Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Obama, Abercrombie and the Social Web

My how even the smallest blunders get noticed. Obama's advance team missed a small little nuance this evening, but the social web was watching. The three most visible people directly behind Obama were all wearing Abercrombie & Fitch t-shirts. A&F couldn't have paid for better placement.

During the latter part of the Clinton administration, I traveled the country doing advance, essentially event management. The primary focus of advance (other than a happy president) is a good picture (tertiary was a happy press corps). Much of the effort and discussion leading up to an event surrounds the image that cameras will capture.

During Obama's speech this evening, a traditional "crowd" backdrop was used - fill the area behind the speaker with enthusiastic supporters. Great care is often taken in selecting those folks. You have to be sure the right mix of folks is represented. You have to make sure no one is sleepy or yawning. And you even have to pay attention to their clothes, to make sure the colors work. Obama's advance team missed the A&F logos...

Prior to this election cycle, such a gaffe would barely have been noticed. A few political pundits may make a remark or two, but barring any other direction to the story, such an error would be a non-issue. Not this cycle...

As this search of Tweetscan shows, many folks are talking about it. This guy took a screenshot and posted it on Facebook. Patrick Ruffini sent out a tweet. I Twittered about it as well. Even though I mispelled Abercrombie, I was part of the cacophony. Rather than sulking away, this gaffe reverberated throughout the social web, going far beyond the few picky folks like me that notice such things.

What does this mean? In this instance, probably not much, other than a nice brand hit for A&F and further visual support to reiterate the idea that Obama = young college supporters. But it is yet another example of how the communications dynamic is changing...

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Fred is Dead

Fred Thompson's presidential site is dead. Nothing there. Given the negligible cost of a redirect, why not push the occasional user somewhere, the RNC perhaps? JohnMcCain.com? I know there isn't much traffic, but isn't it worth a little effort to direct the user to something more useful than an error page?

This makes me wonder what is going to happen to the hundreds of thousands of connected supporters that exist among the various groups for each of the major candidates? Campaigns are known for leaving nothing behind - everything is spent by election day. However, these communities will still exist. What should be done with these assets?

Voter data (aka, the voter file) is another similar asset that at one time never lived beyond election day. Then, first by the Republicans and now slowly by the Democrats, the data each election cycle is being collected and stored for use next cycle. This data has become a powerful tool, as it has grown far beyond a simple list of those registered to vote. The data set now supports everything from ad buying to fundraising, and more innovations are on the horizon.

Given that most of these networked communities are locked within their respective social network, this data cannot be appended to the voter file. How can additional value be extracted after the balloons fall?

Traffic may not be enough to invest resources or thought, but Obama's 780,000 Facebook supporters, or McCain's 49,000 MySpace friends warrants at least some thought... What are your ideas?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Freak Show Update

I just caught this in yesterday's Politico:
...(I)t has only been in this campaign cycle that we have seen the liberal echo chamber — from websites like The Huffington Post and cable commentators like Keith Olbermann — be able consistently to drive a campaign story line. In the past, it was only the conservative echo chamber — Matt Drudge, Rush Limbaugh — who regularly drove stories in new media and old media alike. This is a huge shift.
In my initial post about the Freak Show, I referenced another article by Vanderhei and Harris. It appears as though they are coming to the same conclusion as I have: social media is an opportunity for progressives to (finally) contest the conservative supremacy of talk radio...

Agree or disagree?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Groundswell: The Engagement Ladder

Within politics, the idea of an engagement ladder has been around for decades. You begin to engage a potential supporter through a small, low-hurdle action, such as a short, ID survey (who do you support, etc.) or nowadays an email sign-up. The idea is that you then harvest those that filter through this initial hurdle with a larger ask, such as posting a yard sign. Eventually, you grow the supporter's engagement to volunteering their time and, ultimately, giving money.

Notice any parallels from this figure from Groundswell?
The social web allows the political engagement ladder to elongate in both directions. The gamut of actions from which you can choose to employ to grow your pool of supporters becomes vastly larger. The low-hurdle asks no longer have to be as active as a phone survey or even an email sign-up - now you can ask them to download a virtual gift within a social network (see Hillary Gifts).

Once engaged, the actions available can be much more broad than in the offline world. Campaigns are already allowing supporters to make phone calls from home. May more opportunities exist to activate and engage the supporter through social media (well beyond my ideas or existing examples).

How can the ladder be expanded?

Groundswell: Dems Dominate

I added another book to my list - Groundswell. Each of my clients is getting a copy - it's a great discussion of the social media opportunity. Most important, it looks at the phenomena not from the technical perspective, but from the direction of how social media is changing the relationships people have with their friends, colleagues, family, etc. Ultimately, these changes will also impact a brand, presidential campaign, or any other organization that relies on marketing and public relations to get its message out.

Li and Bernoff discuss their Social Technographic Profile, a breakdown of the various behaviors exhibited by users within the social web. Marketers (and campaigns) can use this breakdown to focus their social media efforts, as each tool and technique provides value to a different type of social media user. From a political perspective, the breakdown is:

The data suggests Democrats have a healthy advantage over their Republican counterparts in the areas of Spectators (those that primarily consume the content) and Critics (those that enjoy opportunities to react). Thus, providing opportunities for your community to view and digest new and interesting content will feed the Spectator (i.e. content aggregation). Ensuring your efforts provide ample opportunity to comment and discuss is necessary to feed the Critic's needs (i.e. comment tools, discussion boards, etc.). I am just scratching the service here of what this data means, but you get the idea...

I have long had the sense that Democrats & Progressives dominate the social web, as the Republican & Conservative movement has long dominated talk radio. This, in conjunction with the tremendous opportunity brewing on the business & marketing front, has driven me to help major Democratic political organizations realize and seize this growing opportunity. It's always nice to find empirical data to support your gut.

There is a ton of great information in this book, for anyone curious about the social web and how it will impact your organization, if it hasn't already. More to come on this one...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Freak Show

Interesting article in yesterday's Politico, laying out a few rational reasons as to why the Clinton machine continues to churn, despite calls to end it. Democrats in the last two cycles have been obliterated on the ground, given the hardened GOP "freak show," as Vanderhei and Harris refer to it, that has been developed and cultivated over the years. From the article:
The last two Democratic nominees, Al Gore and John F. Kerry, were both military veterans, and both had been familiar, highly successful figures in national politics for more than two decades by the time they ran.

Both men lost control of their public images to the right-wing freak show — that network of operatives and commentators working mostly outside of the mainstream media — and ultimately lost their elections as many voters came to see them as elitist, out-of-touch, phony, and even unpatriotic.
Can the freak show continue to dominate the conversation, given the power of social media? Does new media make such underhanded efforts more or less effective?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Cheney's Sunglasses

Heh, here is another example of the dramatic loss of control over the message. The White House published this photo:

Look closer. See anything amiss?

Thousands within the blogsphere did - data minus control. And the buzz is loud...

Update: CNN dug in to it as well. Ouch.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Social Media Middleware

In reading Fred Wilson's recent post about liquidity, a thought came to mind, less from the financial perspective and more from the consumer's. Is there an opportunity for a social media middleware?

He is right that the internet is "decomposing into a vast array of micro-services". I am finding my attention further fragmented as I explore the latest tool - LinkedIn to Facebook, and now to Twitter.

Value is derived when these services are consolidated / integrated respective of how the users could / should / are using them - certainly an unlikely scenario exploited by an M&A play such as Yahoo / Microsoft, or any of the other potentials. I and many others have discovered tools to allow me to compound my activity from one source to another - Twitterfeed pushes my blog posts to Twitter, and Twitter's Facebook application pushes my tweets to my Facebook status. His point that M&A cannot work in this context is evident.

My thought is that opportunity exists to develop a middleware separate from all of these various sources, with the user in mind. This middleware will allow the user to access the various resources as they need to, all from a central platform - i.e. an RSS reader for the social web.

Such a service will not provide the liquidity Wilson advocates, as an M&A or IPO event may. However, if this nut can be cracked, such a service will allow these micro-services to evolve and continue delivering on the value proposition that first grabbed the attention of the early adopter. Surely that can be monetized?

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Crowdsourcing: Radiohead's Latest Experiment

Crowdsourcing is an idea that has been gaining momentum as a key component of the evolving social web. (I previously wrote about it here.) Various attempts have been made within the political world, but none that execute on both sides of the coin.

Side #1 - User-generated Content: The most notable example of this is the YouTube debates last Fall. Users from around the country were encouraged to upload their questions for the candidates to YouTube. This was an interesting endeavor that has been mimiced in various ways since, such as Clinton's AskHillary project, among others. But, when it came to selecting questions, users were left out in the cold, which leads us to side #2...

Side #2 - Rank by Community: Users of the community review submissions and vote on them, Digg-style. The more votes a particular entry gets, the higher it appears in the rankings - i.e., the crowd decides what is emphasized.

A great example of both sides of the coin is Radiohead's latest Nude Re /Mix experiment. The band has made 4 different tracks available via iTunes - a voice track, guitar, strings and drums. Fans are encouraged to download the tracks via iTunes, and create their own mix of the song, and upload their versions to radioheadremix.com. On the site, fans are also encouraged to vote on their favorite mix.

Thanks to Matt Dickman for the original thought. More from Matt:
This is a fantastic idea as a way to allow fans to get involved with the Radiohead brand, create something that is their own and join in a community of other, like minded fans. More companies, bands, products, teams, etc. need to look at this model as a way to create deeper engagement. Providing raw assets that can be used to create original, personal by-products could be powerful.
This is an interesting opportunity for Radiohead fans to participate in the music process, rather than just listen. Kinda has a democratic (note the small "d") ring to it, doesn't it...

Monday, April 07, 2008

Twitter Tools

From a political perspective, microblogging is barely even on the radar. However, campaigns and marketers can find value with this new tool, given its growing popularity.

Twitter is considered to be the first-mover in this space, and I am just beginning to play around with it. For those of you unaware of or new to the Twitter thing, check out this post by Tibi Bpuiu. It's a great overview of what it is, and more importantly how to generate personal value out of it. Or, if you prefer video...

Twitter is still a niche tool, as it is just reaching ~1 million users. Starting with SXSW a year ago, it has slowly been creeping its way around the tech community, and the buzz is getting louder. The next question is, how do politicians, companies and others find value in this idea? Here are my thoughts:
  1. Brand Tracking - Comcast has already discovered this method. My sense is that they had some help. If you don't have the resources to hire your own tracking consultant, TweetScan is a decent (and free) alternative to monitor your brand within the TwitterSphere. Every communications director and corporate marketer should at least create an auto-scan of their boss and/or company name. TweetScan allows the adding of a particular scan to your RSS reader, but unfortunately they do not offer email updates yet.

  2. Feed Your Supporters - I know many will not be interested in Hillary Clinton's thoughts just before she makes the same speech for the millionth time, or what goes through Steve Jobs' head as he puts on yet another black mock turtleneck shirt. But there are thousands of folks that are interested. On the political front, these are the zealots that drive your fundraising and staff your phone bank. On the corporate front, these are the folks that wear your logos, and preach the greatness that is your corporate brand. You need these folks, and Twitter offers a great method to interact with them (if done well). Good examples are not @hillaryclinton or @barackobama. I have yet to find a decent political Twitterer that offers anything more than a reading of their public schedule, but I digress... The key here is authenticity!

  3. Earned Media Hit - this Twitter thing is growing, but it is still a small player on the overall conversation landscape. Thus, using this tool to break news or otherwise push forward the frontier of what is possible can lead to a nice earned media hit, especially on the political technology front. Beyond just breaking news, Twitter offers an API to integrate its features into other aspects of your online strategy. Spending significant resources is not ideal, but if you can throw a developer on a little something for an afternoon, the earned media payoff offers a healthy return on investment.
Twitter is certainly not a critical tool for the interactive marketer's toolbox - yet. But, value exists within its growing audience...

To get started, follow me! Also, for more, check out Jeremiah Owyang's thoughts.

The Age of Conversation and the Integration of Data

This site got me thinking about the power of data as we enter the age of the conversation. Each of us now has a much larger megaphone than we ever did before, when it comes to shining a light on what interests us. Blogs are free, posting to YouTube is free. Certainly some are louder than others, but anyone can join the discussion.

Then comes data. There have been projects for years that have attempted to take advantage of the power of many. The idea of distributive computing has purveyed computer science courses for decades, and the SETI@Home project has engaged many a tech geek.

I have spoken a few times about the idea that privacy is truly a myth. There is more data out there on each of us than we could ever imagine. And yet, our visibility into this data is murky to non-existent, for the most part. Couple that dataset with the power of distributive computing and you get this:

And this:

And this:

The clash of the ubiquitous megaphone and public data begins! The power of many is able to comb through datasets like never before. Individuals are able to be places most are not, and then share what is relevant with the world. We are just seeing the beginning of a groundbreaking age of new insights, information, and discussion of our political landscape and beyond.

The political world is consistently being altered by this integration of data and the tools of the conversation. And the data brought to light thus far is minuscule compared to what is available. What does this mean to the marketing / public relations / branding world in the coming months and years? How will the idea of privacy and data ownership evolve? Should be fascinating to watch...

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Al Gore's We Campaign: Online Marketing that Misses the Opportunity

I wanted to build upon Allison Fine's laments about former Vice President Al Gore's We campaign online strategy. My focus here is on opportunities for improvement, given the changes in the social web over the past 12 - 24 months.

There are plenty of opportunities throughout the site to submit your email address - very traditional online marketing. However, email is becoming a less relevant tool in daily communication, especially as spam continues to grow. Such a one-to-many medium allows you to disseminate your message, but does little to develop a relationship with your constituency. Newer, more effective tools are available today, often for free, and many more are on the horizon.

Once you submit your email address, they ask you for more information - physical address (for direct mail), cell phone number (for text alerts), etc. They have added numerous links to invite your friends, again only via email. They even included a tool to share aspects of the site on popular sites such as Digg, Facebook and Del.icio.us. Each of these is an essential tactic for any sort of online advocacy. However, each of these tools and techniques has been in the mainstream for a while now, and none go far enough towards where we are heading - to the social web.

On the video front, they have a few clips available, including their latest ads. Again, examples of traditional online strategy. However:
  • They did not cross-post their clips on YouTube.
  • They do not have a Facebook Page or Group
  • They do not have a MySpace Page
I do not mean to assume that every organization must behold all of these platforms. However, an advocacy initiative must be where their audience is - that is the whole idea of advocacy. And today's passionate audience is most certainly on one or all of these platforms, among many others.

In addition to message placement, the campaign's action center is also quite limiting, given the current online environment. Again, each action begins and ends with one-to-may forms of communication - send an email to your friends, write a letter to the editor or to your Congressman, etc. There are no opportunities for the engaged audience of the campaign to interact among themselves.
  • No opportunities to share their thoughts and ideas
  • No opportunities to collaborate and provide feedback
  • No opportunities to share success stories or other pertinent information valuable to the overall audience
They don't even have a blog, let alone a comments tool and/or message board. Again, I do not begin to preach that any organization must have all of the above. But for an advocacy initiative in this day and age, some of the above tools must be employed. At least, the free ones...

These tools allow your message to grow beyond you. Yes, you cede control, but the power that is unleashed far surmounts whatever costs are incurred. For an advocacy initiative, especially one that already enjoys a large and passionate constituency, equipping the audience to evangelize your message far beyond the confines of your organization is essential - an opportunity the We campaign appears to be missing so far...

More on Control

From Yesterday's Washington Post:

"What we're watching is an evolution away from Washington's control, away from the power that big money and big donors used to have a monopoly on," says Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat and former Senate majority leader.

Adds Richard Viguerie, often called the "funding father" of the modern conservative movement for his effective use of direct mail: "The establishment, the power structure, the Karl Roves, are losing control of the process. There's a new center of power developing."

What I find fascinating is the latency in understanding this diminishing control. By continuing to retain control, campaigns stifle what energy exists...

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


If the campaigns thought they had control over their message, here is proof that they most certainly do not:

Here is the original, with over 10 million full-length views (its over 5 minutes long):

Times are a changin'...