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.