Category Archives: politics

Finally, a Conversation

Saw this interview of Tom Geoghegan from the Interview Show hosted at the Hideout in Wicker Park.  He clearly was at his best in this conversational style interview.  He’s given some of the most reasoned-based policy arguments I’ve heard up until now in the IL-5 race.  That is highly respectable and a service to the voting public.  Watch the video:

Google’s Centrality in IL-5

Ramsin Canon beat me to the punch to bring up Google’s role in the IL-5 election.  Canon’s great post over at Gaper’s Block discusses which candidates are using Google AdWords to drive searches to their respective websites.

I had the opportunity to sit down with someone close to Sara Feigenholtz’s campaign to discuss, among other things, what role online media plays in the campaign’s strategy.

I’ll start with blogs.  In this race, we both agreed that blogs are really important.  First, because traditional media  has not covered this race with nearly the depth or tenacity as the blogging community, blogs covering this race seem to be trumping traditional media as go-to sources for campaign information.  Second, blogs have the indelible ability to show up in Google alerts and Google searches.  In short, this means any person actively searching for information is more apt to wind up at one of the blogs covering this race than one of this city’s local papers.

For campaigns, this means blogger outreach ought to remain a fairly high priority.  Thus far, I’ve had a range of experiences of campaigns reaching out or not reaching out to me as a blogger regularly covering this race.  Maybe I’ll save that for another post.

The ironic thing, and the point of disagreement in our conversation about online media, was the role of Google AdWords.  I feel like Google AdWords are extremely important and could be some of the smartest media spend in a campaign.  My counterpart felt differently.

Google is so important though for exactly the same reasons campaigns buy expensive TV and direct mail campaigns.  The 2008 election proved that online social media was great at aggregating campaign supporters and channeling their energies into productive efforts on behalf of campaigns.  Social media was not good at converting undecided voters.  That’s where Google AdWords enters and can do it cheaper and more effectively.

I would characterize TV and direct mail as the “shotgun” approach in attempt to reach everyone and hoping that out of the recipients, there are undecided voters who will be persuaded.  The research I have seen shows it will take three to five pieces of direct mail to effectively persuade voters.  TV is different in that Americans still rely on TV as the top source for political news.  Though very expensive, I do believe in the value of smart TV ad buys.

Google AdWords though can help offset the high cost of direct campaign advertising in what marketers characterize “push” vs. “pull” advertising.  Google searches are actions taken on by internet users searching for campaign information.  As a campaign, why not show up alongside organic search results to let that internet user know your campaign thinks you might be looking “me”?

At the end of the day, there is no one communications strategy that 100 percent works over another one.  There are strengths and weaknesses in each advertising discipline.  That’s why the best campaigns will have an integrated approach to figure out what works, what doesn’t, what makes the most sense, what is most cost effective, etc.

Though it may be unfair to judge which campaign has done the best advertising job thus far since not all campaigns’ paid advertising have begun yet, like Gapers Bloc, I agree that Charlie Wheelan has a leg up.  The campaign’s Google AdWords buy and willingess to take a risk on a TV ad and the place it very granularly in local cable markets really demonstrates some good judgement.  Let’s see how the others adjust.

Your Senator/Congressman on YouTube

Carlos Allevato

Flickr Image: Carlos Allevato

Erick Schonfeld over at Techcrunch insightfully posted about YouTube’s effort to scale Congressional and Senatorial videos by creating  stand-alone pages.

As Erick points out, traffic is slow.  At the time of writing this blog, only 50 subcribers signed up for the Senate page and 67 signed up for the Congessional page.

Erick writes:

“Nobody was watching these videos before. Putting them altogether in their own channel is not going to make them more popular. If Senators and Congressman want to use YouTube as a direct channel to the electorate, that’s great. But can someone teach these folks a little about Web video production values? They come across as little more than commercials.”

The moral of this story is that just because YouTube is another destination to post content does not mean people will visit or engage with that content if it is not tailored to the medium.

In other words, our members of Congress seem to be recycling their made-for-TV spots and communications culture and posting it to YouTube.  But, YouTube calls for something different.  It calls for taking down the barriers to the electorate.  Stop communicating to people and start communicating with people.

The strength of online communication in public affairs is the ability to make a call to action and see it through by working with and alongside the electorate.  That means taking the time to answer questions, updating posts and speaking to people like they were sitting with them in your living room – not on a TV set in their living room.

I’m curious to see who will get this and utilize this opportunity. the Next Generation in Content Sharing, a Brooklyn startup founded by Harvard grad Sam Lessin, is the most encompassing and useful technology tool I’ve found in 2008.

A months ago, a colleague asked for my recommendation of the best online project management tool.  I had experience using Basecamp, and I still think it’s a great tool, especially for using over extended periods of time. Plus, for simple document sharing and commenting, it’s a very simple and useful site that I would recommend today.

However, is truly the next generation in content sharing, the first tool of its kind that truly incorporates the social web as a content creator along with word-processing and presentation software. works by creating, what it calls “drops,” a non-searchable and private portal (can be password protected) to share content with whomever the drop creator chooses.  In a few clicks, I was able to share video and audio files very seamlessly.  Check out this demo video to view how their tool works:

After using, the slickest thing about creating, sharing and responding to drops is the array of ways to upload and respond to content.  I can use my Facebook account, phone, email and more to reply to  That sort of usefulness represents the very best of the social web and is definitely ahead of the curve with regard to content creation and sharing.  In other words, the more ways for me to use, the increased liklihood that I will continue to use it.  

For public affairs, I see this tool as being innovative in two ways.  First, as I alluded to earlier, as project management tool, can is the next generation in file sharing.

In addition, I see as a new way for candidates to reach voters and volunteers during an election.  Precisely because drops are  non-searchable, is uniquely positioned to share all sorts of media with an “insider” group, like volunteers or even more generally, supporters.  Drops are will be great for community building and for giving voters a greater sense of ownership of a political campaign.  Drops holding a variety of content can even help replace (or work alongside) email as the best mode of interactive information sharing.  

As I’ve highlighted before in this blog, candidates need to bring down barriers between their campaigns and their publics. can help.  

We’ve got at least one special election coming up in Illinois’ 5th Congressional District, Rahm Emmanuel’s vacated seat.  Here’s a good chance to put this tool to work in what promises to be a close race between at least two progressive, well-known candidates.

Social Media Will Be Very Important for Vacant Emmanuel Seat Hopefuls

Some prominent local and state Democrats are preparing to vie for newly appointed White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel’s open congressional seat.  In this coming special election, candidates will not have the time, nor the money to run a full-blown campaign with large media ad budgets.  In this atmosphere that will likely feature some recognizable names and good reputations, candidates will have to look to social media as a mode to connect with the district.

This special election promises to be different than other Illinois special elections.  Mainly, such as in the special election for Dennis Hastert’s open seat, the race was divided along party lines.  Here, the 5th district is so heavily democrat, that whomever emerges from their party, will surely win the election.  That being said, we’re looking at a crowded field of candidates cutting up the electorate along several lines.

Social media will be critical to serve the following purposes:

  • Growing name awareness – most of the candidates are known quantities, but still have a ways to go before they reach Emmanuel’s level.
  • Establishing their point of difference (branding) – people’s minds and traditional media usually define a candidate by a narrow set ideas of ideas or positions.  Social media can help the candidate define those positions and priorities, rather than anyone else, and have traditional media play the role of reinforcing those positions.
  • Connecting with constituents, finding the evangelists - Chicagoland has a growing number of political insider blogs and interested citizen journalists that people look to for an “on the ground perspective.”  Candidates will be well served to cultivate relationships with those people.  Having key bloggers and opinion shapers in the district will be a big leg up in a tight race.
  • Speaking directly with constituents – if the 2008 presidential election proved anything, voters want interaction with candidates.  I think in an election this size, the ability to scale interactions is totally within reach.
  • Keeping things interesting – with all the 2008 election hoopla, we might be experiencing voter burnout.  Social media is a fantastic way to communicate and entertain.  Candidates who execute a good social media strategy will find voters will be spending more time finding out about their them.

This special election will be so interesting because it is a condensed race, filling a big-name elected’s seat and featuring candidates who are accomplished in their own right.  It’s an interesting environment for an election playing out in the 5th district.  I think whomever can think outside of the traditional boundaries of campaigns will be successful.

Huckabee Positions to Emerge as 2012 GOP Leader

American two-party politics is defined by coalitions that keep the Democrats and Republicans as functioning (or malfunctioning) parties able to gain the necessary votes to win elections.  I’ve written before about the Republican Party retooling after their 2008 loss and efforts like to bring conservative ideas matched with an effective social media strategy.

The big missing piece to this puzzle is who the Republican leader will be in 2012 to win their party’s coalitions’ support and challenge the Obama presidency.  The recent Republican Governor’s Association meeting featured several prominent party leaders that could vie for the next presidential nomination, including: Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal, Tim Pawlenty and Charlie Crist.

On the elliptical machine this morning, I saw former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee speak about his new bookDo the Right Thing: Inside the Movement That’s Bringing Common Sense Back to America, on C-Span.

It dawned on me that Huckabee understands what Sarah Palin doesn’t, and maybe others too: after the Obama election, it has become evident that a candidate needs to:

  1. Have a message that resonates with the different parts of party’s coalition
  2. Can mobilize a movement of grass roots supporters and forgo a top-down organizing model
  3. Understands the social web and can communicate and organize through that medium

Recalling the Republican primary campaign, Huckabee was positioned as the social conservative’s choice candidate.  Maybe that was due to his own communication strategy and understanding the candidate field was without a social conservative leader.  Or, maybe it was because the media and blogosphere labeled him that.  Either way, Huckabee has emerged or is positioning himself as a candidate with Obama characteristics – unifying people, appealing to what people can agree on and not what divides them, communicating the message to all the important components of the party’s coalition.

Even when talking about abortion, Huckabee’s argument was not the typical pro-life argument but rather couched in a way that attempted to appeal to a moderate or liberal’s inclination to civil rights and human dignity.  I’m sure he’ll continue that sort of “bridging” message going forward.

Most importantly, and what the other 2012 Republican presidential contenders don’t have to the same degree as Huckabee, is the online netroots.

Huckabee lasted in the Republican primary as long as he did because of his netroots.  He inspired a large amount of people to advocate and mobilize on behalf of his candidacy.  He blogged and Facebooked better than other candidates.  Plus, a small bunch of his supporters started, a highly independent social network that inspired offline actions much like Obama’s

Huckabee continues to communicate to those in Huck’s Army and keeping them top of mind moving away from 2008 and into 2012.  Plus, he set up HuckPAC, to support candidates on issues he supports, has spot on FOX TV and ABC radio.  His book doesn’t hurt either.

His message, plus his medium and his social networks are going to propel Huckabee to the top of the 2012 contender list.  Let’s watch.