Category Archives: social networking tools

Google Buzz a Mixed Bag for Political Communications

Google unveiled its new social networking product, Google Buzz, during the second week of February.  This marks Google’s most direct challenge to social networking sites that have proven to be important tools for communications and multimedia sharing amongst its users.

For political communications, Facebook and then later Twitter, have become important tools in both national and local electoral politics.  These social media sites allow for deeper engagement between campaigns and their supporters, enables increasingly scaled multi-way conversations and are excellent organizing tools.

How will Google Buzz fit in to this mix of social media sites already running and how will Buzz be integrated into political communications?

The buzz about Buzz going around blogosphere is now centered around the lack of sensitivity to Google and Gmail users’ privacy concerns.  Google may have made a huge mistake when it automatically brought users into one’s Buzz network without their permission.  Internet privacy advocates are having a field day with this.  But as with most everything Google, the company is listening and trying to correct its errors.

As a social network, I see the biggest advantage of Google Buzz being its integration into other Google software.  For example, in the last year, I have gotten away from my activity on Facebook and have moved much more heavily into email.  It’s not so much a conscious decision on my part, but simply a reaction to the amount of emails I receive daily necessitates my attention get paid to my inbox.  Therefore, having the Buzz tab next to my Gmail inbox is highly convenient.  Not to mention, Buzz syncs up with YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, Google Reader, Google Chat, etc. very seamlessly.  On top of that, Buzz seems to be a pretty clean and easy designed app.

Google Buzz’s downside may be that it’s too connected to one’s email.  I think many Facebook users like the idea of having a personal network on Facebook unconnected to their email.  I can understand that.

As a political tool, we shall see how Google Buzz gets used and if campaigns will utilize it in the 2010 cycle.  I think it will provide a new way to bring in a lot of engagement to a campaign and communicate in a new and possibly easier fashion.  As someone who works on campaigns, the thought of having email and social networking contained in one interface is very attractive.  In fact, I would venture to say at the moment that Google Buzz stands to assist campaigns to communicate with key activists and volunteers in a deeper and more personal way.

For example, beyond non-Google web apps, I see a lot of value in being able to have Google Docs and Google Calendar be a part of Google Buzz and at the fingertips of campaigns and volunteers in a single medium.  That could prove very valuable.  I, for one, would be willing to give it a try.  I believe it will aid in multi-way communication better than Facebook at this point as Facebook has become another broadcasting tool for campaigns.  If the privacy issue can be resolved and users of Google Buzz can have better control of who is able to tap into a given network, Buzz can be a very useful tool.

How to Choose Between Facebook and MySpace

Some really great research is beginning to disseminate through the blogosphere emanating from the Personal Democracy Forum just held in New York.  In particular, is the user base and growth of the two largest social networks, MySpace and Facebook.

Northwestern researcher Eszter Harggitai found that MySpace’s users slightly declined or stayed about the same over a 0ne year period dating back to 2008.  In fact, Facebook’s traffic increased 97 percent and MySpace’s traffic declined 5 percent from a year ago, writes Riva Richmond, blogging for the New York Times.

Both Richmond and Harggitai refer to social media researcher Danah Boyd, who has uncovered important demographic trends with Facebook and MySpace users.

Research by Harggitai, Boyd and others boils down to this:

  • Whites are using Facebook more and leaving MySpace
  • Asians are using Facebook at very high levels and MySpace very little
  • Hispanics are more likely to be active on MySpace than Facebook
  • African Americans seem to be more evenly split between using Facebook and MySpace but are using Facebook slightly more
  • Facebook users come from more economically advantaged families than MySpace users

Not commenting on the social stratification of the research findings, it is interesting for those who are running local political campaigns to take this data into consideration when putting together an online communications strategy.  Supposing there is finite time in a campaign, plus limited staff resources, it is safe to assume that a campaign cannot effectively be all over each social network and use each well (i.e. John Edwards in 2008).

Therefore, especially for urban and suburban districts, it seems practical to use this data in order to assist a campaign in choosing what kind of social networking strategy they will employ.  Campaigns have to ask themselves, does it make sense to use Facebook in a more predominantly African American or Hispanic voting area?  This research would indicate that would be a bad idea.  But, the realities on the ground are always a little different and must be measured for each case.

The lesson here is listening to statistics and going with the percentages.  Other campaigns have tried and failed, others have won.  Good campaigns listen to those lessons and put those findings to work to their advantage.

Generic Drugmaker, Seizes Public Affairs Opportunity

Teva Pharmaceuticals, the world’s largest manufacturer of generic drugs in the world, is uniquely positioned to benefit from the impassioned debate on healthcare reform, prompted by the Obama Administration’s call for a government option for health insurance.

Teva occupies an interesting place in the healthcare industry.  Prescription drugs are a central part of American healthcare.  Millions of Americans rely on pharmeceuticals to keep them healthy and Teva can meet this need through producing generic prescriptions.  As the costs of healthcare and drugs escalate at alarming rates, Teva produces drug generics much cheaper than name-brand drugs, thereby providing relief to consumers facing healthcare costs that rise much faster than wages.

Patients, doctors and health insurance companies are all clamoring for generics, realizing that affordable access to drugs is a key to providing quality healthcare to Americans.  Obviously, Teva understands this and the company has creatively joined the country’s healthcare debate in a centrist role.  By not aggressively taking a position on the Obama insurance plan, Teva can safely raise awareness for its company and its products, all while driving home its message that generic drugs are quality products at vastly lower prices than brand-name drugs.

Whatever the outcome of the national healthcare debate, Teva will win.  Increased access to generics is pretty much universally agreed on by all stakeholders in the healthcare debate (besides its competitors).  Through sponsoring events, like the upcoming Year of Affordable Healthcare Series in Chicago, a Twitter page and a series of online videos (though it could be more creative than ripping off the Mac vs. PC genre), Teva is playing this debate wisely.

They’ve put themselves in a win-win situation.  While Congress will not agree on how to fix healthcare, they all realize it is too expensive and lacking coverage among large segments of Americans.  If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, generic pharmeceuticals are beneficial for all.  I would bet any legislative outcome to the healthcare issue will address even more access to generics.

The lesson here?  Realize the opportunity and seize on it.  Furthermore, through good messaging and non-partisian approach, Teva has put together a winning grassroots public affairs strategy.  That serves as a nice compliment to its other public affairs function through the DC office and its PAC, focusing on federal policymakers.

My one suggestion for the Year of Affordable Healthcare is that it would really benefit from a blog.  If this is a tour and debate featuring Teva executives and guest speakers, it would be interesting for people unable to make events, to see and hear what happens.  Guest bloggers, reports and opinions could easily be integrated into a blog.  It would also make this public affairs effort’s Twitter account more valuable.

Social Media, Direct Democracy and Iran

Tom Friedman penned a great column today in the New York Times discussing the reversal of a trend whereby democracy in the Middle East assisted in bringing to power more radical Islamic elements to governing positions in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine over the last few years.  Now, demonstrated by the power of Twitter and Facebook, Iran’s “democratic” re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is being challenged by large swaths of the local population, threatening the legitimacy of the Islamic rule in Iran.  Friedman points out that the failure of other Islamic movements in the rest of the aforementioned countries, may assist in the democratic weakening or removal of radical groups in favor of more moderate forces.

In short, democracy in the Middle East stands the chance of bringing the pendulum back to the political center after years of growing Islamic power.  This was the strategy behind the Bush adminstration’s push for democracy in that region.  Ironically, it was Bush’s lack of positive engagement in the region that assisted in bringing these Islamic movements to power in the first place.  The Obama administration is now standing to benefit from more moderate and Western-friendly governments, ready to capitalize on a more American-friendly diplomatic position.

The real lesson from Iran, in my opinion, is that social media tools offer the power in direct democracy.  With little outlet to express frustration and protest over the elections in Iran, Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms give unfiltered views and opinions for local voters to share with the rest of the world.  In the process these sentiments have captured the world’s attention, built a growing protest movement in Iran threatening the regime, and has helped organize the opposition in ways which could not exist before these social media tools existed.

For politicos in the US, I see Iran lesson teaching us to be cognizant of situations that can help political movements or political candidates make their case and win popular support.  Social media is the natural and best outlet to speak directly with supporters.  But most importantly, after engaging in that conversation and helping to set its tone, stand back and let your supporters self organize and communicate with their own networks.  Voters have to be trusted and by putting issues and passions into their own hands, they will pass on the rewards better and faster than a centralized movement.

Obama, McCain Social Web Gurus Square Off

This really was the main event at the Politics Online Conference.  Joe Rospars, Director of New Media and Michael Palmer, eCampaign Director for John McCain, went one-on-one and did not disappoint.

Joe Rospars

Joe Rospars

The wounds and the elation of the election were apparent from both parties as Rospars and Palmer traded jibes and their former staffers in the audience collectively snickered at each underhanded remark.

But the takeaways from each campaign leaders only added to the intensity of the panel.  Rospars opened with a great line, saying he managed “everything internet and nothing technical.”  This absolutely resonated with me, where I work a lot on new media and online communication strategy but not on back-end web development.

For Rospars, the key was integrating the new media part of the Obama campaign with everything else.  He talked about an ethos permeating throughout the Obama campaign staff that placed a premium on respecting people, talking to them honestly and encouraging them to take control of the political process.  Rospars noted the untapped potential in respecting peoples’ abilities to get excited and organize themselves that was more fully realized in 2008.

Palmer made the point that new media, no matter how sexy it is at the moment, is just a tool in the toolbox just like direct mail, door knocks, phone calls, etc.  Like many other speakers at the conference, Palmer argued that new media is effective only if a candidate had a compelling message and stood for something voters can rally around.  The difference between the Obama and McCain Campaign, Palmer argued, was the “enthusiasm gap.”  Plus, Palmer admitted that McCain just could not sell himself as embodying new media when he admitted that he himself didn’t email, Twitter (at the time) or anything else related to a computer.  That just put McCain at odds immediately with an online spirit.

Rospars noted that campaigns in 2008 are conducted largely in the same way as they were previously.  Online media simply made data gathering, door knocking and phone calls that much easier.

But, online video channels, like YouTube, were really important for the Obama Campaign.  It basically provided the campaign with a medium with unlimited space to tell a story and control the message.  On the other hand, users could also post video on what mattered to them regarding the campaign.  While this was out of their control obviously, user generated video gave the Obama staff another avenue to interact with people engaged in the election.

The last bit of valuable insight Rospars shared was with regard to Obama merchandise.  He discussed the exciting part of the campaign was actually having a design team independent of the Washington establishment and allowing their creativity to really guide the branding process.  Clearly, that matched well with Obama’s brand.  (Palmer called Obama’s logo a donut with a piece of bacon going across the middle).  The campaign was able to “trade” campaign branded items for donations.  That was part of the popular phenomenon.

Headed to the Politics Online Conference

I’ll be back at the Politics Online Conference in Washington, DC this weekend and early next week.  The conference is put on by the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet at George Washington University and is being co-sponsored this year by Campaigns & Elections magazine.

I found out about the conference last year, after I interviewed the Institute’s Director Julie Germany, for a research project I was doing on the confluence of the social web and public affairs for my master’s program.  Julie encouraged me to nominate some work I had done for Daniel Biss’ campaign for state assembly and sure enough we won two awards, known as the Golden Dot Awards, at the conference.  By the way, Julie is the most consistently funny and entertaining Twitter user I have ever seen.  Anyone looking to do Twitter right, should see how she does it.

So, I’m headed back to the Politics Online Conference this year.  I will be moderating a panel for one of the conference’s many interesting breakout sessions, called:

Tinkering Your Web Strategy: Using Analytics to Understand Your Traffic and Making Adjustments

April 21, 3:30 p.m., Meridian D & E

Description: Who is coming to your candidate’s website? What do users do when they get there? How did they find you in the first place? Where are users who visit your site coming from?

Web analytics can open doors to a political or public affairs campaign to understand their web traffic and adjust their communications strategy accordingly. Having a great website with all the bells and whistles looks great on the surface. But, how do we read a web analytics report and what indicators do we look for? How do we make adjustments? Answers to these questions are vital for campaigns at any level.

·        Ben Weisberg (Account Manager on the Elections and Issue Adcocacy Team at Google)

·        Mark Skidmore (Blue State Digital)

·        Dan Siroker (Founder of CarrotSticks)

·        Jesse Greenberg (independent strategic communications and public affairs consultant)

I’ll be blogging on conference highlights next week and at the conclusion of Sunday’s e-democracy unconference.

Don’t Use Facebook if You Don’t Want Others to Know About You

I’ve read the stories lately about people investigating other people on Facebook to see all their dirty secrets.  It has cost people their jobs, ruined relationships, etc.

Image Credit: Flickr User preciouskhyatt

Image Credit: Flickr User preciouskhyatt

In short, as much as Facebook is a power communication tool that makes peoples’ lives, thoughts and actions more transparent than ever, there is obviously a downside to that.  When do we have privacy?  What information about individuals should be made public?  How much control as individuals do we have over that information?

Although I’ve heard these stories countless times, I never had this happened to someone I know personally…until now.

While I was getting the latest on my Facebook newsfeed, I stopped and saw a “wall-to-wall” conversation between my sister-in-law and her friend.

[sister-in-law] is missing her hubby

Why is she missing her hubby (my brother)?  Where is she that she is missing him?

[sister-in-law] am here [in Chicago].  we should try and get together during the week if you have time.  i’m here until friday.

She’s in Chicago???  Since when?  How come nobody told me?

The lesson here is not about in-laws or family.  It’s about using Facebook strategically.  I think Facebook is so ubiquitous that people post without thinking there is consequences.

Facebook is Facebook because it’s totally open and almost anyone can see whatever you put on Facebook at any moment.  People need to be careful.  They need to assume everyone will see everything.  Posting things should pass the personal enemy test.  People should ask themselves  – “would I  mind that my worst enemy sees this?”  If the answer is yes, then don’t post.  If the answer no, then post away.

I doubt my sister-in-law will see this, but if she does, I’ll let readers know.