social media

Discretion is the better part of Moderation

TechPresident, writing about the Slate story reviewing moderation practices on Sarah Palin's Facebook page, says it is "less a cleaned-up open Facebook conversation than a some sort of curated narration to the life and times of Sarah Palin."

Dickerson and a colleague built a program that tracked comments on 10 Palin posts over the course of 12 days. Now, you might assume that team Palin took a hatchet to especially negative, anti-Palin commentary. And some of that, it seems, happened.

But that's not all that went down. The Palin enterprise also scrubbed from her feed comments where, found Dickerson, folks went after people who wrote mean things about her. Racial slurs were enough to get the boot, yes. So were suggestions that she shouldn't let her kids (Bristol, presumably) do reality TV or vaguely-worded notes about Barack Obama birth certificates. Also no good: excessive religious imagery and mild objections to Palin's picks of candidates to endorse.

So, the Big Story here is that Palin's staff tries to maintain a decent community by keeping things civil and focused, and weeding out the jerks?

Look, we've gotten too wrapped up in the idea of politicians and/or technology having clear, defined and consistent rules.  That just doesn't work in a social medium. If you create any kind of bright line "no racism/cursing/personal attacks" rule, then you have to make decisions about exactly what does and does not qualify as racism/cursing/personal attacks - and you will be attacked for your decisions no matter where you draw the line.

Social interactions are too fluid for that kind of strict rule-making.

So what is the answer?  I think there are two reasonable options: 

  • Safe Harbor: A couple years ago (I can't find it now), Patrick Ruffini pointed out that the more control you try to exert, the more responsible people will hold you for what you allow.  Moderation = Responsibility.  The Obama campaign went the other direction, largely allowing anybody to post anything and only exercising minimal oversight.  When you have a flood of content, nobody blames you for the idiots leaving drops on the carpet.
  • Discretion: As appears to be the case at Sarah Palin's Facebook page, discretion is the better part of moderation.  That makes sense.  We don't demand hard, fast, bright line rules in the offline world, because we couldn't possibly make rules to cover every social situation. We wing it.  We use discretion. We do the best we can and move on. 

Maybe that will be the best way for political organizations to manage their online communities, as well.  Politics is already complicated enough. The online world doesn't have to be much more complicated than the offline world.


Bad Campaign Ideas 2010

Campaigning does strange things to people.  For instance, it makes some people think videos like these are a good idea....

This video from CAP's Campus Progress is....well, to paraphrase Douglas Adams: 10 out of 10 for trying something unusual. Minus a few million for execution.



On the other side of the aisle is the recent Mike Weinstein video....which, if you haven't seen it yet, go watch it right now.  And then curse me when you can't get it out of your head for the rest of the day.  They win on choreography, vocal talent and sheer enthusiasm (though, in fairness, it's not hard to out-enthuse zombies).



I can only assume that the new social media tactic in politics is camp. This may actually be an improvement over some of the previous social media tactics (send press releases about yesterday's news!)

The Health Care Debate, Tea Party & Libertarian Splits, and the 2010 Elections

Doug Pinkham, president for the Public Affairs Council has a new post up at the Public Affairs Perspective blog (emphasis mine):

Grassroots campaigns to protect rainforests, oppose gun laws or fund AIDS research have become commonplace. So have campaigns to expand U.S. manufacturing, reform immigration laws or rewrite financial industry regulations. These campaigns, and thousands like them, have grown increasingly sophisticated; they go way beyond calls-to-action encouraging supporters to send an email or call a congressional office.

They often involve Facebook sites, blog postings, issue advertising, media outreach, town hall meetings, YouTube videos, online petitions, rallies, issue forums and a host of other tactics. Some are organized by advocacy groups, associations, unions or companies; others are organized purely by volunteers.

In terms of grassroots strategy, the healthcare debate fell into the category marked "all of the above." As the Washington Post noted in February, everyone from the National Right to Life Committee to to PhRMA to AARP to health insurance companies got into the act. (For those who want a peek inside one such campaign, the Columbia Journalism Review deconstructed WellPoint's sophisticated Health Action Network in its March 22 "Campaign Desk" column.)

It's easy to dismiss these efforts as special interests unfairly exerting their influence on the political process. The reality is that people are joining groups they trust to help them speak with a louder voice.

Pinkham seems to be suggesting that the keys to 21st century advocacy are a) build trust, and b) make noise. But before anyone rushes off to register for 10 new platforms a day, they should check out Jon Henke's post over at the CRAFTdc blog earlier this year on the diversification of a campaign's social media portfolio:

If you don’t have a specific purpose for using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or a blog...then don’t use them.

Which gets us back to the subject of this post.  CRAFT sells communications strategy, tactics and execution across all channels.  So, when the question, “Should we have a Facebook Fan Page?” came up for discussion, there were two lines of thought:

  • We don’t currently have a strategic or tactical need to create and maintain a Facebook Fan Page for CRAFT.
  • How can CRAFT sell something that we don’t use for CRAFT?  Shouldn’t we eat our own dog food?

My own conclusion was this: If we do not have a strategic or tactical need to create and maintain a Facebook Fan Page, then we should not have one.  When we decide a Facebook presence is justified, we will create one.  Until then, not using a tool we don’t have a specific purpose to use is eating our own dog food.

Henke is right. Campaigns' uses of social media should be context-sensitive, just like approaches to cyber security should be risk-based. How, then, is Pinkham's post instructive? He continues (again, emphasis mine):

Eighty-four percent of those who contacted Congress in the 2008 CMF survey were asked to do so by a third party, such as an interest group. What's more, respondents - whether they had contacted Congress or not - found information from interest groups to be more credible than information from Congress.

Yes, that's surprising, but it says something important about the inability of Washington politicians to cope with the rise in citizen engagement. Many politicians call sympathetic grassroots campaigns "unprecedented outpourings of support" while dismissing campaigns organized by opponents as "Astroturf." They condemn the influence of some special interests, while encouraging other groups to ramp up letter-writing efforts to provide "cover" for controversial votes.

Worst of all, many refuse to acknowledge that high levels of engagement are a good thing in a democracy. The CMF study pointed out that congressional offices are understaffed, under-funded and often lack the technology or training to respond effectively to constituents.

These are pretty staggering precentages that are difficult to ignore, and when taken with resource issues in Congressional offices (which are every bit as stringent on the campaign trail), it's no surprise that both parties rely so heavily on leveraging interest group support. Acknowledging the utility of interest groups could prove catastrophic to the Right, if not altogether suicidal, especially when populism is surging like nothing we've seen in 50 years.

On the other hand, candidates and causes on the Right can try to capture some of the utility provided by interest groups to voters and brand it. Pinkham concludes:

...Congress should assure constituents that their opinions matter and invite them to become more engaged in policy-making.  When members take positions on energy legislation, they can contact citizens who weigh in on climate change issues. People who complain about high taxes should receive updates on efforts to cut federal spending. In short, grassroots communications should signal the need for dialogue, not the need to build a stronger fence around the border.

This is why I haven't (and can't) come out swinging at platforms like YouCut (which Doug Mataconis at Below the Beltway thinks is nothing more than a gimmick) or (which Jon Henke thinks is crowding the Internet). Party leadership should have branded tools that aren't tied to campaigns. Republicans are poised to take back control of Congress from the Democrats this November. But they will suffer a fate like November 2008 without a policy agenda - without becoming an alternative party rather than being an opposition party.

YouCut and America Speaking Out are fantastic ways for the Right to leverage the utility of interest groups - collecting and collating voter preferences, while empowering them to participate (building trust and making noise) - and they couldn't really be more timely in their advent, coming right at the launch of primary season. These tools might be the first real online method of voter outreach that channels both libertarian policy preferences and Tea Party activism into a substantive national policy platform for Republicans. What once was diffuse, diverse, and disorganized has now become clear, centralized, and convenient - and Republicans shouldn't be shy about reaching out to the little guy.

Politics 2.0: The Pegasus of Connectivity?

I told a friend last night - via Facebook private message - that email is still the best way to get a hold of me.* I gave him my work email address, which is the one account out of seven I currently monitor to which I will usually give an immediate response. It's also one of two accounts pushing to my smart phone, so I can receive/respond on the go.

The ways in which we send, receive, and store information have been constantly revolutionizing politics for nearly 600 years, since Gutenberg first invented the printing press. Customer relations management (CRM) systems have become increasingly important (indeed useful and necessary) in the political sphere, as candidate and issue campaigns build vast, scalable email lists for purposes of campaign communication. Somewhat curiously, I have all issue and candidate campaign email delivered to my American University address - which also pushes to my smart phone, but which I rarely actually read.

But let's assume just for a second that I consolidate my email accounts into just one, and I take time to read more than I do now - and a political campaign was able to reach me (in theory) 24 hours a day. Why is it, in this world of nearly instantaneous, targeted, scalable communications, that we still rely on direct mail fundraising? When does the 140-character tweet, the Facebook status update, or even the 30-second YouTube video replace a clunky, 5-page typed fundraising ask - double-spaced in 12 pt. Courier New font - and on pink stationary, no less? Does it ever? What about when we move all of our CRM solutions to the cloud, and we're realizing huge cost savings in our campaign budgets because of it (this is speculative, I'll admit)?

I remember from my Leadership Institute training days back in college that conservatives tend to make quite a bit of money on direct mail fundraising campaigns - my own experience tells me that you're doing well to just break even, particularly if you're using consulting services. Maybe my metrics are a little bit off, and I'm not considering how a mail piece to an identified voter/supporter may energize them, arm them with talking points, and ask them to tell 5 of their neighbors about my candidate or issue. Maybe I need better mail pieces.

Not only in my experience are dollar-for-dollar returns on direct mail doing well to break even, but isn't this social tree 1.0? Isn't this what social media was supposed to solve, in terms of reach, velocity, and scale? I posited in my undergraduate thesis - flying in the face of practical, conventional wisdom - that there's some kind of interpersonal transaction that takes place when one voter connects with another that technology can't replace, and I don't mean to waffle on that conclusion - but I do wonder, as our technology evolves and more milennials and digital natives reach voting age, whether or not direct mail is a worthwhile long-term investment. For the meantime, it's probably okay to assume that the average voter views the on-paper direct mail piece as more authentic or genuine an instrument than something that flies across their computer screen or smart phone, and for that reason, direct mail is still useful.

Candidates and causes also have a swath of social media and social networking tools at their disposal, tools that reach millions of end users (if leveraged properly) and which are also dirt cheap to a campaign, if not altogether free. Rob Willington of demonstrated as much in Scott Brown's bid for Sen. Edward Kennedy's U.S. Senate seat in a special election following Teddy's death (wait a minute, that wasn't Teddy's seat - it's the people's seat). Rob's use of text-messaging, geolocation applications, YouTube, Ning, and Facebook makes a really interesting case study in the use of these tools on the Right in the MyBO era.

Another important long-term consideration for campaigns on the Right is cost. I asked Willington during a Personal Democracy Forum conference call back in March, and I'm paraphrasing here, "Given the availability of free online tools, why should campaigns invest in proprietary enterprise architectures (e.g. Will they be useful in the long-term for anything other than an online depository for campaigns?" His answer - and it's a good one, and again, I'm paraphrasing - was that a proprietary enterprise architecture anchors the spectrum of social media tools the campaign uses (each having its own brand recognition) with the candidate's brand, and acts as a vote getter. You can download and listen to the podcast here.

But given this, it shouldn't be long, in theory, before we totally scuttle on-paper direct mail pieces for fundraising purposes (messaging and relationship-building purposes notwithstanding). Additionally, in order to be really successful in the long-run, these tools need to build relationships: voter-to-voter and voter-to-candidate/voter-to-campaign. Melissa Clouthier has an interesting political spin on Mashable's "21 Rules for Social Media Engagement." Clouthier's conclusions assume a high-level of social media adoption across campaign space, and while candidates on the Right are dominating some social media channels, they don't own the Internet anymore:



In the long-run, the best "technology candidates" on the Right - as is the case with all other technological paradigm shifts - will be the early adopters, like Scott Brown. The candidates who do a great job of building relationships through social media on the campaign trail will have the highest chance of success in using tools while in office, both to foster transparency and to protect incumbency. In the meantime, the Right needs to continue developing an accurate, meaningful set of metrics to measure the success of social media strategies against traditional strategic results to make sure that candidates and causes get the highest ROI and the largest reach per dollar spent.

George Scoville also blogs at Liberty Pundits and his personal site Intelligence, Please... He invites you to follow him on Twitter (@stackiii).

* The double irony of this isn't lost on me. Not only is Facebook not very well known for its privacy at the moment, but I sent a Facebook message to relay an enterprise email address.

Two Virginia Democrats Get It Right Online

Scores of articles have been written about Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s online prowess during the 2009 election cycle. 

Steve and I certainly tip our hats to Patrick Ruffini, Mindy Finn and Vince Harris, because they demonstrated for many skeptical onlookers how a Republican candidate who commits the right resources to his or her online campaign can be successful.  Unfortunately, not every candidate has the resources Bob McDonnell had, nor do they often commit to their online campaign with similar fervor. 

In working with several GOP House of Delegates candidates in Virginia last year, Steve and I saw both obstacles – resources and commitment to an online operation – manifest themselves repeatedly.  With perhaps only an exception for the benefits that ActBlue provides Democratic candidates, this problem extends to both sides of the aisle in the Commonwealth.

Trust us when we tell you, there will come a time (probably in 2011) when door knocking alone will no longer suffice for candidates seeking to become delegates or state senators.

Earlier this week, the 2010 Politics Online Conference was held in Washington.  The event drew some of the nation’s top political online experts from both sides of the aisle to share their insight on how candidates and advocacy groups can improve their online operations.

Here’s an unfortunate fact about the conference, though.  Out of the 140 members who serve in the Virginia General Assembly, Steve and I saw only two members attending the two-day event.  We understand that not every member could make it due to busy schedules and travel considerations, but it was odd to hear the McDonnell campaign as the backdrop to so many of the panel discussions and yet to see so few Virginians in the audience.   

State Senator Chap Petersen (D-34) not only attended the event, but he served as a panelist.  Joined by Democratic Congressman Mike Honda (CA-15), CNN’s Ed Henry (moderator) and Chicago Alderman Sandi Jackson (D-Ward 7), Petersen discussed how he uses social media to connect with his Fairfax constituents.

As conservatives who’ve worked hard against liberals like Peterson in Virginia, Steve and I were treated to the disheartening lesson that Chap Petersen really does get it.  He utilizes social media and digital technology for three reasons.  First, so constituents of his district are made to understand that he is working on their behalf.  Second, to provide a forum for his constituents to express their opinion.  Finally, to aid his fundraising efforts. 

Peterson was not the only Virginia Democrat to patrol the Politics Online Conference.  On Tuesday, we ran into Delegate Mark Keam (D-35), who attended both days of the event, sitting in on panels and workshops in an effort to gain new insight into how to better execute his online campaign.

Both of these gentlemen do sit on the “other side” from us, but Steve and I have to congratulate them on their efforts to better their online presence.

Yes, Virginia politicos might be making strong progress with adopting digital technology, but members of both parties, as whole, still have a long way to go before we can categorize their use of social media and digital technology as being “cutting edge.”

If we happen to have overlooked any other member or staffers of the Virginia Legislature who attended the conference, we do apologize and hope you were taking notes.

Ford O’Connell and Steve Pearson, Co-Founders, ProjectVirginia – “Where Politics Meets Social Media”

Winner in this election will engage online

Online Winners - Otherwise Elections Lost


2008 candidates online - Winners

The 2008 Elections are really the first to be dramatically affected by online and social media. The major media really can't dominate as much as in the past, and many internet users are getting information and even interacting online.

Is your favorite candidate willing and able to interact online? If not, this may be the last election for your favorite guy or gal. I am willing to predict that social media and online interaction, online fundraising, and blog style communication will not go away, and will be the trump card in the future for many elections.

Barack Obama was really the break-out story in all this. I may not want him to be President, but am very willing to allow that he's "changed" the rules of the game in this arena. My hope is that in the final 30 days of this election, when more than half the public is interested, that John McCain's team will step up and join the 21st Century.

The writers of Wikinomics have been following this paradigm shift all year:

One would have thought that after all the stories about how Obama's online presence was key to his triumph in the Democratic primaries would have led McCain's team to focus on this... but apparently not.

Side note: for previous coverage of the role of wikinomics in this race, see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. (I'm always willing to let those I source get a bunch of inbound links, I read them, so I hope you will too)


It's time McCain team. Please, from one social media amateur to a professional campaign team, join the rest of us out here.

Now a challenge to McCain, and in state and local races too, supporters ... get online, go social media, say what you think and engage the conversations. If you just watch the liberal elite internet types dominate the new mediums, then you'll just be complaining about the "liberal media" next year again. This media medium is wide open and easy to dominate quickly. Get online for the next 25 days.

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