There is a BIG shift in the way political campaigns conduct election war these days. During the 2006 elections I was contracted to do some work for Sharron Angle for Congress and it was a very educational experience and the race taught us many things about the new direction of political campaign marketing.
In our race for congress we were lucky that the opposition had little experience in online marketing. The reason we were lucky is that I had my hands full with other parts of the campaign and couldn’t spend any time on the website or out and about in the www community.
In the end we lost by about 400 votes, but the knowledge that came from working on such a campaign is something I’m thankful for. I was able to see one of our opponents get ripped to shreds by the online community because he virtually ignored them and his site did everything possible to avoid having to engage the group. At the time, this attitude worked because the social networks of Nevada were limited. Now, however, these networks have gained big momentum and I believe that if we were to see a repeat of that race he would have a very tough time slipping by without getting the online community involved.
The same can be said across the country. With more and more voters and activists moving their networks to the web, political campaigns are forced to move in that direction with their campaign plans and message marketing schemes. I believe we’re witnessing the birth of a new era in US elections.
Political campaigns would be wise to lend an ear to this massive movement of information and there are a plethora of tools that can help them do just that. I’ve compiled a list of what I believe will be the top ten players in internet activism.
1) This one is probably obvious, but I picked Digg.com as the number one resource for political campaigns. I’m not at all suggesting that campaigns “spam” Digg, but they certainly need to have staff keep an eye on the stories hitting the front page because of the level of influence Digg has.
The Digg community is now enormous and it would be a poor decision for a campaign to ignore the power of the the internet’s most prominent social networking site.
PLUS, Digg has lent a hand to any campaign willing to pay attention. The social networking giant recently added a 2008 US Elections category that is already a hot ticket in tracking popular election news. Knowing what stories are the most important for tens of thousands of internet users can be very beneficial in the age of information dominance.
2) YouTube YouChoose will certainly be at the top of the list.
Earlier this year we watched the likes of Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, John Edwards, John McCain, and Joe Biden (just to name a few) embrace the power of video blogging, or vlogging. Hillary Clinton even went as far as to announce her candidacy via a YouTube video.
In this day and time a lot of the marketing sector is about visuals. If you can create a visual for people to take in while listening to your message, the chances of them actually ingesting your message, remembering it, and then spreading it are much greater.
YouTube is also clearly one of the easiest and cheapest ways to put videos on the web and have them instantly enter social networks across the country.
A political campaign would be foolish to not embrace this free and powerful online tool.
3) Open Congress, a new addition to the social networking family, is quickly moving up the rank ladder and the community appears to be picking up traction at solid speed.
From the site:
OpenCongress brings together official government information with news and blog coverage to give you the real story behind what’s happening in Congress.
The site blends information it scrapes from government websites with news and opinion found throughout the web, and then it allows users to track, vote, comment and be involved in the overall outcome.
Political campaigns can use this to discover what issues are being watched and which ones slip through the cracks. Open Congress may not be the most important tool on the list, but it does deserve a mention and I wish them all the best in making their site work for all of us.
4) Ning, home of the custom social network creation tool, is bound to turn heads once it grows into a major player in the social networking scene. The site is heavy on the Web 2.0 side and allows users to create their own social network on any topic they can dream up.
I can see this tool being used by activists and political campaigns who wish to rally users around an issue or marketing push. Bloggers can also harness the power of this new tool by building a network that revolves around their blog. It’s a fairly new concept, but one that can be very effective should the right person get a hold of its theory.
5) Technorati. You might ask… “are there really people that DON’T use Technorati?” In short, yes.
While Technorati blog search might not be able to funnel a lot of traffic in any specific direction, it can allow campaigns to keep an eye on what the hottest topics of the web are. A good example of this would be the recent comments by Ann Coulter about John Edwards. The comments were extremely controversial and in turn put Ann Coulter’s name as a top search in the Technorati index. This would say to anyone paying attention that the community is interested in the story and therefor political campaigns could and should have their networks talking it up as well.
Plus, there is simply no reason that ANY blog not be in Technorati’s index. Political campaigns would be wise to be running blogs that can add Technorati tags to posts and they should be pinging the blog search king every time something new is added to their sites and blogs.
6) Mozes is an upcoming player in social networking that puts a different twist on things. The site allows users to send out text messages to social networks and is proving to be quite effective.
You might think this is a silly idea, but keep in mind that this was actually a very serious topic of discussion for both the GOP and DNC last year during the election cycle. It hasn’t yet been fully understood in the political realm, but bands are using it with wild success and I think this can be used to our advantage once we realize the best way to implement it in a political campaign.
Why try calling everyone on your list about a rally when you can simply shoot out a text message? Makes sense to me.
Mozes is currently used mostly by bands to promote shows and such. But I think an enterprising candidate or activist could use Mozes (or a similar service) to update users on the candidate’s schedule or to send out a message of the week. Users could just text the phrase “obama” to 66937 and get back whatever message the campaign crafts and subscribe to receive additional alerts.
7) MyBlogLog is a tool that I’ve only just began using, but one that I’ve already had great networking success with. The social networking tool allows you to get to know a little more about your readers and who they are.
Instead of the traditional stat counters MyBlogLog tracks users coming to your site and then displays their picture, along with a link to their profile on your blog. To see an example just look at the lower part of the sidebar on my blog. I’ve got the code running there and you can see a short list of my most recent MyBlogLog visitors.
Once you actually get to the site, you’ll also find that there are a lot of active communities and the growth has been phenomenal to date. Through MyBlogLog I’ve met a plethora of bloggers who I never would have met had I not signed up.
8) Eventful. While in DC last week I got to meet with some of the brains behind a new Event tracking social networking site called Eventful. The guys gave me a tour through the system and I must admit… I’m hooked.
Eventful allows users to submit events in their areas, and then vote them up if they think they are good events. The system runs similar to Digg in that the community decides what’s hot and what’s not.
It’s a great way to promote an event, as well as find out what events are in any given town or city. Plus, the site includes tools that allow you to export events to Outlook, Yahoo, and Google calendars.
9) MySpace. I hate MySpace so I’m not going to say much about it. That being said, it will more than likely play a role in the 2008 elections because of its size and level of influence.
10) The last tool that can be helpful is Google Alerts. Google Alerts allow you to be notified when any persons name, any issue, or any other search term you submit is found by Google’s search spiders. Google will send you e-mail notifications when something is found, letting you know what is going on with yourself or anyone else you might be watching.
Now I know there are plenty more tools out there, but I think that if political campaigns work hard to build a network through all of the tools mentioned above they will have a serious online reputation. Whether that reputation is good or bad is completely up to the candidate.
Either way, political campaigns are now going to have to build online communities and social networks. I believe this realm is now a major part of campaigning for office in the United States.
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