Thursday, January 31, 2008

Example: Driving the Zealots

From The Nation:

The speech has now drawn over 268,000 views, after about 36 hours online. By contrast, a shorter, spicier clip of Clinton and Obama's debate clash currently has under 50,000 views, (after half a day). About 43 percent of viewers have come from links on Obama's social networking page, MyBO, which encourages supporters to share videos and information with their friends...

These are impressive numbers, especially given the closed, proprietary nature of MyBO. This is a great example of directing your army of zealots to take action and drive the conversation. Imagine what could be done with an integrated approach within an existing social network...

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Is the Discourse Improving?

From The Nation:
Barack Obama delivered a riveting speech about America's moral crisis this weekend, calling for a united movement to overcome the nation's moral deficit and mounting economic inequality. Political observers praised the address and reporters covered it -- 53 mentions in major papers -- yet it's been largely overshadowed by the escalating fight between Obama and The Clintons, which still dominates this week's media narrative..

While cable news shows gorge on campaign sparring, Obama's uplifting speech is absolutely dominating YouTube. The 34-minute address from Ebenezer Baptist Church is currently the fourth most viewed video in the world on YouTube, trailing two Britney Spears clips. Not only is that unusual traffic for a long political address – people also like it. On Tuesday, viewers voted it the second most "favorited" video in the world. It also drew the second highest number of incoming links, a key indicator of web interest that drives Google page rankings...

At SomethingAwful, a popular general interest site that proclaims the "Internet makes you stupid," one user wrote that the speech was so good it was worth posting in a non-political forum, attaching the video and text. The single post drew more than 3,000 new viewers in a day.

The speech has now drawn over 268,000 views, after about 36 hours online. By contrast, a shorter, spicier clip of Clinton and Obama's debate clash currently has under 50,000 views, (after half a day)...

This kind of YouTube speech is also distinct because it enables voters to appraise a candidate directly, without any filters. News coverage is larded with polls and meta-analysis, while top bloggers increasingly talk strategy. Even the debates are often clogged with moderator framing and false premises. So despite our proliferating media, it's hard for most voters to hear directly from the candidates who would be president, unless you move to Iowa. (Or make C-SPAN your new appointment television.) But it looks like when the speech is available and the candidate is inspiring, people still want to listen.

Interesting example of how the social web can be used to manage the conversation. Is this just the first of many examples of how the social web is improving the political discourse? I hope so...

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Army of Zealots

More on the article by Mark Walsh of MediaPost:
Fervent online support doesn't necessarily translate into votes, however. The campaign site of Internet favorite Ron Paul drew by far the largest share of traffic among 15 presidential candidates, at 37.9%. The next closest was Huckabee, with 16.4% as of December, according to Hitwise data cited by Borrell. Paul hasn't come close to winning any primaries.
There is a different between the supporter and the zealot. Certain campaigns and certain messages connect with both, either or neither. Zealots are rabid fans. They latch on, believe every drip of rhetoric, and rarely let go. Supporters, however, vote. Unless the zealot army generates supporters, the campaign goes nowhere. Howard Dean had the zealots in 2004. Ron Paul has the zealots this cycle. Obama had them early on, and has done a decent job employing them to generate actual supporters.

There is another layer to the numbers presented above. We must not just look at traffic; we must also look at behavior of those that do engage in the conversation. How does a campaign employ the army of zealots to generate supporters? Are potential supporters turned off or engaged by the zealot conversation?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Git-r-done and the Socal Web

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, has been championing a concept he calls the social graph. In it, he describes the various connections and interactions we have among our friends, family, co-workers, etc. Certain people we talk with often, via phone or email. Others we reach out to sporadically, or even rarely. All make up the idea of our social graph.

His vision for Facebook is to replicate this idea in an online environment, employing the benefits that technology offers. The database never forgets a phone number. Active as well as passive interactions are possible. It is now feasible to play a board game like Scrabble (aka Scrabulous within Facebook) with friends, but not have be in the same room, or even complete the game in one sitting.

I believe Zuckerberg's theory is actually representative of what is happening to the web in general. As the blogshpere grows, social media expands, and (hopefully) the idea of data portabilty becomes a reality, we will see a truly social web.

Given this theory, an idea I have loosely touched upon is to drive action through this social graph, using the tools and ideas from traditional campaigning. In Michael Turk's post-mortem on his work at the Thompson campaign, he touches on this idea as he describes the Bush-Cheney efforts of '04:
(Enabling volunteer action online) allowed people to participate on their own terms, rather than forcing them to attend a Saturday morning walk.

The Bush campaign was innovative in allowing people to participate in the mechanics of the campaign, but it never developed the community that could interact, inspire, and spur each other into action. I felt in 2004, and still feel today, that is the missing pieces required to fully realize the benefit of these applications.

Driving this activity through the social graph and connecting with the existing online community is the role of today's campaign web strategist.

Turks openly mentions opportunities missed, such as the delayed Red Truck campaign. This is not the role for the savvy web developer, nor is it the role of the accomplished blogger. The campaign web strategist must understand the technology and what makes up an online community, but more importantly, must have the skill and the experience to be among campaign senior leadership to acquire the resources necessary to drive decision-making and get things done.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Blogs and Turn-ons

The headline is a stretch, but it's the catchy ones drive the traffic...

Michael Turk, Fred Thompson's Internet Director offers a great post-mortem on their operation. Sure, he's helping shape the legacy of his efforts, but his points about blogging as an opportunity to open up the conversation are spot on.
Nobody accused us of endorsing the random beliefs espoused by the occasional nut, and nobody on the campaign had to answer a single press call (that I am aware of) about the blog or anything said on it.

Rudy's blog doesn't allow comments. Romney's gets a few per post. Ron Paul just recently launched a blog (despite the fact that blog software is largely free). He currently gets between a handful and a few dozen comments. ...There are just as many Democrats who need to learn this lesson (cough, cough, Hillary, cough, cough).

They need to build online operations so they invite people to the discussion rather than turning them off of it. [get it? turn-ons? I know, a stretch...] Get candidates to write, in their own words, frequent posts. Understand that a ground game is critical, but it must be viewed in terms of ROI. A thoughtful, honest post from a candidate may be discussed and passed around by thousands of people online. It takes little time to write if it's sincere and not obsessive studied and focus grouped.

I don't think this indicates a lack of supporter enthusiasm as much as it indicates that the campaigns have created a blog with nothing to say on sites that are so scrubbed of interesting content they're almost sterile. Most of the posts are rehashed press releases, rehashed campaign e-mails, or occasionally a video so overscripted it becomes almost completely unwatchable.

Couldn't have said it better myself. I do have one more angle to add, however. The role of the campaign web strategist is not just to manage and maintain internal operations. S/he must also be a two-headed manager, an internal advocate for both internal and external online activity. Given the limited reach of campaign sites, the external focus is what needs attention among today's presidential online efforts...

Thursday, January 24, 2008

One Half of One Percent?

In previous posts, I have lamented how increased investment in online strategy is sorely needed among our political campaigns. I have also touched on how campaigns are behind the curve. Mark Walsh of MediaPost writes of a new study soon to be released by Borrell Associates that examines 2008 online political advertising. From Walsh's story:
(T)he tiny .5% share of political advertising going to the Internet is well below the 9% chunk Borrell estimates the medium gets of ad dollars overall. It garners at least 5% in all other ad categories, including automotive, travel and health.
This is crazy, especially considering how efficient the social web is for promoting a political idea. Campaigns are underfunded, when compared to traditional marketing efforts. Coke has a marketing budget in excess of $400 million a year, whereas the major presidential campaigns will spend less than $150 million. Therefore, it is critical that resources be employed efficiently. What is more efficient than a preexisting, connected set of networks, complete with numerous tools with which to engage and converse?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Gibson Stevens

Gibson Stevens is Brandon Thomas. When I started this, I was a bit unsure of how overt I should be in my blogging. Despite my thoughts on this whole idea of the conversation, I was hesitant to lay my thoughts out in such an open manner.

There is definitely a paradigm shift happening in the manner with which people approach privacy. Friends only 5 or 10 years younger than me have a totally different perspective on who and how others access information about their life, their thoughts, etc. I was unsure initially of what may come by documenting my thoughts. Thus far, the feedback has been positive.

My motivation for keeping this blog is two fold. First, I see tremendous opportunity to improve the methods campaigns (and marketers) are using to reach out to their constituency. I believe those that have been in the game for years are loosing site of the forest among the trees, and apparent opportunities are being missed. My varied background provides for a unique perspective on the space, whereby I hope to help seize these opportunities.

Second, I am branding myself as a web strategist. The idea of the social web is in its infancy. I believe we will see the idea grow to be on par with the birth of the internet itself. The opportunity is vast and wide, and I want to be a part of it.

In addition, web strategy is still buried deep within IT or communications shops, rather than among the senior leadership of an organization. I have had a seat at the table within several organizations. I expect to do so again, to shine the light on this channel to bring the necessary resources (and ROI) to bear...

This site can now also be accessed via Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Ron Paul Learns from Zombies

Ok, so maybe the idea didn't come from the Zombies application within Facebook, but given its reach thus far (over 5.4 million installations to date), Ron Paul's campaign may be on to something with their integration of similar ideas.

The application is very simple, yet over 100,000 users are engaged every day. You receive credit for every friend that you bite. You then infect them, and get credit for whomever they bite. Very simple, yet the numbers are crazy.

My thesis is that the numbers are so large due to the competitive element, namely the leader board. By merely presenting the information of how you stack up overall, among your friends and within your networks, users become engaged. Ron Paul is the first example I have seen to port this logic over to political web strategy.

Within his Grassroots Center, the campaign seeks to sign up precinct captains around the country. There also is an additional tool to recruit your friends. What I am excite to see is the leader board on the Grassroots homepage. We shall see if this proves effective in enhancing the recruitment of precinct captains, just as Zombies and other applications have taken off within the Facebook environment. TechPresident noted today that close to 10,000 captains have been recruited thus far.

Shelf Life and Value

I have written several posts about value from the campaign's perspective. Let's not forget it from the user's perspective either.

I like to play with new online tools and services. I am happy to try new things, but my time is also limited. There is a short shelf life for my interest. I have to not only see the potential value of the offering, but also enjoy a valuable experience throughout. When a site gets me to sign up, its an investment on my part - not only to sign up at that time, but to actually use the tool offered. I need a return on that investment.

So when a tool uses email to communicate with me, it too must provide me value, especially when it asks for more of my time.

I recently signed up with Spokeo, one of many sites out there attempting to bring the Facebook News Feed to the general web. Once you sign up, you upload your email contacts, Facebook friends and other networks. Spokeo then consolidates your friends' activity on those other sites in one place. Unfortunately, Spokeo's external integrations are somewhat limited. For example, for Facebook, the only activity that is extracted and placed within your Spokeo feed is the posting of Notes. But again, the idea is interesting and I look forward to its evolution.

Spokeo periodically sends out emails asking you to return to the site to see the new activity. I like the idea and, despite its limitations, I continue to check it out every day or two. However, I continue to get these emails. One of two things are happening. Either there is no logic behind the emails, and they are simply blasted periodically. Or, the couple days in between checks are sufficient to trip the process.

I am a sucker sometimes, so I typically do check the site out when I receive one of these notices, taking time. My problem is that, on at east a couple occasions, the quantity of new activity available for my review was sparse - 4 or 5 entries - hardly worth my time. How many of these will I receive before I ignore them? Worse yet, how many will bug me enough to cancel my account?

My point here is that delivering value to the user must be considered throughout all potential interactions and communications. Spend the time to incorporate the optimal logic for automatic communications, to ensure they add value, rather than detract.

Monday, January 21, 2008

More on Focus, and Porn!

Shameless traffic-driving headline, but I believe an interesting point is to be made nonetheless...

From the Huffington Post, via Jake McKee, Hugh McGuire's Article, "Porn Knows What It’s For — Do You?" provides a more vivid description of a theme I have hit a few times on this blog: focus on value and less on method. From the post:

It seems to me the porn business, one of the most profitable businesses in the Universe, gets this in a way no one else does. Because the porn biz understands exactly what it is for:

Pornographers don’t sell pornography; they provide orgasms.

Looking at it that way, they don’t seem to care much about how they do it — they’ll just find ways to give people the orgasms however people want them given. Dirty postcards, magazines, porno theatres, VHS and Betamax, phone sex, online photos, online videos, chat lines, webcams, cybersex and God knows what else. You don’t hear the porn business whining about Intellectual Property and illegal downloads, and consumers as thieves, because they don’t have time: they’re too busy trying to give the world what it seems to want, more orgasms.

So, stepping out of the peepshow and back to the respectable world, why are newspapers, for instance, having such a hard time? I think it’s because they have a fundamental misunderstanding of what they do.

The value of a newspaper is not that it gives me information; the value of a newspaper is how it selects information - what it puts in and what it leaves out.

Political web strategy suffers from a similar ambiguity in its attempt to execute on its overall objective: to drive votes. It is not about the latest tool or the coolest thing in social media. It is not about a fancy website or a well-produced video. It is all about driving the value you seek, given your goals and objectives.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Value Equation of Online Political Campaigning

There is a ton of buzz about what campaigns are doing online. Obama, Paul and the others are all playing with various tools out there. However, much of the effort is directed at initiatives that are not aligned with the value equation behind political campaigns. There are a lot of ideas and products out there that offer more gimmick than value. Sure, the gimmicks get you ink (see here), but do they actually drive value for the campaign?

I define campaign value as the acquisition of either money or time from an individual. The more of either you have, the more you are able to deploy. In the parlance of Karen Hicks, Clinton's field adviser, it is all about the capacity.

To various extents, the technologies employed today attempt to drive some level of engagement. Sites such as Eventful and Meetup help drive prospective supporters to events that will hopefully engage the individual enough to support the candidate. Sites such as Twitter and Facebook enable campaigns to interact with their constituents. Tools such as campaign video or blogs attempt to offer content to the supporter in the hopes of keeping them on the site and interested in the candidate. Even virtual phone banking has roots with engagement, giving active supporters the opportunity to identify other potential people to engage. The more engaged an individual is, the more likely they are to donate time or money.

I do not deny that all of the above is important. Engagement is critical to generating the capacity to campaign. However, my thesis is that many of the above tools and more that have yet to be uncovered can take online campaigning one step further, from engagement to action.

It is all about focus. Engagement must be the focus in the early stages. However, focus on action must take precedence, as the primary season wears on.

I define action in this context is defined as specific activities that help promote the campaign objectives. Building capacity is just one, fundraising is another. What other actions that align with campaign objectives are there, that can be enhanced / improved / refined with online technology?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

10 Examples of Getting Social Media in Politics...

Below are a few examples of campaigns getting it - and by "it" I mean what is becoming the social web. Great effort and dollars has been invested on campaign websites, but it is the online effort outside the traditional campaign website that matters.
  1. Clinton's Facebook Page - though it had its faults, the Clinton camp's attempt at driving her Facebook supporters to ask questions was a great attempt at employing the social graph to take action on behalf of the campaign.

  2. Edwards' Open Thread - John Edwards does a good job of encouraging conversation with his blog, in particular his use of the common open thread. However, given the glut of positive comments, my sense is they may be moderating this a bit much. Excluding Thompson and Romney, campaigns on both sides at least are maintaining blogs, some better than others...

  3. The League of Young Voters Facebook Application - with MoveOn, The League of Young Voters makes a decent attempt at enabling the political conversation within Facebook. Though they may be trying to do too much, I love the ability to not only show your support for your favorite candidate, but also define why you like the particular candidate.

  4. Obama's Facebook Application - another valuable attempt at engaging via the social web. There are certainly opportunities for improvement. I loved what they did just before Iowa, allowing you to see who among your friends are in Iowa and giving you a means to encourage them to participate in the Caucus. And they remain the only campaign (on the D-side) with an official FB application. Giuliani has one, but it does not appear to be working and only has 900 installations (vs. Obama's still meager 75 K)

  5. Richardson's Use of Facebook Updates - with the launch of Facebook's Pages system in November, campaigns could (finally) send updates to their vast supporter base within the social network. Richardson was the first and still the most active user of this feature, despite dropping out last week. For Obama, close to 250 K self-identified supporters can be reached; for Clinton, close to 75 K, and these numbers keep growing. It is important that the campaigns continue to diversify the channels with which they communicate with the electorate. Unfortunately, am not a supporter of the Republicans within Facebook, so I am unaware of their activity with this tool.

  6. Use of Video - All three major campaigns are maintaining a presence on YouTube (see Clinton, Edwards and Obama on the D-side, and Romney, Huckabee, Thompson and McCain on the R-side). Obama, McCain, and Romney have spent significant effort on the video component of his website, whereas the other video sections are less sophisticated. Given the use of campaign websites, I don't see his effort as an advantage at this point. It's all about YouTube...

  7. Edwards' Use of Twitter - though he hasn't posted since November 6th, their first-mover attempt at using a new technology is valuable (Edwards started twittering a year ago, Obama in April and Clinton just this month after Iowa). Edwards' tweets also appear to be actually from the road, whereas Clinton's and Obama's appear written from their HQ rather than the road. With 4, 199 followers, I am curious as to why Edwards has stopped posting? In 2000, Florida was lost by less than 500 votes... None of the Republican candidates appear to have active Twitter accounts.

  8. Virtual Phonebanking - Obama , Clinton, Thompson, and McCain offer the opportunity for their supporters to call potential voters from the comfort of their home. Giuliani directs supporters to call talk radio stations and Edwards, Romney and Huckabee appear to have missed the phonebanking boat. Massive phone banks have long been a mainstay (and expense) of traditional field operations. Enabling volunteers to call from home greatly expands the pool of volunteers, as they no longer have to be at a specific place at a specific time. And the campaigns no longer have to buy the phone lines! It will be interesting to see if this takes off, and what impact the isolation of being at home has, versus being among a group of like-minded individuals.

  9. Online Organizing of Off-line Events - Led by Obama, all three major Democratic contenders are testing the use of online event management tools, like Eventful and Facebook's Events. Huckabee is using MeetUp (how 2004...), but appears to be the most adventurous in this space. The hindrance at this point appears technical, as the difficulty of updating and managing numerous event sites is very labor-intensive (see #2).

  10. Thompson's Fundraising Widget - Though all campaigns have their contribute button visible everywhere, Thompson goes a step further by enabling bloggers and other tech-savvy folks to add a widget to their online presence. Others offer the button, but Thompson's includes fields to input name and email right within the widget. I expect more sophisticated widgets to become available, as the campaign rolls on.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Political Campaigning Methods within Social Media (so far)

Below is a running list of political actions that can be pushed through the social graph. With the right focus and effort, campaigns can use these actions to further their traditional goals of identifying, organizing and motivating their base of supporters. The idea here is to drive engagement from the electorate, so that the campaign message conveys, more supporters are identified, and ultimately more votes are generated.
  1. Discussion boards - we have seen tremendous engagement in conversations within Facebook, the blogsphere, and other social media channels. Employ the controversy of politics to your advantage by posing the hard questions for discussion. Don't stifle the discussion by closing the loop or heavily moderating the conversation. Be open to on-topic dissension. Discussion boards and blogs on the campaign website are fine, but within an existing online social networking system, a multitude of benefits are available to help stoke the discussion, such as passive notifications when replies or other comments are left, notification of friends when you post, etc.

    Example: No campaign seems to be willing to open themselves up to an actual conversation yet. Hillary moved closer in NH, but not near enough to produce value for the campaign.

  2. Publicize events - employ the existing Events tool within Facebook and other social networks to publicize events. Also use the other features of this tool (i.e. discussion board, photo / video posting, etc.) to further engagement pre and post event.

    Example: Barack Obama has put the most resources behind this idea. However, this effort is directly related to the manpower put forth, as events systems are not yet open enough to be integrated to a central system. So, campaign staffers / interns / volunteers must enter and re-enter event information into multiple social networking systems. Campaigns must look at the value of each existing network (including that of their own website) to determine where to direct their limited manpower. My thesis is that updating event information on their own website is not the most effective use of resources (or, at the least it is closely followed by other existing social networking systems) - use the existing networks!

  3. Phone banking - Richardson, Obama, and Clinton have all played with this one (I assume Edwards has as well?). The pages for Richardson and Obama are very similar, leading me to believe they share(d) the same vendor. All three work in a similar manner. Once you login and are given access to the system (there appears to be a vetting process for the Obama system), you are given a name, a phone number, a script, and a form to complete as you make the call. Very easy stuff. The technology is certainly not built by the campaign - anyone know who is providing it? Activate is one vendor providing a similar service...

    Unfortunately, activity is isolated within the system. The first campaign to unleash this tool within an existing social network will see exponential growth in usage. As friends of activists see its availability, they will undoubtedly become curious and explore the opportunity for themselves.

  4. Fundraising - There is a common perception that those active within online social networking systems do not spend money. That's bullshit - everyone spends money. We are a consumption society. The problem? The right formula to fundraise has yet to be found. Unfortunately, the idea of fundraising within American politics leaves a bad taste in most people's mouth. Therefore, campaigns are reluctant to experiment with this one. However, just as online fundraising has taken off, so too will social media fundraising. Going after the "low dollar bundler" within a social networking system is a healthy opportunity that shouldn't be discounted.
There are certainly more to come - this is just what I see at the moment...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Pages Failing?

Participation in Facebook's nascent Pages tool is anemic so far. Of the companies involved with the launch, only Verizon has garnered a respectable set of Fans, at 10,700. As for the others:
CBS doesn't even have a Page though they are mentioned.

The Pages platform is weak. It's good for the little guy, but a major player will find it too limiting. The biggest issue with it is that whatever network is created within it is stuck in Facebook. There is no ability to append the list of "Fans" to other sources - this is especially problematic in politics, but also limiting for any organization with a direct mail / direct-to-consumer operation. A strong database is at the heart of a solid consumer / voter contact operation, and yet information garnered within Facebook remains separate.

This doesn't bode well for the political supporter profiles that now reside within this system (they were moved to Pages shortly after its launch in November). Other than through the occasional update, campaigns are unable to use their Facebook network elsewhere. Campaigns must innovate with the Facebook API if they hope to realize the value that exists within the 20 million + existing US Facebook users...

Investing Resources Again...

Via TechPresident:
The Michigan Republican primary is today, and while there’s no Democratic primary to speak of (with Kos is imploring Dems to vote for Rommney), we haven’t heard have any significant Republican web strategy to get out the vote. After Iowa and New Hampshire, we were treated with story after story about how Barack Obama and eventually Hillary Clinton used Facebook and social media to good effect. But few stories have mentioned Republican efforts outside of Ron Paul. Even Mike Huckabee, who’s been tight friends with the blogosphere, has been absent when it comes to online organizing and targeting. If we’re missing something, please let us know.
I think I am admittedly too close to this one, but I do not understand why campaigns continue to starve their investments in web strategy. This isn't like other communication channels, where one dollar in = one dollar / one vote out. The effectiveness of TV advertising is relatively stable, give or take based on the message conveyed. Field operations are typically beholden to the dollars available as well. Online communication, however, can be exponential in its effectiveness, when the right formula is discovered. Though the mark of what makes for a successful online formula, its power remains.

As the nut is cracked (and it will be cracked this cycle), one dollar in = exponential dollars out. The upward limit is unknown at this point. Looking at some of the successes so far (MoveOn's campaign against Beacon, the Pink Ribbon campaign, among many others) , the opportunity is vivid. And yet resources remain focused elsewhere... Is change really that difficult?

Monday, January 14, 2008


Where are you focusing our web strategy? It appears that, given the glitz and glam of the political website, the focus is on the brochure that is the campaign website. Campaign blogs are little more than press releases. As the data shows, these channels only speak to your zealots.

On the other hand, the release of Pew's recent report on the impact of the internet this cycle confirms what we already knew: the internet is playing an increasing role as a source of information. Of course the internet offshoots of major media outlets are in play, and certainly should be the focus of the communications shop. But what about the rest?

There is a conversation going on, and it is up to the web strategy team to lead the campaign's participation. Press releases formatted as a campaign blog are not enough, nor is a flashy website. The campaign web strategist is the conductor, orchestrating campaign resources in the conversation that is the online world. Ardent campaign supporters should have talking points to use when blogging / commenting on stories. Campaign strategists that are already talking on MSNBC, CNN and the like should be blogging not in press releases, but in a conversational style with campaign watchers. And the web strategists themselves should be participating in conversations about the medium on such sites as TechPresident and even TechCrunch.

Just as the successful field operation orchestrates the influentials on the ground, so too must the online operation orchestrate the influentials on the web. The successful web strategy goes well beyond a website or even a Facebook profile. It goes to the heart of what is political campaigning: identifying, engaging and motivating your supporters to champion your cause...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

6 Questions for your Social Media Operation

Social media offers an unparalleled opportunity for the political strategist to drive action through existing online networks, whether it be within Facebook or MySpace, among blogs, or other forms of online interaction. Targeted, focused action has thus far proven to be most effective and viral, as Move On and a few others have discovered.

Below are 6 questions to ask yourself / your web team / your dedicated social media strategist, to get the juices flowing for your social media operation:

1. Is the action focused enough? Can it be broken down into smaller pieces?
The field is green. The sky is blue. The ocean is vast. Whatever your favorite metaphor, the social media space is very new and evolving all the time. Investing significant resources in developing a large, ind-depth program at the outset is not wise. Plus, the more you attempt to throw in the first time the more muddled your message gets. Keep it clean and simple.
2. Is the click path as simple / easy / clear as possible?
As with the action, the actual path through which you drive your users must be clean, simple and intuitive. This is new to them too - offering too many options or unclear direction creates obstacles you do not need.
3. Does the user get benefit, perceived or actual?
There is a vast wasteland of social media efforts that fail, from blogs to Facebook applications to everything in between. Much of the reason is that the benefit provided either doesn't exist, or is hidden / unclear. Keep it simple and crisp.
4. Does the action spur engagement of the user's network?
Benefit is not enough - the action must also engage users in the action. Connecting the action to a conversation has proven fruitful thus far.
5. Am I using all resources available to communicate within the chosen channel?
For blogs, it is not enough to publish. You also must participate in the conversation within other like-minded blogs. You can't expect others to converse with you on your domain if you don' also return the favor.

For social networks, the options are growing by the day. Do you focus on Facebook, MySpace or Bebo? Within Facebook do you produce your own application or do you rely on their Pages system? The rabbit holes are deep, but to find that magic formula, you have to dig to discern what works for you and your audience.
6. Are my efforts aligned with my organization's overall goals?
Many folks forget the realities of any marketing effort, as the gold rush ensues. Just as economic realities popped the bubble of the late 90s, so too will they pop efforts and investments outside the guardrails of your organization. If you are a political campaign, why are you driving users to "favorite" news clips? If you are driving an action to participate in a conversation, why only allow a single question?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Crow and Conversations

Wow. Congrats o the HRC campaign, and kudos to her NH field team. Though I am not eating quite as much crow as the national media, I do want to defend a few earlier thoughts given her revival.

The Obama (and to a lesser extent Paul and Edwards) campaign's use of social media in its broader sense is revolutionary and highly effective. As our attention continues to be fragmented, it is critical
for campaigns to get involved in the conversation. Hillary's demeanor over the past few days has lent itself well to this new dynamic. The format of the Facebook debate Saturday night of a sit-down conversation also fit this new paradigm, though we can go further. And of course, her moment of vulnerability Monday helped the voters of New Hampshire see past the spin and rhetoric to the person underneath.

Simple, one-to-many messages no longer have enough bite to cut through. Inciting, fostering and otherwise engaging in the conversation drives significant impact. Word-of-mouth discussion has always been powerful, but the tools of digital social media make it efficient. Power + efficiency = an effective tool for political campaigning.

There is still going to be a flood of opportunity to continue to hone these new tools over the coming months, mistakes will be made, but I still believe a tipping point is at hand, if not for Obama for social media.

Monday, January 07, 2008

What it will mean...

Nah, I'm not talking about the new page of non-partisanship in American politics the hope that we finally have a real, honest candidate for president. I'm not even talking about the whole racial thing. What I'm talking about is what another win by Obama on Tuesday will mean for political web strategy. (Not that these are unimportant, but I'm trying to focus here...)

There is going to be a huge need within American politics for strategic tech-thinkers over the coming weeks and months.

I am not talking about web development. I am talking about strategy - having a member of the senior strategic team on board that can understands and knows how to reach out to blogs, social media, online communities, etc., on par with the media strategist. Assuming things go as they are heading and New Hampshire validates much of what happened in Iowa (including the larger youth vote), political web strategy will finally get bumped up a few notches in importance for all those statewide, Congressional, and even local races underway. The real trouble is that this stuff is so new, most of the entrenched folks to date don't have the background and experience to play at the level needed. And those with the expertise are going to be difficult to find.

The entrenched web developers will get the initial nod, but they will have to be able to stand up to the media egomaniacs that have had the controls for decades. The bulk of the folks that have managed political websites over the past few cycles don't have the chops, nor the vision to sit at the big table. Of course, there are some that will fill the void well. But, an opportunity exists for the strategic tech-thinkers outside of politics already tinkering with new ideas of how to communicate, reach out, organize, and otherwise campaign, to be a part of something real.

So, I would like to open up this blog, myself and my Rolodex to begin helping the aspiring politicos out there in tech-land to come forth and be a part of the revolution. Leave a comment or send me an email with your tech credentials, and a bit about your strategic vision for a campaign.

I am trying to get a seat at the table myself, but my sense is that Obama may open more doors than one...

Friday, January 04, 2008

The Message of Social Media

From Jake McKee:

"With the Iowa wins by my man Barack Obama as well as Mike Huckabee, I wonder if something significant hasn’t taken place. Has the mindset that consumers have bought into regarding how they expect companies to treat them and interact with them taken hold in a larger worldly context?

Read what Andrew Sullivan, political blogger, had to say about these two candidates and their wins:

Look at their names: Huckabee and Obama. Both came from nowhere - from Arkansas and Hawaii. Both campaigned as human beings, not programmed campaign robots with messages honed in focus groups. Both faced powerful and monied establishments in both parties. And both are running two variants on the same message: change, uniting America again, saying goodbye to the bitterness of the polarized past, representing ordinary voters against the professionals. Neither has been ground down by long experience, but neither is a neophyte.

Notice the similarities in this statement to the messages of social media, citizen marketing, and customer collaboration which seek to bring humanity back into marketing and business?"

Couldn't have said it better myself...

The Technology Tipping Point?

What a night! Obama is taking what Dean did in 2004 even further. To use a few overused metaphors, it is as if he, like Dean, amassed a following from a long tail of latent political activists - enough to surmount the tipping point for success. Obama certainly has done a better job this time around, reaching further up the tail towards the established manner of going about running a campaign. Though the small, grassroots effort is at his core, he has also amassed plenty of traditional backers (see this WashPost story comparing foreign policy teams.) It remains o be seen if this grassroots massing can continue to overcome the traditional, iron-clad organization Clinton has amassed in later states...

Also, those under 29 made up 22% of the turnout last night, as compared to 17% in 2004. And those 30-44 made up another 18%, versus 15% in '04. Obama won 57% of those under 29 years of age and 42% of those 30-44. Given how much of an advantage his campaign has among younger voters and the prevailing understanding that young people are more adept at the new age of technology, the role of technology in this election is unprecedented and may actually usher in a non-establishment candidate. Obama is not doing everything right (as I point out here), but he is certainly doing better than the others...

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Investing Resources

Below is an interesting graphic that illustrates the impact / reach of campaign websites within the activist community, via DailyKos. I know the DK readership is not exactly representative of the electorate as a whole, but technology is certainly empowering them to be a vocal bloc to be reckoned with. My question is what are the campaigns doing to reach out to this audience? Each of the majors have spent a ton of cash and (more importantly) a ton of time on their websites. Yet, they continue to play a limited role in actually helping their candidacy, merely speaking to their base of core supporters.

At what point will the campaigns figure out how to use their site to reach out to non-supporters, activists, and other influencers?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Horse Race vs. Issues

ABC News partnered with Facebook to provide content via the US Politics application. Old news, I know. The content is interesting - ABC has off-air reporters traveling with each of the campaigns (I believe other networks do this as well). The reporters then blog their happenings via the application, share photos, video, etc. Users are able to follow their favorite reporter / candidate - essentially becoming their friend. However, the content thus far does nothing to improve the discourse and continues to shine the light on the horse race. Given these new tools and resources, why is the media still stuck within the guardrails of traditional media?

The networks are spending tens of thousands of dollars on initiatives such as these, but do we really care that Richardson spoke in Indianola this morning? Is that even entertaining? As the social media revolution continues, democracy is returning to the hands of the people. We are no longer restricted to sound-bite journalism and 30-second TV commercials. Entertainment certainly still sells, but so does valuable information. When will traditional media step up to at least attempt to deliver the cornerstone of journalism: objective information.

Yeah Obama! Shame Obama...

Congratulations to the Obama folks for actually creating a useful tool within Facebook! Shame on you for burying it inside your weak attempt at a Digg clone. The tool allows you to identify and reach out to your friends that live in Iowa, to urge them to Caucus tomorrow - politics 101. However, as far as I can tell, you can only get to the tool through a link either on the existing Obama app home page (which only had 867 visitors within the past 24 hours) or from the update sent to the 36 K people that installed the app. Nothing on his website, no blog posts, not even a posting on his Facebook page. Way to drive the traffic! Given his popularity within the Facebook community, driving simple actions such as these are ripe opportunities, yet you have to drive the traffic...

And what about New Hampshire and the other states? Are they waiting to tweak it for those? I am not all that technical, but assuming the code is not complete chaos, this should be easily replicated for other states. Nothing like sticking your toe in the water as we get down to the wire...

See TechPresident's coverage here. If you are on Facebook and have already added the Obama app, check it out and urge your Iowan friends to participate tomorrow evening...