As he campaigned with frenzied energy along the Virginia coast on the Sunday before Election Day, with a growing sense that an historic upset was in reach, Ed Gillespie made a curious stop — at a Virginia Beach branch of Buffalo Wild Wings, the sports-bar chain.
The Republican Senate candidate wasn’t there to cheer on the Washington Redskins. He was there, amid the framed jerseys of NFL greats and giant-screen TVs, for the sake of Buffalo Wild Wings itself. His digital adviser had crunched the numbers: Buffalo Wild Wings was the second most common Facebook “like” for conservative-leaning independents within his social network — the same kinds of people whom Gillespie desperately needed to get to the polls.
So Gillespie’s campaign posted a picture of him sitting among fans, gazing up at the football game, for his Facebook page. The campaign then paid $100 to ensure the image rose to the top of the Facebook newsfeeds of more than 25,000 carefully selected Virginians — a big-league bang for only a few bucks.
“It made perfect sense to me,” Gillespie said of the decision to spend precious last-minute time staging a Facebook posting in an exclusive post-election interview.
Just two years ago, Republican candidates, by all accounts, lagged behind Democrats in the use of social media and real-time data to reach undecided voters. For an uber-strategist and veteran of the George W. Bush and Mitt Romney campaigns like Gillespie, the lesson was clear: Get serious about data-driven campaigning.