The presidential election can teach you how to use social media

This post was originally written for Dubtizzle on 9.20.12:Four years ago, I watched social media explode right in front of my face. I watched the Obama campaign use Facebook and Twitter. I watched newsrooms crowdsource images and information. But four years ago, social media was not mainstream.

Fast forward to now.

Social media may not reach each and every person who can be a customer or client, but it certainly gives you a direct line to thoughts, opinions and interest groups. For years, I have watched the White House post photos on its Flickr account and other social outlets before releasing them to media outlets in more traditional ways. Social has removed the middle man and allows politicians to speak directly to voters. If you're ever looking for new ideas on how to share and gather information about potential customers, watch politicians closely.

A presidential election year is a perfect time to study up. Not long ago, Ad Age created an infographic showing the reach for Obama and Romney (and their wives) along with some statistics on how the two candidates use the powerhouse tools: Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

With November getting closer, the two candidates have done some interesting things to encourage social media sharing and information collecting on voters.

Romney The Romney camp has two different apps available for mobile users. One allows you to take your pictures and brand it with different sayings like "I'm with Mitt" and "Romney Ryan 2012." The other app keeps you up to date with the campaign. The campaign encouraged people to sign up and use it so they could be the first to find out Romney's vice presidential nominee. The app released Paul Ryan's name before Romney announced it at a public event.

The campaign also became the first political campaign to purchase a sponsored hashtag on the final night of the Republican National Convention. The price tag to promote #RomneyRyan2012 is said to have been cost around $120,000.

Obama While the Romney campaign spent a lot of money to engage the Twitter community, the Republican National Convention tweet with the most retweets was this image:

53,877 retweets to a photo responding to Clint Eastwood's convention speech where he spoke to an empty chair representing President Obama. (Which also launched the #eastwooding meme.) That's a huge response on Twitter.

That same week, Obama reached out to a social community that has never seen a presidential candidate make a visit: Reddit. The president spent about an hour answering questions that ranged from political to sports and beer. Did you visit that link? It's had almost 1.9 million views with more than 24,000 comments. That's remarkable engagement.

It doesn't matter where you sit on the spectrum of political preference. Both camps can teach you a lot about ways to reach different audiences. Watch what works and doesn't work for the candidates and consider giving it a try for yourself or your brand. (An interesting study by the Pew Research Center found the candidates are doing a great job talking inside social media, but not really engaging.) Do you have a public Spotify account? Both candidates do. They also have Instagram and Tumblr accounts. Watch and learn. Both camps may teach you how to share and listen in ways you've never tried before.