After President Barack Obama's historic election, the political pundits were quick to declare that the Democratic Party had an enduring hold on online organizing. Much was made of the Obama campaign's use of social networks -- especially My.BarackObama.com which was built with the help of Chris Hughes, one of Facebook's co-founders. Countless newspaper articles, blog posts and segments on television news programs were dedicated to deconstructing what the Democrats had accomplished online, and coincidentally what the Republicans failed to accomplish.
But since the 2008 election, Republicans have surpassed the Democrats online, raking in millions of dollars in a span of only a few days, strongly winning statewide elections in Democratic strongholds and responding to the President's first State of the Union address with innovative direct media techniques.
This shift began in September with Rep. Joe Wilson's rapid online response after his outburst during Obama's speech to Congress. Rather than booking TV interviews with hostile mainstream media reporters to explain his case, Wilson utilized direct media to speak directly with millions of Americans nationwide. He used Facebook and Twitter to fight back against the attack of his critics, and took time to film short videos to keep his supporters up to speed and thank them for their encouragement. His campaign also executed the fastest Google advertising campaign to target the millions of people who took to Google to find out more about him. This allowed Wilson to get his message out to the people without the traditional media's spin. Because of this, Wilson was transformed from a little-known Congressman from South Carolina into a nationally known and popular conservative figure.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Wilson's online response was his tremendous fund-raising success. Through the use of strong fund-raising solicitations and an up-to-the-minute "Truth Money Bomb" widget that helped supporters visualize how their money was helping the congressman reach an important goal, Wilson was able to raise more money in one quarter than he had raised throughout his entire reelection campaign in 2008. While many believed that Rob Miller -- Wilson's Democratic opponent -- would ultimately raise more money than Wilson through ActBlue, in the end Wilson out-raised Miller by nearly $1 million. And, just like Obama in 2008, a large majority of Wilson's $2.7 million fund-raising haul came from small-donors who gave $200 or less.
Two months after Joe Wilson's successful rapid online response, Republican Bob McDonnell pulled out a 17-point victory over Democrat Creigh Deeds in Virginia's gubernatorial election -- just a year after President Obama handily won the state by 6 points. While McDonnell had the executive experience and qualities of a great candidate, his comprehensive online campaign allowed him to win in an electoral landslide and helped the Republicans sweep the down-ballot races.
The culmination of the GOP's ability to out-organize the Democrats online was Republican Scott Brown's upset victory in the special election for the Massachusetts Senate seat formerly held by the late Edward Kennedy. Brown was ultimately able to win this difficult election because of his campaign's successful and dedicated use of direct media.
The Brown campaign utilized a committed approach to text messaging and direct media outlets like Facebook and Twitter to get his message out - unfiltered by the mainstream media. The campaign's use of the hashtag #41stvote - which refers to his promise to be the crucial 41st vote that would stop the health care legislation - helped him gain national attention and support. This, in turn, lead to an extremely successful money bomb which raised more than $1.3 million in a single day.
As I wrote on techRepublican.com the day after the election, Brown's election proves that Republicans have surpassed the Democrats when it comes to online organizing and harnessing the power of direct media. It confirms a record of success we saw in Wilson's effective response and McDonnell's comprehensive online campaign.
These electoral successes are strong indicators of the Republican Party's command of the Internet, but the GOP's online achievements go further than political campaigns. The GOP's response to yesterday's State of the Union address showcased the innovative ways Republicans are using direct media to include the people in the conversation about policies that will affect their lives.
During the address, GOP Leader John Boehner's blog provided real-time fact-checking of the President's speech. Also during the speech, the NRCC hosted a text2chat program which allowed people from across the country to join the discussion about the policies being presented. This technology has never been used before on this scale and allowed anyone with an Internet-enabled mobile phone to participate from anywhere by simply sending a text message.
Following the State of the Union, Wilson gave the first-ever live response via Facebook, and answered questions submitted by Facebook users. The NRCC also hosted a streaming video Q&A session after the speech, where users submitted questions that were answered by Republican Members of Congress.
McDonnell's official Republican response to the speech was streamed live where users submitted questions for the governor and could tweet their thoughts about his speech using the hash tag #SOTUresponse.
There are multiple reasons for the Wilson-McDonnell-Brown trifecta of Republican success and the popularity of Congressional Republicans on direct media sites like Twitter, including Americans' frustration with big government policies like the health care bill. Nevertheless, these victories combined with the GOP's innovative and interactive response to the State of the Union is more proof that the GOP has surpassed the Democrats online.
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