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Tech Companies Embrace Election Season


You may already feel bombarded with election news this morning, but if you've logged into Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat, you're likely to be inundated with even more. That's because for social media platforms, it's just good business. NPR's Scott Detrow has more on how tech companies are embracing the election.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Walking the halls of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, there were tech companies everywhere you looked.

All right, so this is Connect with Skype at the RNC. It's a Skype booth. What it basically looks like is a little paneled off area where you can have a Skype call.

Skype, Twitter, Microsoft - it went on and on; same at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

And we are standing in the Oval Office.

CRYSTAL PATTERSON: Yeah. We have built a mini Oval Office for people to post on Instagram.

DETROW: That's Crystal Patterson who works on Facebook's political outreach team. This mini Oval Office was just one part of a larger lounge the company set up inside the Wells Fargo Center.

PATTERSON: It feels very Facebooky (ph). It's very bright, open and colorful. More importantly, there's a lot of areas for people to create content, so people can go live pretty easily.

DETROW: And we should note that Facebook does pay NPR and other leading news organizations to produce video that run on the site. In downtown Philadelphia, Twitter was offering something very similar. Sitting at a table in the back, Twitter's Jenna Golden said the company was giving out free food, coffee and Wi-Fi.

JENNA GOLDEN: This is supposed to be home base for a host of different people, including our advertising clients, our media partners, any very important tweeters.

DETROW: Why all the freebies and fancy displays? Because Twitter and Facebook are competing with each other, and every other social media company, for your time and attention. They both spent a lot of money to make sure that when people were reporting on the convention or sharing their convention experience, Facebook or Twitter would be a part of it. That makes sense to Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University.

TIM CALKINS: It really - it's true for any big event in a sense, but elections are a little different because they're huge events and the build-up commands a lot of attention, a lot of activity, and it goes on for a long time.

DETROW: Cozying up to an election in order to get more attention for your company is nothing new and isn't limited to technology. Calkins says for years Kraft Macaroni & Cheese would make special election year pasta.

CALKINS: So when the Republican convention was going on, they would have the, you know, elephant macaroni and when the Democratic convention was going on, they would have the donkey macaroni.

DETROW: Social media is all about conversation. And this year, there's no bigger conversation topic than a contentious high-profile national election. But for social media companies, and especially Twitter, there's one big factor that's much more effective than trendy VIP hangouts at conventions. It's the fact that Donald Trump won the Republican nomination with a communications strategy that relied heavily on tweets.

CALKINS: And that's exactly the sort of message that Twitter wants to get out there. You know, they'd love to go to companies and say, you know what? You no longer even need to worry about traditional advertising because today you can just rely on us.

DETROW: So all the time that Facebook and Twitter spent wooing people at the convention, the truth is most of those people were already probably spending most of the day staring at their phones waiting to see what Donald Trump had to say next. Scott Detrow, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.