Whether they'll admit it or not, the Republicans are taking a page or 10 from the 2008 Obama digital campaign playbook. Indeed, nearly every Republican presidential candidate has by now produced a campaign site flaunting Obama-esque design and social media features.
So what should the Democrats do about all this copycat coding? Closely examine the digital competition on the other side of the aisle, and find new ways to out-innovate again in 2012.
Take Mitt Romney's campaign site, for instance. If anyone has Obama's digital style down, it's this Republican front runner -- from the fancy Romney logo to a personal fundraising tracker and social media like "Mitt Mobile," this website has it all. In fact, the site is so heavily inspired by the Obama brand that this kind of techy platform will no longer set a campaign apart. So, maybe the Obama team needs to counter by using unsocial media, or bad design. Or, maybe it's time to come up with an entirely new digital crowd-pleaser, something really useful that Romney can't possibly reproduce... how about developing a socially-networked jobs site for the unemployed, hosted on whitehouse.gov?
While Romney goes for a flashy faux Obama style, Michele Bachmann instead uses the simplest of Obama techniques: inspirational language and social media. Uniting the harping ferocity of a McCain with the prophetic language of an Evangelical preacher, Bachmann's platform presents her as a "principled reformer" (Martin Luther, anyone?) whose "greatest calling in public service is to ensure that the liberties enshrined in our founding documents are handed down from this generation to the next." Judging by a photo of the candidate in a yellow jacket, gold jewelry, and a sea of followers beneath her, she does seem to project a certain devotional glow. Using straightforward messaging and basic social media (TXT, Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube), the Bachmann campaign does a good job offering obvious actions for her Tea Party followers to take. The lesson? Doesn't hurt to keep it simple, Obama team.
While simplicity is important, so is originality, of which Newt Gingrich's page exhibits not much. While they're undeniably striving for that Obama finesse, the site actually reads more like a slightly arrogant budget airline ad than a political campaign. For one, there are quotes featuring the candidate's own brilliant comments, in quotation marks. And in a slightly desperate move, there are no less than three DONATE buttons, right next to one another. Remarkably, the Gingrich platform also borrows a key catch phrase from President Obama's latest State of the Union ("Win the future" sound familiar?). Even if it does come out of beta-testing, it doesn't look like the Gingrich platform will be competing with Obama's anytime soon.
Now, if there's one Republican who is making the most of his digital space it's "T-Paw," whose cutesy nickname seems slightly at odds with a bold campaign slogan like "TIME FOR TRUTH." What Pawlenty's platform does a little differently is combine a political campaign with the likes of foursquare. That's right, folks, beyond liking Pawlenty on Facebook, you can also win points and badges for volunteering your time. This novelty might prove to be a stroke of genius, or it might result in some disappointed supporters if they don't at least win a half-price beer once in a while. In the end, the Pawlenty campaign's creative risk-taking could offer some welcome competition for the Obama camp, inspiring them to reach just a little bit higher.
Of course, there are other Republican candidates making waves in the digital world -- notably Rick Santorum, of neologistic fame, as well as a certain social media maven who has yet to declare her candidacy. Not to mention the potential challenge posed by newly-minted candidate Jon Huntsman, whose as yet non-existent site currently risks being confused with that of a chemical manufacturer.
Websites and digital tools aside though: the 2012 presidential campaign will come down to which candidates do the best job communicating with and engaging voters from every possible angle. For the Obama campaign to pull it off again, it should make sure that people truly understand the administration's many accomplishments, and empower voters to keep the country moving in the right direction.
Follow Saskia Miller on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@sasmiller