A Victory for Social Media: Inside the Election of Colombia's New President

Juan Manuel Santos's race to Colombia's presidency is a social media case study for companies everywhere: How his team used Facebook, mobile apps and geolocation technologies to overcome a 12-point deficit and win with 70 percent of the votes -- all in just 50 days.

Thu, August 05, 2010

CIO — With 50 days remaining in the Colombian Presidential Election, candidate Juan Manuel Santos's one-time lead of 30 points in the polls had plummeted. Santos and his committee suddenly found themselves 12 points behind opponent Antanas Mockus. Santos and his staffers were scrambling to regain their lead.

After dissecting their approach and Mockus's campaign, they had their solution: Launch an aggressive social media strategy.

"Santos was getting killed on the Internet—there were so many negative articles," says Ravi Singh, CEO and founder of ElectionMall Technologies, the nonpartisan technology solutions provider that Santos's camp hired. "Mockus's committee had launched a very concentrated campaign against Santos. We did some research and found that we had to move online."

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Mockus's ideals focused on the younger generation of Colombians, which comprise between 70 percent and 80 percent of Internet users in Colombia. Mockus used this demographic to his advantage, becoming visible in the social media space. In May, his Facebook page had more than 600,000 members—an enormous following by Colombian standards, in which social media and technology adoption are still in its infancy. The Santos Facebook page had a mere 98,000 fans.

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But a deeper look into Mockus's strategy revealed a significant weakness, Singh says. "Sure, they had over 600,000 Facebook members, but what they weren't doing was engaging them, and if you don't create engagement, you won't gain influence," he says. "That's what we knew we needed to concentrate on for Santos to regain his lead."

What Santos's campaign did next with social media presents a virtual case study for how organizations of all shapes, sizes and locations can embrace Facebook, mobile apps and geolocation technologies to win big.

On May 3—50 days before the final election—Santos's committee launched the Digital Task Force, a team of 80 volunteers and professionals responsible for Santos's online presence and activity in the social media sphere. The committee—and its headquarters—were constructed in 72 hours.

"The first week we were working around the clock—a much different pace than what Colombians are used to," Singh says. "I told them not to worry—I'll feed you, I'll give you Red Bull."

Campaign Focus: Generating Engagement

"[Singh] told us that our strategy was to stay two weeks ahead of our competition when we launched the new initiatives," says Luis Lopez, a member of the Digital Task Force. "That is, when we launched something new, we estimated it would take between one and two weeks for the competitor to replicate it, at which point we'd already be launching the next one."

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