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Obama slow jam on 'Fallon' just a taste of 'epic' social media war ahead

President Obama's slow jam on 'Jimmy Fallon' shows how candidates will try to become part of clips that will be passed around on social media. A huge social media effort by MoveOn.org also shows how Election 2012 may play out online.

By Staff writer / April 26, 2012

President Obama sits with Jimmy Fallon during commercial break as he participates in a taping of 'The Jimmy Fallon Show,' Tuesday at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

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LOS ANGELES

A new campaign by the liberal political action group MoveOn.org to place an ad on the Facebook page of every college student in the US is the opening shot of what some experts are calling a “truly epic war." The result, they say, will see social-media use in Election 2012 become far more savvy and sophisticated than it was four years ago.

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The campaign, which is launching this week, starts with the student loan issue. MoveOn.org is raising money to target every potential youth vote with an interest in keeping loan rates from doubling in July.

“This is a curtain raiser for what to expect in the general election this year,” says Kevin Phelan, managing director for North America at the Meltwater Group, a social media monitoring software firm in Boston.

While social media have been playing ever-larger roles in political campaigns, “the technology available today versus four years ago is so advanced that the battle waged by the two camps should be epic,” he adds.

A key priority is a steadily increasing ability to microtarget potential voters as well as supporters and “influencers” – the social media-savvy partisans who can be leveraged for their wide-ranging contacts, says Mr. Phelan.

His firm has spent the past year working with some 100 different companies, all prepping for this final push. he says, noting advancements in "social media monitoring," known as CRM, “to gather passionate advocates and analytics will allow these digital natives to stay behind the scenes but still have a major impact on the election and media.”

The explosion of companies devoted to “scraping,” whereby computers gather and collate the tiniest bit of information about online activities, has allowed them to create a digital profile for virtually every Internet user, he says.

“So, if you have 600 friends and you have mentioned even once that you support Obama, for instance,” that campaign has the ability to track and target you in virtually your every online move to determine how and when you might be useful in getting their word out, he says.

“It may not be things we haven’t dreamt of,” says David Jackson, associate political science professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, “but it will be much more sophisticated than we have seen before.”

The pressure to evolve new strategies is a direct result of the way users adapt to being targeted. Our “filters” are getting savvier alongside technology, he says, so companies have to continually get more creative for us to get the message.

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