Tag Archives: Jesse Greenberg

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.

Social Media in Electoral Politics is not a Mutually Exclusive Venture

I had a really interesting conversation last night with Jeff Smith, a really sharp Evanston lawyer, activist and candidate for state representative in the 18th District.  Smith is running in a field of other great candidates, including Patrick Keenan-Devlin and Eamon Kelly.  Jeff and I were discussing the value of Facebook in building a support network and reaching voters during an election.

I took the position that Facebook offered an incredibly efficient medium to communicate and organize voters.  Jeff countered that though that is true, most probable voters in his Evanston district probably won’t go on Facebook and would need to be reached the old fashioned way – knocking on doors and shaking hands. 

The truth is, I think, is that we’re both right and we’re both wrong.  From Barack Obama’s campaign down to Daniel Biss’ campaign for state rep in 2008, we learned that a good online strategy was made possible by the hard work candidates and staffs put in on the ground to introduce themselves to voters.  Facebook was just the next logical place to go to continue the conversation and stay engaged in the campaign.  In short, there are synergies between online and offline that are complimentary, rather than mutually exclusive.

Of course, the largest group of Facebook users are in the 18-25 range, but we also know the fastest growing segment of Facebook users is the 45-54 age group.  Ask any teenage kid if their parents are friending them on Facebook and the likely answer is ‘yes.’  I believe that in the Evanston district, Facebook and other new media tools will be crucial to winning the campaign for state representative.

Jeff is right too – nothing replaces shaking hands and talking to voters.  People want to feel listened to and  putting a name with a face is crucial.

All three candidates have a solid presence on Facebook and all have comparable-sized networks.  It seems as though all candidates believe it’s necessary to have a Facebook page.  But how many will make it a priority?  Who will use it as a strategic tool?  Who will accidentally find it invaluable because of the reach and ease of use?

These are all questions I’ll watching out for in this race!

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.

Schakowsky Takes a Pass on Senate Seat, Impacts other Elections

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-9) announced today that she is forgoing a run for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Obama, now occupied by the blighted Roland Burris.  In a video announcement she told viewers she would stick with House seat and continue serving the various leadership positions she reeled off.  Showing great humility, Rep. Schakowsky even said that she would have no problem raising close to $30 million she thinks it would take to win the primary and the general election for the Senate seat.

Given that Schakowsky is now out of the race, Ramsin Canon at Gapers Block points out this leaves State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (and his Bright Start mess) as the only Democrat who has decided to run.  Chris Kennedy of the Merchandise Mart is the other big Dem still left undecided.

Schakowsky’s entrance in the Senate race would have caused a ripple effect impacting so many elections.  No doubt a host of names, possibly various state reps and state senators, would have stepped up for the 9th District seat.  Those elected officials who would have subsequently thrown their hat in the ring would see various candidates or other local elected officials bid for their state seats, and so on.  Clearly, Schakowsky’s decision not to run for Senate saved a lot of election activity.

But is that a good thing?  Schakowsky has served for 10 years in her seat and her predecessor served 48 years in that seat.  I question whether it is keeping with progressive values for one person to dominate a single elected congressional seat for so long.  Nobody will challenge, let alone defeat Schakowsky, as long as she stays continues to serve and run for that seat.

Maybe it would have been a good thing if Schakowsky tried her luck for the US Senate.  Here in state politics, the Illinois Reform Commission has put forth a proposal on term limits.  That was largely rejected by Illinois state leaders.  But many in Illinois support the commission’s position that term limits are a good thing for a health democracy.

Progressivism, which I’ve discussed before and which is a term I believe has been hijacked from its original meaning, is something that Schakowsky has self-annointed.  True progressivism is a belief in accelerated change and more direct democracy.  But with one person serving in a seat for so long, that reality seems at odds with progressive values.

Israel Hurting Herself During Obama’s First Mideast Speech

Reading the Israeli dailies on the eve of President Obama’s policy speech at Cairo Univeristy, I was shocked and saddened at the extremism – and tolerance of that extremism – by the right wing in Israeli society.

Posters are being placed around the country depicting Obama wearing a kaffiyeh and shaking hands with Iranian President Ahmadinejad (allowing Iran to build nuclear weapons).  Furthermore, these posters and the official reactions given to the press by these right wing leaders after Obama’s speech consistently call the American president “Hussein,” suggesting that his Muslim middle name reveals Obama’s “true identity” and favoritism of the Arab world over Israel.

I could talk about how ridiculous these communications are and how President Obama is actually very pro-Israel and committed to Israel’s security and peace prospects more than his predecessor, but instead I am saddened.  I am saddened because I am a strong supporter of Israel, her people and her chances for peace.  I am saddened because the way in which Obama is being depicted in Israel shows an ignorant, extremist and immature view of Israel’s leadership.

The sentiment directed towards President Obama gives exceptional insight into the Israeli mentality.  Attacking Obama for being pro-Arab demonstrates an extreme lack of confidence and weakness on behalf of Israelis.  Instead of giving this president a chance to work with Israel, they are quickly retreating to a circle the wagons strategy.  It’s almost as if Israel still believes the Jewish people are living as guests in other countries instead of their own, where they have defended themselves against warring enemies for six decades successfully.  While the rest of the world sees Israel as the most powerful country in the Middle East who holds the majority of cards for diplomatic and military initiatives, Israel’s right-wing still sees itself as weak and threatened whose imminent demise is only moments away.

Furthermore, and most troubling, Israel’s right wing has shown a disgusting double standard.  Jews around the world have fought against anti-Semitism and bigotry seemingly forever.  They have achieved such gains in defeating widespread anti-Semitism and achieving tolerance, which makes Obama’s depiction as wearing a kaffiyeh and calling him Hussein even more disgusting.  What can be more intolerant and prejudiced than that?  What if Obama was depicted with a kipah, a beard and sidelocks?  Wouldn’t the Jewish people be calling that anti-Semitism?  I think so.

If there’s one thing the Israeli right has done well, is testing the limits of free speech.  Now they’ve done it too well.  They are becoming so extreme and dominating Israel’s political conversation that it will no doubt hurt the country and damage any government’s ability to govern.  I hope, for Israel’s sake, that these element of society can look itself in the face and see/hear itself for what it is actually saying.

More Chicago Corruption

West Side Alderman Ike Carothers and a local real estate developer were indicted today by US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.  Carothers is accused of receiving $40,000 worth of home improvements from developer Calvin Boender in exchange for Carothers re-zoning an area in his ward that netted Boender $3 million.

There seems to be two stories happening here.  One, is that Patrick Fitzgerald seems to be Illinois’ savior when it comes to rooting out the Illinois’ cancerous corrupt politicians.  Carothers is just the latest in a string of high-profile indictments.  And unlike other US Attorneys, Fitzgerald is not aiming at well-known figures to inflate his own ego.  As Springfield bargains and waters down real political reform measures this week before its recess, Fitzgerald is running past our legislature to fight corruption.

Second, Carothers gained much notoriety when he made it his mission to skewer then-recently appointed Police Chief Jodi Weiss.  Weiss was no doubt humiliated and many could say that Carothers’ attack could also be interpreted as an attack on Mayor Daley, who appointed Weiss.  As Daley now faces his own criticisms about less than transparent practices regarding parking meters and Midway Airport leasing, the Carothers indictment can viewed as somewhat as a vindication for the Mayor.  After all, when the Mayor’s critics get that kind of attention and embarrassment for their own corrupt practices, certainly the heat shifts away from their political targets.

Scare Tactics Work

Watching the drama unfold at the Cook County Board yesterday was like watching a bad, predictable sitcom.

County President Todd Stroger wasted no time in stooping to the lowest common denominator.  He diverted attention away from the sales tax hike by making yesterday’s a vote a referendum on North Side v. South Side, black v. white, rich v. poor, the haves vs. have-nots, etc.

Not that Stroger received overwhelming support – 11 of 17 commissioners voted to overturn the tax increase.  But, his framing of the issue was enough to win the day.  I guess Commissioner Debora Simms quoted as saying, “this is about the haves vs. have nots” (she representing the “have nots”) does not offend her constituents.  Ironicaly, her very rallying cry to support the tax is a slap in the face to the people in her own district!

That aside, it’s important here to see how powerful fear drives policy.  Stroger’s doomsday rhetoric of what the county would look like without the tax helped push him over the edge with a key vote or two, including Commissioner Mario Moreno, who switched his vote twice.  By invoking fear, Stroger forced key votes by commissioners who did not want to appear responsible for the likely attack by tax supporters that the county healthcare system would suffer.

Well, the same sort of scare tactics are working in Springfield, albeit in a different way.  Governor Pat Quinn has laid out his doomsday scenario for Illinois’ budget.  In all fairness, Illinois’ fiscal situation is much more dire than the County’s.

However, it seems to work.  When Quinn first talked of raising state income taxes by 50 percent, he was met with a chorus of opposition.  Fast forward several weeks later and talk about all the state services ceasing if the state can’t raise revenue is not provoking legislators to speak up quite as loudly.  Whether there is no room to cut the budget at the state level or not, there simply has been no alternative to Quinn’s ideas presented in a serious way.

Fear is winning the day.

Pat Quinn’s Website Badly Needs Reform

With all the talk about the problems our state faces and how our legislators will handle these issues as they prepare to return to Springfield, I wondered what Pat Quinn had to say.  After all, I’m sure the Governor has a campaign website where he can talk more freely to web visitors than the “officialese” of government-run web pages.

I was really shocked to see Quinn’s campaign site, “Pat Quinn for Illinois,” to be so spartan.  Pat Quinn had to have taken notice of how Barack Obama’s team maintains both Whitehouse.gov and BarackObama.com.  Both sites have different purposes.  The office-holder site is meant as a center for information, helping to illustrate what is happening in the world of that elected official.  But the campaign site, like BarackObama.com, is meant to mobilize.  It is set up to build support for the office holder’s agenda and create excitement around that particular political movement.

Pat Quinn’s website does not even come close to doing that.  What I can’t understand, is that for a guy who is going to face a very tough election in 2010, wouldn’t he and staff want to speak to Illinoisans, get their input and build support for Quinn’s fragile agenda?  I would think so.

But here’s what you do see on Pat Quinn for Illinois:

  • A picture of Quinn 10 years out of date

    Quinns Picture on Pat Quinn for Illinois

    Quinn's Picture on Pat Quinn for Illinois

  • Missing a word (“be”) in the third paragraph on the opening letter of the website’s homepage
  • No legislation listed in his bio section that Quinn championed which deals with any of the systemic problems our state faces for over 10 years
  • No compelling list of achievements in his bio section that would make any voter excited about what this man can accomplish
  • A photo gallery that does describe when, where or what context the photos are from
  • No call to action on the website at all

I think Pat Quinn is  a decent, honest man who has proven to be a trusted legislator over his years of service.  However, the longer his campaign website remains in its current condition, the less of a chance he has to speak to voters, to win support for his agenda and to win election.

Pat Quinn in 2009

Pat Quinn in 2009

I also believe it is no coincidence that Quinn’s proposals for dealing with some of the state’s fiscal problems (raising income taxes, pension reform) were met coldly and are losing whatever support it had to begin with.  I attribute that to not having a movement of supporters behind him.  And that movement starts with good, ongoing communications with the people of Illinois.

Preckwinkle’s Cook County Board Campaign Website

I was doing some online searches on Cook County Board presidential candidates the other day, prompted by this week’s County Board vote to overturn Todd Stroger’s tax increase.

I finally came upon  Toni Preckwinkle’s website.  I say finally because if you do a google search of the terms “toni preckwinkle cook county” you will not see her website come up until the second page.  I think that has to be addressed immediately by the campaign in order to position her better for online search.  After all, about 80 percent of new web traffic comes through online search.  Plus, high returns on her website helps to control the campaign’s message, so that online searchers are not finding articles related to Preckwinkle that the campaign would not want people to read.

Toni Preckwinkle's Homepage

Toni Preckwinkle's Homepage

More puzzling though is when you get to Preckwinkle’s homepage.  First of all, it says, “Help keep Cook County moving forward.”  Isn’t the whole reason she is running because Cook County isn’t moving forward?  Why would voters want to oust Todd Stroger if he had County government costs and management under control?  That message does not seem to make sense to me.

More troubling though is the way in which the website is currently set up.  The homepage is a landing page that asks for the person’s email and zipcode.  There is no way to “skip” over this step, because as I later learned, the rest of the campaign site has not been developed yet.  That is ok, although, I think down the road the campaign will have to allow for people to visit the site and not enter their information to get into the rest of the site.  That would be a collosal mistake if the campaign did not do this.

The problem I have though is that next to the boxes asking for email and zip code is the button “learn more.”  I expected that after I clicked on the box I would actually learn more.  Instead, I got a message saying “check back soon for updates.”  That’s really misleading that the website would prompt me to learn more and then not follow through on that promise.  The campaign should more accurately state “submit info” or something rather than learn more.

As a web user, I see this current set up as a strong ploy to get me to enter my information for campaign purposes.  Of course, voter outreach is a central part of any campaign.  But, there is an expectation that after I give my information to a campaign, that I will be given information that was promised to me.  In this case, “learn more” does not mean “learn more.”  The campaign should be careful not to turn off voters before the campaign for county president really gets under way.