The ‘Coolness Factor’ & Social Media: Politicians Pump Up Their Image Through Viral Communication

With the growth of social media, the ‘coolness factor’ is gaining importance as a way to frame a politician’s image. When I say ‘coolness factor’ I mean trying to use one’s personality to create a deeper connection with one’s constituency. An example would be Hillary Clinton submitting her own ‘Texts from Hillary’.  Through the growth of social media, this has become an effective push communication strategy as followers want to share this content.

That being said, the “Coolness Factor” is not something new and has been effective in the past. This played a role in Kennedy’s success in the first Kennedy-Nixon debates where people who listened on the radio voted Nixon as the winner, but the 70 million television viewers, able to see Kennedy’s charisma and smooth delivery compared to Nixon’s sweaty make-up free face, viewed Kennedy as the winner. Post-losing against George W. Bush in 2000, Al Gore gained much publicity for going out and partying in New York City, shocking people with his sweaty armpits and dance moves that highly contradicted his prior boring, lock box-syndrome rhetoric. Meanwhile, George W. Bush seemed like a fun-loving guy with whom you would enjoy having a beer. Furthermore, in the past, Obama has used this technique successfully, dancing on Ellen, using the Shepard Fairey “Hope” image, and putting on the “We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration” (which I attended, luckily before security started turning people away).

In the current election, the “coolness factor” has hit many highs and lows, Herman Cain misquoting the “Pokémon: The Movie 2000”  fitting into the latter. As put by David A. Graham, “Cain repeatedly reached for snappy, glib, inspirational phrases—often, it seemed, without having thought them through. It was apparently the legacy of his years as a motivational speaker, a sector in which empty but punchy quotes are the coin of the realm and are seldom quarried for their original source.”

With the two current front-runners, both seem to be awkward. As put on the popular TV show Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough points out that, “we’ve got two possible major candidates who are awkward,” also stating that President Obama “doesn’t seem to genuinely like being around people.” However, Obama’s team has been very successful at amping his “coolness factor”.  Most recent examples include having the President submit a NCAA tournament bracket  on ESPN, releasing a campaign soundtrack, singing at the Apollo,  and pounding a janitor.  All help him appear down to earth and connected to the everyday American.

Mitt Romney has had difficulty channeling the “coolness factor,” appearing a bit socially awkward in many of his public appearances and thus some saying he needs a “swag transplant.”  An article by Frank Rich in The New York Times says, “When forced to interact with actual people, he tries hard, but his small talk famously takes the form of guessing a voter’s age or nationality (usually incorrectly) or offering a greeting of ‘Congratulations!’ for no particular reason. Richard Nixon was epically awkward too, but he could pass (in Tom Wicker’s phrase) as ‘one of us.”

Thus, is “coolness factor” more important today than ever before now that is so easy to share content online? How can it be channeled to the correct audience? An example might be Bully Pulpit Interactive’s Ed Lee “2 Legit” video which used Facebook zip code targeted advertising to drive young voters in the tech industry in San Francisco to watch the video, gaining 33,000 views. However, the video might not be as appreciated by other voter segments. Successfully targeted viral marketing may be the new secret weapon to win over hearts and minds. Still questions arise on how it can be targeted successfully, when is it going too far for the mainstream, how to correctly connect to key viewers, and when it crosses the line of unprofessional (such as the POTUS calling Kanye West a jackass).

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