Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Social Networking Media Strategy for Presidential Campaigns

The room is packed by the time I get there. No place to sit down. But wait. I see an empty seat. Drat. The session has already started. Don't want to push my way in front of a bunch of people to get to the empty chair. Ah, but it is in the last row before the wall. I drag the seat backward and plop myself down. Too bad for the guy stretching out his long legs directly behind me. I think he is trying to purposefully kick my chair. What does this guy have against innovation? It's not as if I didn't leave him an adequate amount of space to sit comfortably against the wall.

Oh the mindset. Kind of what this session, "Social Networking/ Media Strategy for the Presidential Campaign" is all about.

The panel is moderated by the acquaintance I made earlier, Alan Rosenblatt, Center for American Progress. At least that's what my conference brochure says. Sitting to his right are Justine Lam (eCampaign Director of Ron Paul for President), Amy Rubin (Deputy Director of New Media, John Edwards for President), Michael Turk (former RNC eCampaign Director and V.P. Industry Grassroots for the National Cable and Telecommunications Association), and Katie Harbath (Deputy eCampaign Director, Rudy Giuliani for President). Essentially, these are the people responsible for bringing Election 2008 campaigns online.

Election 2008 will be remembered as a watershed event for the Internet. Campaigns using the Internet effectively reaped huge dividends. The trick was in knowing how to leverage the Internet to a candidate's best advantage. This session examined what worked and what didn't. Future political campaigns will build upon the lessons of these panelists and take successful techniques to the next level.

Let's start with Justine Lam. Ron Paul's campaign utilized the Internet early and effectively. In elections past, I think Paul would have been a marginal candidate going the way of someone like a Duncan Hunter. Early and out. But not this year. True, Paul is nowhere near the front runner and has no chance of becoming president. That doesn't diminish his online accomplishments. Julie's strategy focused upon two key components.

One: Recognizing the power of social networking technologies such as MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, and Meetup, the campaign created a strong social network outside their base website. A candidate's website only reaches current supporters. With offsite technologies, campaign strategists can engage new supporters and remain connected with them. Early mobilization of such people gave Ron Paul credibility and boosted his visibility in the campaign.

Two: Early on, the campaign clarified Ron Paul's message, targeting an existing group who would understand and support that message once they knew it was available. That's a fancy way of saying the campaign used social media to target a certain type of people. Kind of a "build it and they will come" type of strategy.

They came in droves. Once their network jelled, the voters created strong bonds with one another which in turn increased fundraising. The campaign collected over $20 million in quarter four of 2007.

In this particular case, the top down approach was amazingly successful. Too bad the message wasn't one average Americans wanted to hear. Yes, the perception is Ron Paul supporters are chunky granola loving whack jobs. I'm not saying that's what I think. I'm only relating what I hear.

Moving on to Team Giuliani. In blogger speak, this was the campaign that never was. So much promise. So little execution. Not blaming Katie. It is what it is. Ultimately, Rudy took complete responsibility for ruining his own campaign. Personally, I did not like their "Team Rudy" application. I thought it was a loser right out of the gate. Like the way Rudy ended up. If he had only bothered to actually leave the gate, Rudy coulda been a contender.

Katie said a campaign can't ignore social media but shouldn't rely upon it solely. The key is finding a message that will resonate. Yeah right. Hasn't that been the basics of politics 101 for some time?

John Edwards. Interaction and accessibility. Identify the thought leaders and bring those people onboard. Amy said this can be done through candidate issues and technology. A little known website, Upscoop.com, has the ability to determine where supporters social network. Identify who gives money, who comes back to the social network, who is effective in connecting with others, and target the contacts of those people. This strategy isn't a guaranteed winner, but it did help the Edwards campaign target more people who agreed with their candidate's message.

This campaign also used Eventful.com as a way to connect wih supporters. They ran contests, giving people incentives to disseminate Edwards' message by awarding the most influential with a visit to their hometown. They also encouraged supporters to submit questions by awarding the best one with an actual answer. This in turn helped the campaign learn which issues were important to their supporters and tailor e-mail messages accordingly. Translating valuable data into cash and support, the campaign ran quite well. Unfortunately, it was no match for the two top Democratic contenders.

What did Michael Turk have to add? Well, he worked on the Fred Thompson campaign, an effort full of sound and fury; signifying nothing. Michael thinks the campaign failed because Thompson sat on the fence too long. He should have entered the race earlier. But hindsight is 20/20, as they say. Talk radio was so convinced he was the man.

Michael also disparaged campaign strategists who refused to trust social media. Dinosaurs still have not recognized the Internet's value as a way to organize support and raise money. The Thompson campaign had an effective website, but then strategists let it go by the wayside. They also stopped posting to the blog. When the community they had built no longer trusted them, their candidate tanked.

Concluding this informative session, Alan Rosenblatt noted the following:

1. Identify goals very early - articulate what the candidate is trying to accomplish and what will be the measure of success.

2. Inside/Outside - organize support on the candidate's website as well as offsite social networks. Use the network to spread a candidate's message.

3. Link - the campaign will be most effective if all social networks are linked to each other at a catchall website.

4. Tailor the message - convince voters and activists that they have a personal stake in the campaign. Frame the message as the candidate's support for a public interest rather than a private one.

5. Network - social networking is not just online. Arrange in person meetings and other ways to connect with supporters.

6. Act - delay will be the death of campaigns.

7. Clarify - make sure supporters understand a candidate's message so they can influence others to come onboard.

Terrific session. I asked some poignant questions, but I'm too tired to blog. Maybe another day. Goodnight!