In 2012, it is not enough for candidates to shake some hands, kiss a baby or two and run some TV ads. They also need to be posting funny little animations on the blogging site Tumblr. If the presidential campaigns of 2008 were dipping a toe into social medialike Facebook and Twitter, their 2012 versions are well into the deep end. They are taking to fields of online battle that might seem obscure to the non-Internet-obsessed — sharing song playlists on Spotify, adding frosted pumpkin bread recipes to Pinterest and posting the candidates’ moments at home with the children on Instagram. At stake, the campaigns say they believe, are votes from citizens, particularly younger ones, who may not watch television or read the paper but spend plenty of time on the social Web. The campaigns want to inject themselves into the conversation on services like Tumblr, where political dialogue often takes the form of remixed photos and quirky videos. To remind Tumblr users about the first presidential debate on Wednesday, Mr. Obama’s team used an obscure clip of Lindsay Lohan saying “It’s October 3” in the comedy “Mean Girls.” And on Twitter, Mitt Romney’s bodyguard posted a picture of the candidate’s family playing Jenga before the debate.
The techniques may be relatively new, but they are based on some old-fashioned political principles, according to Zachary Moffatt, the digital director for the Romney campaign. “The more people you talk to, the more likely you are to win,” said Mr. Moffatt, who oversees about 120 staff members and volunteers. “The more people who interact with Mitt, the more likely he is to win. Social extends and amplifies that.” But as is the way of the Web, a well-intended post or picture on social networks can quickly morph into a disaster. And the slightest gaffe on the campaign trail can become a “Groundhog Day” moment, repeated endlessly.