On August 29th, President Obama introduced himself to the self-proclaimed front page of the Internet with an AMA. On a website with between 2 and 8 million monthly unique visitors, Obama’s public discussion netted just under 3 million page views on the day of the event. Reddit added 30 dedicated servers in preparation—a 20% increase—and another 30 servers mid-day to account for the increased traffic. While no one likes a Monday morning quarterback, I’ve got a question for the Romney campaign: Where was your AMA?
For the uninitiated, AMA stands for “Ask Me Anything,” and there’s a whole subreddit dedicated to such topics, with daily submissions ranging from superstar DJs and renowned physicists to requests for individuals in troubling circumstances, like the guy who was sued after saving a girl from drowning. Woody Harrelson infamously executed a poorly-planned AMA, avoiding several personal questions while promoting Rampart—which ironically scored much higher with critics than the Rotten Tomatoes user audience.
While the President’s excursion onto Reddit wasn’t a Harrelson-level letdown, he selected only a few soft questions to answer, including those regarding the space program, internet freedom, his favorite sports team, the White House’s secret beer recipe and how Obama manages his personal life with that of being the President. What’s more interesting than the President’s favorite flavor of ice cream is why an AMA on Reddit was viewed as a smart campaign move.
Age, Politics and Race
According to comScore’s September figures for Reddit, 67.5% of the site falls in the 18-34 range, overindexing in both the 18-24 and 25-34 age groups. It would appear that the Obama campaign made the right decision, reflected by MSNBC’s exit poll results, which show the President scooping up 60% of votes in the 18-24 and 25-29 age groups. Reddit also overindexes for Democrats and the very liberal; however, only 40.2% of Reddit’s 18+ audience is actually registered to vote in the United States.
The above chart shows Reddit’s political makeup, with a heavy lean towards the Democratic Party. When we take into account actual registered voters, the variation between the two major parties is much slimmer.
Democrats outnumber Republicans on Reddit by over 700,000, while their advantage in number of voters amounts to just 10,000. This is the kind of intelligence that political marketers need to be factoring into campaign decisions. Sure, Reddit has a young, educated, slightly affluent audience with liberal leanings, but only 34% of that audience turns up to vote.
Obama’s campaign staff also had the correct understanding of Reddit’s racial demographic, which is predominantly white or Caucasian (75%), followed by other (17%) and black or African-American (4%). Although Romney managed to attract the GOP’s largest percentage of the white vote since 1988, he fell behind considerably with African-Americans (7%), Hispanics (29%) and Asian-Americans (27%).
Regarding campaign turnout, I can confidently remark that paying attention to online audiences directly impacts your chances of reaching, or not reaching, those audiences when running for office—or running an online marketing campaign. Romney’s denouncement of SOPA and intrusions into our Internet freedom would’ve found a loving home among Redditors, and may have helped him win over some fence-sitting undecideds along with a greater majority of the site’s Caucasian visitors.
If there’s one lesson marketers can learn from this election, it’s that your audience is usually much bigger than you think it is. Of course, I cheated by using comScore, but that’s what advertising technology is for: providing the data necessary to create a meaningful context, reducing the risk of media buys. Romney’s campaign strategists may have viewed an AMA as a risk to his credibility, but getting personal is exactly what helps presidential candidates—and marketers—win the race.