RNC kicking it up a notch

My toe-dipping debut onto the social media scene has me empathizing a bit with the proceed-with-caution approach that the McCain campaign and the Republican National Committee takes in dragging the social media waters for votes and voter data. It means giving up a lot more control than they’re used to, it means being more open and speaking and responding directly to voters via You Tube. It also means politicians who can’t fully embrace social media, won’t win.

Obama‘s digital campaign is being called the gold standard. For starters, he welcomes visitors to his official campaign site as if he’s there at the door, offering you a personal invitation to be a part of his campaign. McCain’s page has only a still photo and asks for your e-mail and a donation.

Although it is highly unlikely that McCain will ever keep pace with Obama’s digital campaign express, Republicans have still come a long way. RNC’s Web site is peppered with interactive goodies to draw in Web surfers. Most of the features are there to attract visitors and data. What might be confusing for some voters though is how prominently Obama is featured on many of the widgets and buttons on the page. At first glance it appears as if even McCain is endorsing Obama for president (albeit they change every 30-seconds to other topics). Although the widgets and bells and whistles on the site are shiny and new, the RNC’s approach to getting ahead still rests too heavily on discrediting the opponent versus promoting McCain’s platform and bolstering support from voters who actually share his views.

If only the McCain campaign had used the same level of creativity on his videos that he used on this one  bashing Obama.

On the plus side McCain’s videos as posted on his site are also easily transferred to television. But that’s so traditional. The Republicans will get there, just not in time for the 2008 election.


Note to candidates: relax, be yourself

Mindy Finn

Mindy Finn, Republican Web strategist

It may be impossible for a leopard to change its spots, but coming across on You Tube as sincere and charismatic appears to be just as challenging for some politicians and presidential candidates. A successful digital campaign is contingent upon a candidates ability to relax and be him or herself.

Mindy Finn agrees that candidates’ who are able to be themselves and come across as sincere will have the most effective campaigns.

“The Internet and the nature of it reveals the truth and reality of who an individual is and shows every single flaw,” she said, during an short interview at this year’s Personal Democracy Forum conference.

When asked what he considers to be the total package, when it comes to digital campaigning, James Kotecki, a digital campaign video critic, identified successful digital campaigns as those offering a candid behind-the-scenes look at the campaign, interactivity, relaxed appearance by the candidate, candidates ability to be him or herself and multi-way communication with public. Kotecki also added that although there are candidates out there doing it right, they struggle to keep the dialogue going.

Go behind the scenes 
The video below of the prank that Mitt Romney’s son pulled on him offers a glimpse of Romney behind the scenes just having lunch until he answered the call, which was intended to be a comic stress-reliever for Romney.

Relax, be yourself
McCain appears very relaxed and shows a little personality at the end of his response to a question about whether his age will interfere with his ability to be an effective president. We’ll keep watching.

Talk back via video and keep it up
Even with the great strides that candidates have made, their ability to keep the conversations going is still a challenge. They’re responding but consistently, which is key in rounding out the elements that make a well rounded digital campaign. Kucinich is one of the most noteable to date. Here one that despite its obvious flaws still offers that personal tone of a one-on-one conversation.

Voter data: the lifeblood of a campaign

The saying “timing is everything” rings soberingly true when it comes to running a political campaign. Strategists are smart about when to reach out to the voting public. Too much communication can cause potential voters to click delete without even reading. That’s why savvy strategists are careful about the ways and means they use to communicate with prospective voters. They often choose dates around which they can easily build a theme, this maximized their potential to connect with would-be supporters.

The Republican National Committee site capitalizes on commercial holidays like Valentine’s Day to reach out to potential voters with their spoofy post cards that potential voters can send to friends. It’s just another way to get data from the public and create a little buzz in the process.

Targeting potential voters and collecting their data is critical to a successful political campaign.

Targeting potential voters and collecting their data is critical to a successful political campaign.

A database of vitals on potential voters largely determines a candidate’s success at the polls. The more information they can glean about the voting public, the better their outreach strategy. Candidates want to know what’s important to the voters they are targeting: where they shop, religious values, educational values, income level, voting history, etc. It won’t be long before voters are receiving text messages from presidential candidates advising them that they are in close proximity from a polling site where they could go and cast their vote for the that candidate. Campaigning can be that exact with the use of social media. Blackberries and cell phones will become like human tracking devices.

This easy access to voter data matched with consumer behavior is only good if candidates are sincere in their intent to push issues by which their supporters are most affected. If it turns out that the candidate’s just in it to get their votes, voters might easily rally as smart mobs, exerting their power to advocate for their interests on their own terms.

Most social-media-savvy voters are very progressive; they have the power to advocate change and they aren’t afraid to use it. They aren’t shy about voicing their opinions. They know what they want and they support candidates whose core values and political interests best match their own. More importantly, they have the power to influence others and that can either help or hurt a candidate’s campaign.


Douglas Sosnik (l) and Matthew Dowd are co-authors of Applebee's America. They say successful political candidates must make a "gut values" connection with voters.

Datamining, microtargeting, digging for votes — this concept of finding out the public’s “gut values” and tailoring messaging that appeals to them is, from the presidential candidates perspective, a great strategy. This gut-values concept is explored in the book Applebee’s America. However, it seems that the desire to reach the public ends with getting their votes. There seems to be no real plan beyond that to write policy that will appeal to these groups. Does it all really end at the polls for these candidates? Do they have any plans to use the data later to effect any real change in congress?

Microtargeting is extremely time consuming and yet, what campaign strategists are really after is that small group of voters who are on the fence — their minds aren’t made up. These are the voters who are most likely to be persuaded. But more than that, the datamining effort is a tool used best for predicting the probability of winning over certain groups of voters. Anyone and everyone is being microtargeted. If you sign up for the discount card at the supermarket, Borders, Starbucks and any other retail outlets, your data is being stored and it will eventually be sold to campaign strategists or any other think tank who can afford to buy it.

Supporters of Barack Obama prefer Bear Naked cereal. Hillary Clinton’s fans like GoLean. For John McCain’s supporters, Fiber One is favored.

Where do I fit in the datamining dish? Well, i’m not on the fence, and my past relationships with Chips Ahoy and Sun Chips will not translate into a vote for McCain. And Fiber One? Yuck.

Like it or not, datamining is a tool that is useful to every business or organization who really seeks to reach people. The first thing I do before interviewing a subject for a story is to find out as much  about them as possible. This helps break down barriers between me and the subject. Knowing the basics, we can move on to the real issues and the reason for the interview. It also shows the subject that I value their time and I am genuinely interested in hearing what they have to say.

It’s much the same for campaign strategists. It gives them a finite approach to predicting and getting votes. A targeted approach for political success. Datamining also gives strategists an idea of who, among their supporters, has the most influence on other voters. Most of all, datamining offers the best guidance as to who to send an e-mail, a letter, a voicemail and so on. The success of a campaign is as good as the way it communicates with individual voters.

Change Congress — love that

Of all the possibilities that the digital age brings, I find the prospect of social network-driven grassroots democracy — that could actually change congress — to be most intriguing.

It all started after I read the Business Week article about the tech company Blue State that worked on the Howard Dean campaign. The article’s reference to Blue State’s work for AT&T offered a great example of what democracy in the digital age is all about. At that time, 2005, AT&T was trying to expand to its service to include digital television. Considering the hold that existing cable companies had on the market, AT&T really needed help circumventing stiff cable franchise laws in certain states, particularly, Connecticut.

Blue State used the Web and social media networks to rally grassroots support to appeal to Connecticut legislators. The more than 30,000 letters from grassroots groups to the state’s legislators resulted in a new law passed in October 2007 that allows for the issuing of cable franchise licenses to companies other than the tradition cable companies. The new legislation gave AT&T the leverage it needed to compete with that state’s cable giants.

If that kind of grassroots rallying, organized primarily online, helped influence Connecticut legislators, could online grassroots groups influence national policy issues? Groups calling for congressional reform think so. One such movement, I stumbled upon while reading snippets and listening to soundbites from the personal democracy forum conference, was Larry Lessig‘s Change Congress movement …

“It’s not enough to change government every four years, we have to build a more sustained movement that after a period a time can really embed the change the government needs to make it a government people can trust again. This ideal has motivated members [citizens] and candidates to build the change congress movement,” Larry Lessig.

Craig Newmark, of Craig’s List, is an expert on the power of “ordinary people,” to take matters into their own hands and get things done when they have access to the Internet. Newmark says he’s endorsing Obama because he embraces pooling people together to effect change. When the government failed to provide relief for Katrina victims, Craig’s list was a valuable resource that resulted in many victims getting temporary housing and reconnecting with displaced friends and family. Another example of ordinary citizens connecting over the Internet to get things done.

James Kotecki, who do ‘you’ think you are?

 James Kotecki  is an online ‘poli-tech-cal’ activist. Would he agree?

Let’s ask him: James Kotecki, who do you think you are? 

I doubt that Kotecki gave much thought to whether he would be viewed as a blogger, or citizen journalist when he made is YouTube debut (from his dorm room at Georgetown University). His mission was simple: use YouTube as a platform to encourage politicians to interact with the online community. He uses the journalistic process to research, compile and analyze the political process and the presidential candidate videos he critiques. He also writes and produces his scripts and uploades his vlog regularly on YouTube. 

What’s more relevant than whether Kotecki is a “real” journalist, is his innovative way of getting politicians’ attention and initiating conversations with them. Kotecki has a humorously natural ability to get young voters interested or more involved in the political process. He presents political information the way online viewers prefer to see it –fast and informal. Kotecki has also changed the way some politicians view the role of Internet in the political process, and that’s a big first step toward his ultimate goal, which is to use online video to change democracy.

“Online video can change democracy by changing they way we interact with our politicians,” Kotecki said in his vlog in which he applauded the video response he’d received from Congressman Dennis Kucinich.

Kotecki’s passion for politics and his desire to have the kind of one-on-one conversations with presidential candidates most journalists don’t have time for, is what initially inspired him to launch his YouTube channel Emergency Cheese. The difference between what Kotecki did from his dorm room and what political pundits like Chris Matthews does on Hardball, is very obvious. Kotecki’s production is more like Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, but way cheaper and up-close and personal. Kotecki also appears to be  non-partisan and he doesn’t have big media breathing down his back.

Yes. Kotecki is a vlog activist who is pro democracy. Instead of ratings and sweeps, he thrives on getting as much feedback and have ongoing conversations with politicians and Web viewers. He’s helping to break down the barriers to online communication and participation. And as charismatic as Kotecki is, he insists that “It’s not about me … it’s about all of us changing politics for the better.”

Voter-generated content

The following YouTube videos represent the most-recognizable kind of voter-generated content. I realize they’re both from YouTube, but I couldn’t resist.

voter-generated art? Not sure who exactly generated it, but I found this on zazzle.com. This is an example of how a voter-coined phrases meet art. 

Podcasts …
Political Lunch is a daily podcast featuring political hot topics.
Not quite sure if it qualifies as voter-generated, but I figured I’d throw it in on recommendation of a blogger who posted a review of it on his site.
June 23, 2008 … Today on Political Lunch, Rob and Will look at Obama\’s ethanol policy, McCain\’s push for a better battery, Hillary\’s plan to campaign with Barack, and the audacity of… hype?