TAMPA -- If you are the last hold-out among your peers to get on the social media bandwagon and have any interest in politics, the wagon is about to leave you in the dust during this year's political conventions.
Republican leaders are dubbing this year's Republican National Convention in Tampa the "Convention without Walls." A handful of social media pros will be on the floor, tasked with "opening up the walls," so to speak, of the convention to give followers and fans around the country access to everything -- including exclusive behind-the-scenes coverage.
"Wherever you live, whatever device you use, we want you to engage as an active participant in this convention," said William Harris, CEO of the RNC. "This convention is about every American's future, and everyone has a stake in it so we created a 'Convention without Walls' to make this the most open and accessible event in history."
Some elements will include a customized YouTube page, a Digital Center designed through a partnership with Google, a Google Media Lounge at the convention, a digital green room for online conversations through social media sites, and a mobile app. All elements designed to give people exclusive access to everything and anything at the Convention.
"The speeches are great but to be honest the best stuff happens behind the scenes," said 29-year-old Christian Ziegler, who just happens to be one of those pros hired to be an on-site social media reporter for the RNC. He knows a thing or two about using social media to campaign. Ziegler, also the Executive Director for the Sarasota County Republican Party is now a State Committeeman after winning his election in Tuesday's Primary. A campaign he says was run using social media alone. "I had limited resources so I turned to social media to see if I could defeat an old-school campaign with new tools and tactics.
Ziegler campaigned against three other candidates for the spot and won with 32.93 percent of the vote and by 960 votes.
"I was against one guy who is very well known in the area with a lot of resources," he said, "He spent some money, did some direct mail and ran a very traditional race."
Ziegler on the other hand raised just $1,000 and used it to collect information online, compile email addresses, and employed a tactic called "micro-targeting."
"I'd do a poll to see what people thought about certain issues, then if they were pro-life, I'd send them a pro-life email. If they were pro-gun, they'd get a pro-gun email from me. I would tailor my message to the individual voter, based on my beliefs and values," Ziegler said.
He also set up a blog-like website and a Facebook page and gave people the option to opt into his website with their mobile number. He sent out text messages reminding them that the polls were open and to go vote.
With Facebook ads and his local following he had more than 1,000 fans on his campaign page in less than a week and then added YouTube into the mix. He made a campaign video speaking directly to voters and another one at a gun show buying his first gun. "One video got around 900 views, and I only won the election by about a little more than 900 votes, so it definitely made a difference."
He'd post them on different conservative social media pages and outlets and they spread like wildfire. It's a phenomenon that is also spreading like wildfire, but barely made a difference at the last conventions just four years ago.
For the party and the candidates, it is an avenue to bypass the media, get right to the voters and get instant feedback.
"It's become the standard," Ziegler said of using social media to campaign. "If you don't get social media and the power of the web, you are starting off with a disadvantage. If you do embrace it and effectively use it, it is a great tool to have under your belt and can really deliver incredible results. I think the results of my race showed that."
Get on the bus or get out of the way. Just make sure to update your status to let the rest of us know which one you choose.