In the online video race, Obama's got Romney beat

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By now, everyone in America has probably seen or heard some form of advertisement for the presidential election, whether it is a TV advertisement, a radio spot, a Facebook message or even a text. But recent research suggests candidates are taking advantage of another medium to get their message across—although perhaps not as much as they could be.

Image source: YouTube

Click here to see full campaign videos

A study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2010 monitored 2,257 adults' Internet use before and after the midterm elections. It found that 31 percent watched political videos online, up from only 19 percent in 2006. Although there is no data available for the 2012 campaigns, the percentage of voters viewing online campaign videos has almost surely increased, as there are both presidential and congressional elections this year. These numbers suggest it might be a good idea for any candidate who hopes to be successful to take a close look at how best to use online video.

Online video made its presidential campaign debut in the months leading up to the 2008 election, when candidates created YouTube channels during the primaries with varying degrees of success. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney created their channels within one month of one another, in September and August respectively. Since that time, however, they seem to have used online video in significantly different ways.

Though the candidates began using YouTube as a promotional tool around the same time, Obama's channel has 9.2 times more video views and 9.6 times more followers than Romney's channel. Obama's channel features 2,842 videos, whereas Romney's includes only 290.

It's clear from these numbers that presidential candidates can get a huge boost from engaging an online audience, in some cases without expending much cost. Obama's Deputy Campaign Manager, Stephanie Cutter, frequently rebuts Romney's claims and promotes the president's messages on her YouTube channel, and, despite Romney's lagging numbers compared to Obama, he nevertheless has 27.5 million video views.

Still, according to a Washington Post infographic, Romney and Obama have spent a combined $666 million on TV ads in the 2012 presidential campaign. The campaigns may be counting on the TV ads to reach a wider audience, but is the added expense really worth it, when online video can promote the same message on a similar medium at a fraction of the cost?

Image source: YouTube

Click here to see full campaign videos

An article in Reel Seo, while noting that online video is playing an increasingly important role in political campaigns, offers some tips for Obama and Romney to capitalize on their online video use.

  • First, candidates should "find friendly places,"—in other words, "content they want to appear next to in order to be seen by the right kinds of audiences." This means it's a good idea for each campaign to research where their key demographics go when they get online, and then target those places with video advertising.
  • Second, the president and his challenger (and their respective campaigns) need to truly understand just how important online video is to reaching and influencing voters. Sounds simple, but the article tells us that "more people watch video online monthly than vote in presidential elections," which is pretty staggering. Obama and his advisers seem to have grasped this fact more fully than Romney and his team, but both could do more. For example, now that more and more video game platforms (like the Wii U and Xbox 360) support Internet streaming, the candidates could buy ad content during commercials for online shows and reach younger voters (a key demographic for Obama in the 2008 election) that way.
  • Third, candidates can take advantage of the interactive nature of online video ads: Obama and Romney "can get [the voters] to click something, sign up for a newsletter, share out to their friends and basically do campaigning for [the candidates]." This is something that can't be done via traditional TV advertisement, so Obama and Romney should make use of it.
  • Last, anyone who wants to have a serious chance at winning an election should "build for the future," so it's important for winners as well as losers to keep their "brand" fresh in the minds of voters. "Even if it's not your particular product that will be in the next election, your particular brand will be… keep those voters engaged."

These tips should help the candidates, both presidential and congressional, in next week's election as well as future ones. Online video is growing in demand and importance, and any future campaigns ignore it at their peril.

Calls to the Romney and Obama campaigns were not returned.