Political Technology Answers for a Research Questionaire

I was contacted by a researcher in the past two weeks to get some thoughts on the technologies for political campaigns this year. Thought the answers to these questions might be interesting to my readership. Enjoy.

What was your involvement in the 2008 or prior presidential elections? What did you find most challenging?

I was the CTO of the John Kerry Presidential Campaign – providing technical leadership and social media guidance at the time (e.g., blogs, forums, online chats, social network presence for John Kerry).

In 2008, I was working as a consultant for various campaigns but no front-line positions during the campaign. At the time, I was engaged with other non-political clients that absorbed my primary attentions.

In 2004, the most challenging issue was convince the mainstream political machine that online campaigning was more than a ATM and a cheaper form of direct marketing (e.g., email campaigns). Creating a campaign-wide understanding of the power of social media was the greatest challenge. When John Kerry made his first win in Iowa and mentioned his website at the podium, the surge in contributions was so significant that he began to use this mechanism again and again (see http://www.politicalgastronomica.com/2008/01/blast_from_the/)

At the time, social networks were still the pervue of students and technical individuals – and was beginning to make in roads, but the solutions were still not engaging voters in an effective manner. In 2007, Facebook began to focus on the communication aspect of social networks – optimizing their NewsFeed to surface information that they sense you would be interested in – from your network.

As more information began to surface regarding what their friends were doing regarding politics – and how geography shrank – people were becoming more informed through the social networks because the social proof of being involved was demonstrated on your NewsFeed. This acceleration of information and social proof made social networks THE preferred information channel for the Obama supporters.

MySpace and other social networks did not provide this kind of informational filtering – which is why at the time, I believed social networks were not going to be instrumental in the 2008 election.

Some people point to the myBO.com site as a success in the 2008 campaign. I would suggest that it was used as an advanced house-party tool for supporters to coordinate for other events. But as a source of unbiased information like Facebook was providing (e.g., the algorithm determined what you would like) or Google (e.g., the algorithm determined what the public thought was relevant for what topic), myBO was all-Obama, all the time. If it was integrated with the NewsFeed more effectively, it would have been even more effective.

In retrospect, what would you say was the 2008 presidential election best device in marketing the candidates?

Best device was YouTube since Americans (and others) rely on their assessment of a candidate on what they see and feel. As a source of information and content open 24/7/365 where both the professional content creators and the novices could comment and communicate with no filters.

No other mechanism communicated with as much IMPACT – not blogs, not TV – the self-service capabilities of YouTube coupled with the explosion of high-bandwidth services to the home and office is the reason why I make such a claim.

How is internet-accessible information for internet-ready devices important to a presidential political campaign?

Tough question here. All campaigns rely on a couple of issues:

  • How to generate donations
  • How to get their message out for the media to generate donations
  • How to get their volunteers out to events to generate donations
  • How to generate earned media to generate donations
  • How to mobilize their voters to win the election

I would suggest that any campaign that assumes that the desktop is the only mechanism for consumption of political content is as bad as the 2004 consultants who still believed that the 6pm Nightly News was what effected votes. These campaigns need to be prepared to serve their content on tablets, smart-phones, laptops and desktops – and had better understand how syndication of their content will improve how their supporters will receive and respond to their needs.

Do you think that text messages or MMS (picture messages), and a website for candidates should replace traditional methods, such as telephone calls, flyers, television ads, mailers and the like?

Replace – no. Augment – yes. Retail politics is about voters connecting with the candidates. Note I did not say candidates connecting with the voter, since broadcast mechanisms can somewhat perform this process. But the ability for the voter to connect with the candidate is a trickier proposition since there is only one candidate and infinite-number of voters.

Using tools from social media and exposing the candidate to tools that allow their voice to connect with others – and the ability to respond to comments and commentary via these mechanisms allow for the more engaged voters to “connect” with the candidate and be the proxy (e.g., evangelists) for the candidate. That is how these technical methods will augment the standard retail methods.

What do you believe is the role of social sites, such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn in the 2008 presidential elections, and do you believe that candidates should utilize these social sites to promote their campaign?
I assume you mean the 2012 campaign. Yes – I believe the candidates should utilize these sites – but in an intelligent fashion.

Twitter is a potential broadcast and conversational mechanism – and the ability to engage voters on this channel – especially ones that are very interested and engaged is a boon to the candidates.

Facebook is more of a challenge since the use of Facebook Pages is not a very effective mechanism because of the way they handle how messages are surfaced on the user’s NewsFeed (they are rarely unless other friends act on the social actions) or in the Inbox (they are hidden in the Other folder). Since Facebook is about your friends engagement on various social actions, it is about be a person – not a Page. By friending as a person – and having other surrogates like family members or other endorsers, the candidate can make use of their Facebook presence and increase the awareness of their activities through they and their surrogates.

As an expert in new technologies, is there a technology that you feel is not adequately used or should be used in a presidential election campaign?

Yes – the technology is click-to-dial and VOIP. Because networks are easily available everywhere (e.g., wifi, cable, DSL), the ability to have community call centers allow for the use of the telephone and community to build and bond supporters together. Nothing forms bonds of loyalty better than working through the growth phase of a campaign. As more people join, the better the connections often.

Aside from that, the advent of using Big Data solutions to chunk through data on the voters and their interests along with mapping technology to help determine canvassing routes are two other technology advances that could (or will) make a big impact.

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