the current minimum wage or the idea of having no minimum wage (43 percent); and those who would like to see  some level of increase (50 percent). Seven percent of respondents declined to pick one of the offered choices (as explained above).

Figure 3.2
Figure 3.2

The poll’s final question asked respondents if there should be a “maximum wage.” This question received the most universal agreement. 95 percent of respondents said there should NOT be a maximum wage, however, it should be noted that more than 40 percent of those indicated that they would like to see increased tax brackets for high wage earners. Only two Democrats (one male, one female) answered in the affirmative.

Figure 4.1
Figure 4.1

Of course, I have some opinions about this data, and some other thoughts sparked by this conversation; but I will pause here and allow you to reflect on the responses to develop your own analysis.

Again, my deepest appreciation to all those who participated!

Too big to fail?

I never expected it to happen so quickly.

Almost every day I am deep in the trenches of public opinion, helping a wide variety of clients navigate the perilous waters of brand reputation management, crisis communications and message development designed to garner strong public support.

But last night it got a bit personal, and I tried a social media experiment.

urlI had an issue with my mobile phone provider, AT&T, one of the nation’s largest corporations. I spent more than an hour on the phone with their customer service representatives, haggling over a bill that was grossly out of balance. You can find the details here.

The company failed on several fronts. First, they did not live up to the promises they made during prior calls about the same issue. Secondly, perhaps more importantly, they let me off the phone without asking me if I was satisfied.

I waited 24 hours and then launched an all-out social media battle with the company. I dragged their competitors into the fray. I hounded their Facebook page and chased them on Twitter. But it all ended rather abruptly.

I never had the chance to execute the second phase of my PR battle because they smartly surrendered and resolved the issue to my satisfaction.

I am just one person, but I used my social media connections to leverage my message. The results were clear. It took fewer than 24 hours for them to surrender to my one-man war on the blogosphere.

This was all preventable. AT&T spent far more than the $1,000 they claimed I owed. They also suffered as others jumped on my bandwagon, further diminishing the company’s brand and reputation.

There are lessons here.

1.) No company is too big to fail.

2.) Do not underestimate the power of social media.

3.) Your brand and reputation are your most important assets and must be guarded.

AT&T ought to take a lesson from companies like AVIS, which authorizes its front-counter rental agents to do whatever it takes to resolve customer complaints; or LL Bean, a company that built a reputation for the quality of its products by honoring their replacement for any reason whatsoever. Or, GWI, a locally owned Biddeford-based ISP and telecommunications provider that always goes the extra mile to make customer satisfaction a top priority.

Fletcher Kittredge of Biddeford started GWI with vision and commitment, but he also had to endure many, many battles with larger telecomm giants. Fletcher proved that you can compete with anyone by focusing on the quality or your product and developing strong relationships with your customers.

AT&T, by comparison, is a multi-billion dollar corporation. Why is it so hard for such a large company to understand or appreciate the value of customer satisfaction and loyalty?

AT&T: Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap

My nightmare started less than 24 hours ago.

Spend just a few moments on the blogosphere and you will find a lot of stories just like mine.

On Google, Facebook and Twitter, these dark tales of woe, deceit and theft abound.

But my story is a tad different.  And this, my friends, is the first warning shot across the bow of a corporate giant aircraft carrier that likely will pay little attention.

attI am talking about AT&T, one of the nation’s largest and most well-known corporations.

AT&T (NYSE:T) is a Fortune 500 company and of the 30 stocks that make up the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Their reported consolidated revenue for the 2011 reporting period was $126.7 billion. Randall L. Stephenson is the chairman and CEO of AT&T.

So now you know what I’m up against, but don’t count me out just yet.

Allow me to back up and offer some context.

I have been a loyal AT&T customer for more than 7 years. I have a Family Plan that is also used by my wife and two teenage step-sons. I have a data bundle, unlimited text and 1,500 minutes of monthly talk time. My average monthly bill runs approximately $200 every month.

I have upgraded my phones over the last few years. I have never said an unkind word about AT&T in the public realm, despite their rather dismal coverage and the fact that my cell phone is essentially useless in my own home. But I am hooked into everlasting contracts, and until now it seemed like a giant pain in the ass to leave.

But then this happened:

Last evening, I received an automated call from AT&T, suggesting that I should consider a new plan. Curious, I went to view my account online and almost had a massive coronary. According to AT&T, I owe them $1,016.21.

Go here to find out how it happened and how AT&T repeatedly failed in even the most basic of customer service tasks.

I spoke with at least two representatives, including a young man named Rico, a “customer satisfaction specialists,” who didn’t seem to know the first thing about customers or service.  In summary, AT&T refused to budge.

Somehow, I was able to get Rico to set down his scripted talking points and listen to me for just a few seconds. And this is what I said.

 I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for me to pay this bill, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you adjust this bill now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill your company’s reputation.

For good measure, I threw in some other key phrases like Maine Public Utilities Commission, Maine Office of the Public Advocate and Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology.

I am going to haunt AT&T’s Facebook page and chase them on Twitter. I am going to call their customer service line every day, multiple times a day. I am going to shout my story from the rooftops, call every member of the Legislature, file formal complaints and talk to my friends in the media.

I am going to buy AT&T stock so that I can participate in shareholder conference calls and stay updated on their corporate affairs. I am going to e-mail Randall Stephenson daily, sometimes two or three times a day. I am going to create a Facebook page and make sure that Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile know about it.

Strangely, there are several fun URL domains available, i.e.;, etc.

ATT-Logo-NJTechReviewsBut in the end, AT&T has me over a barrel. They can impact my credit report if I don’t pay on time. They have me locked in a contract.

But I am motivated, and unlike the foolishness and aimlessness of the Occupy fiasco, I have a clear objective: AT&T is going to spend at least 10 times more than what they are charging me for international calls that I never made.

Companies like AT&T spend millions every year to attract customers in a competitive market. They spend millions more on lobbyists and on PR professionals like me.

Go ahead and laugh, who could blame you? But consider this: social media helped bring down the Egyptian president. Lech Walesa, a Polish Factory worker, brought the Soviet Union to its knees in a matter of weeks. David beat Goliath and elephants are terrified of mice.

I invite you to join me in my crusade. I am going to have fun, and you can follow my progress with regular updates here.

Meanwhile, I will wrap it up here with a wonderful quote from Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Hey, AT&T: can you hear me now? You guys may want to rethink possible.

AT&T customers are welcome to join the fight. Tell me your story here