At TechCrunch Disrupt today, our own Greg Ferenstein interviewed Mitt Romney’s Digital Director Zac Moffatt. The discussion touched upon a wide variety of issues, ranging from the importance of online ads in political campaigns to the allegations that the Romney campaign bought Twitter followers. As Ferenstein noted at the start of the panel, politics is becoming very important for technology, not just because of the money it brings in through advertising and other means, but also because numerous startups now come out of presidential campaigns. According to Moffatt, it’s now impossible to run a campaign without digital. “Nothing else has the scale and flexibility like digital,” he noted. In his view, this will also “be the first campaign in history where the campaign moves from just fundraising to mobilization.”
One reason why digital is also becoming so important is because so many people now time-shift their TV viewing, making it a lot harder to reach likely voters. “People are living their lives online and you can’t pretend this doesn’t exist,” he said. What’s important to note here, said Moffatt, is that online advertising serves as prospecting to get people from Facebook to eventually creating an account on MittRomney.com. The people who do this, after all, are also the ones who are most likely to volunteer.
Interestingly, the Romney campaign is now seeing click-through rates on Facebook that are close to 10% on mobile. Asked about this pretty astonishingly high number, Moffatt pointed out that one thing in the campaign’s favor is that “not everybody is running for president.” The Romney campaign is also using Apple’s iAds, though here the focus is more on video and getting people to share content.
The campaign is also working with a number of Silicon Valley companies to optimize its processes. Romney ’12 is, for example, using tools from Facebook, Google, Square and Eventbrite, among many others. These, said Moffatt, help the campaign to glue together the best services and do things like setting up pop-up merchandise stores during its convention that took in more than $1 million and used Square for mobile payments.
One issue the Romney campaign is facing is that the Obama campaign has far more followers and friends on Twitter and Facebook. For Moffatt, though, this doesn’t seem to be a major issue. He argues that engagement is far more important and even though the Romney campaign has fewer followers on the usual social media sites, it’s seeing similar engagement rates. If vanity metrics mattered, he argues, “Justin Bieber would be president.” It’s less important that people talk about you (and it’s hard to know if these conversations are positive or negative anyway), but more important to get people to take actions.
As for the allegations that the Romney campaign bought Twitter followers, Moffatt only had one comment: “We had nothing to do with that.”