It's hard to believe that it's been a year since Barack
Obama and Democrats from coast to coast delivered their historic and epic
electoral beat down. I suspect that the memories and the experience was so
intense that many if not most Americans feel as if it was yesterday, like a
lingering campaign hangover from a really good election night out.
Recently, I've been spending a lot of time thinking about
the interactive landscape in general, and about the various races I've handled
interactive communications for over the last two years. Primarily, those were the
Gregoire/Rossi Washington State gubernatorial rematch in 2008, and
Corzine/Christie gubernatorial campaign of 2009.
I've been thinking about what we did right, what we did
wrong, what surprised me, what we didn't take advantage of, what we thought
would work that didn't, etc, and, most importantly, where Democrats and online
political communications go from here.
I'll be the first to admit that, though I do this for a
living, I don't have all of the answers. But the reality is that Election
Day 2010 is one year away. It's time for campaigns to start gearing up, and
Interactive needs to play a bigger role than it did in 2008 or 2009.
So what follows are 10 brutally
frank things campaigns need to think about as they plan their campaign strategy
You can read part one of this essay here. Today is part
6- You're Probably Standing Still
First, the idea that interactive communication consists of
putting up a campaign website and then calling it a day and expecting people to
come to you, is laughable. Yet, many campaign still do this. These
campaigns cannot be helped.
Fortunately however, most campaigns realize that you need
to do more. So campaigns set up Facebook pages, maybe a Twitter
account... and they wait. So now you're "out there," but you're
still standing still, waiting for people to come to
you. The central philosophy behind interactive is that it’s well, interactive, which means that so long as you're treating these channels like you do your campaign website-- as a method of distributing a message outward only-- you're not using
these tools in the way that regular voters do.
7- Be Compelling & Authentic
This is less easily defined, but a natural partner with my
previous point. For many, if not most, campaigns interactive
communications has become just another channel to push the central campaign
message out. That's certainly true, and there's a huge value to
approaching it as such, but to be truly successful online is to realize what
actually appeals to people who use these tools. In other words, press releases
posted to Facebook are not compelling.
The reason Corey Booker is huge is not just because he's
a clever, tech-savvy guy (though he very much is), but more because he creates
interesting content specifically for these audiences, speaks in a language and
to topics that are authentic and real, and lets his supporters inside the
8- Interactive Is Top-Level
If you accept the premise of points six and seven, then
this naturally follows. The New Media team runs interactive outreach. The
fundraising team doesn't run it, the press shop doesn't run it, field doesn't
These parts of the campaign, of course, have needs and
those needs should be met; in fact, with interactive supporting those
objectives, they can excel (Exhibit A: Obama).
If you hire a team to be interesting and to cut through
the noise -- and there's a LOT of noise online -- then you have to allow them a
seat at the table on par with the message team, the press team, the fundraising
team, and the field team, follow their lead on the areas that they know best,
and support those efforts the same way you would with the other top-level
campaign positions (ie, money, messaging freedom, and candidate access).
9- Ignore the Process & Focus on What Matters
This is distant a cousin of my point in the previous post
about the tendency to focus on the numbers, as and the confluence of elements
from points 1 through 8 all coming together.
If you've been around politics for any real length of time
(say, 15 seconds or so), then you know that the press loves to write easy
process stories. These stories, as far as interactive goes, tend to
center around how you're using the newest fad and how many people are
interacting with you on said fad
(Friends, Following, whatever).
The people at the top read
these stories, can sort of understand them, think it's important because the
article says it's the new thing or they still buy the influence that old media
has, point to the numbers in the article to validate both the fad and their
conclusions, and direct you to “fix” it.
So, as the person responsible for this, you end up trying
to figure out how to get 200 more random people to follow your press releases
that the communications shop is adamant that you send out on Twitter (see point
7) instead of writing compelling messaging to the 2,000, 20,000 or 200,000
in-state VOTERS on your email list.
If you're not staffed up (first of all, why not? See
point 2 from the previous post), then you have to prioritize your efforts, and
campaigns need to listen to the experts on what’s actually important in this
There's so much to do, and some things online just have a
better ROI. In other words, do what works, do what is going to have the
biggest impact, and, lastly (and most importantly)...
10- Don't Cheat
To win online, you have to do it all and you have to do it
This has a very practical application, of course -- sockpuppeting,
hiring a friend to do your website design (or worse still, your mail firm), automating your SEO, tacking on
email marketing to your press operation, etc -- but the big picture point (and
the underlying theme to every other point on this list) is that it's no longer
acceptable to run lazy communications campaigns when it comes to the internet.
Voters are too smart, there's too much noise, and the
stakes are much too high to not be putting a real, strategic, and concentrated
interactive communications effort together.
Big-ticket campaigns need to be hiring teams of professionals who
understand every aspect of the medium to run interactive, and give them the resources
and authority necessary to get the job done, and done right.
The Bottom Line
Democrats made HUGE strides over the last two years, and a
few campaigns did an admirable job at taking advantage of the various
interactive tools available to them. The team working on Obama changed
the game, as did the team working on Dean before them.
The fundamental truth is that online communication, in whatever form, is already
the central component of voter's lives and campaigns would be well-served by
treating them as such.
Campaigns who don't embrace that simple fact and act
accordingly in 2010 and beyond are going to lose.
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