From its starring role in the London 2012 Olympics to the upcoming US presidential election, social media finally seems to not only be accepted, but also embraced, by the corporate and political powerhouses of the world. As the election race in the United States heats up, so too is the online commentary surrounding the different tactics candidates are using to capture voters’ attention.

The Obama campaign is already well versed in social media, having relied heavily on Facebook and Twitter during the 2008 election. Since taking office, the President has also hosted digital town halls and Google+ hangouts. It was still a big surprise, however, when he participated in a surprise AMA (Ask Me Anything) session on Reddit. Better known as the “front page of the Internet,” the Reddit community has grown increasingly powerful over the past few months, raising more than $500,000 for a bullied bus monitor and providing better news coverage than traditional media outlets during emergencies.

On the other hand, the Romney campaign has placed its bets on Twitter and purchased a national trending topic. This makes them the first official political campaign to do so since the feature was introduced in 2010. Sponsored trending topics have been met with mixed reactions from Twitter users; appearing within their stream, it’s hard to differentiate promoted topics from regular tweets.

As campaigns become more social, so too does the media coverage. CNN’s Election Insights tool uses Facebook data to track online buzz and voter sentiment. Google is jumping into the action as well by creating a Politics & Elections hub, which aggregates everything election-related from Google+, YouTube and traditional media partners.

Regardless of your stance on US politics, there’s a lot we can learn from this election. When it comes down to it, campaigns are ultimately about branding. The storytelling that takes places – about the candidates, the political parties, the voters and the country – will ultimately determine public opinion. It’s no coincidence that they are remarkably similar to the stories told during a marketing campaign, where the strategy and tactics have to be devised around the features of a product or service, the brands’ values, consumer interests and the competitive landscape.

Getting elected, or getting someone to purchase your product, is largely determined by the calibre of the story you tell; whether campaign promises are fulfilled or a product’s features work as advertised is largely irrelevant. The best storytellers are those who can get people to believe in their cause, and ultimately, close the deal.

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