Point of View: Where Romney was right

Molly Flatt

I personally find this very difficult to admit, but Mitt Romney did at least one thing right over the past few months. The first large-scale piece of experimental research on the political influence of social networks, published in September in the science journal Nature, revealed that Facebook sharing can quadruple the power of a 'get-out-the-vote' message.

Yes, 'social contagion' makes people actually vote. Now, it would have been tempting for politicians to hurl a truckload of messages at these newly sanctioned Facebook gamechangers. Instead, Team Romney decided to first examine more deeply who they were dealing with and what would be most likely to make them take an action more meaningful than clicking on 'Like'.

The 'Commit to Mitt' app, created following a personal meeting with Mark Zuckerberg, uses information about the geography and behavioural history of users to identify who would be most influential in shifting the dial at the polling booth. Harnessing Facebook's open graph data to unearth which friends live in influential states, and which have a public history of interacting with Romney's Facebook page, Romney's digital team were able to better segment and target their audience. Those most likely to shift others' behaviour were sent time-intensive, personalised direct messages, while broadcast-style wall posts were reserved for less committed users who might provide a more generalised visibility boost.