U.S. Defense Department Releases Social Media Policy

Your first guess to a social media/new media policy from the U.S. Department of Defense might be that the policy is about as thick as the Senate Health Care bill.  After all, government can be full of legalese and stipulations.  Combine that with the sensitive job of the Defense Department and a social media policy might look messy.

But in reality, the Defense Department’s new social/new media policy is a tiny nine pages long and is incredibly straight forward.  The document demonstrates the DoD is encouraging its three million employees to use social media (safely and responsibly) either on or off duty, or at home or abroad.

To the DoD’s credit, this massive organization gets it.  Media is everywhere.  Access to social network sites is ubiquitous.  Millions of young men and women with smart phones is just too much to control.  And so the Department responded wisely by understanding what I think is the basic principle of any good organization – the best advocates are an entity’s employees.  Yes, more than their customers.  That’s because good organizations make their workplace enjoyable and rewarding.  Employees spread those good feelings to stakeholders outside the organization.

Going back to the Defense Department, if we stop to think of the organizational culture, we probably can begin to realize that this institution is full of dedicated, focused and loyal men and women.  The U.S. government should be facilitating its people to communicate via social/new media.  These employees can be the Defense Department’s best advocates.

And that is the lesson for public affairs organizations of any type or size.  The best capital we have is our people.  Happy, dedicated and loyal employees will make the best advocates.  Instead of walling them in, let them go out and be ambassadors.

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.

The 2010 Democratic Primary Best and Worst Communications Spin Job

The Dan Hynes-Pat Quinn race for the Democratic Gubernatorial nomination produced one of the most interesting communications stories of the 2010 primary race.

By now, we’re all familiar with the Hynes’ Campaign ad showing Harold Washington discuss his regret hiring Pat Quinn in the 1980’s, pointing to Quinn’s incompetence.

The message was pretty hard to argue with – coming straight from Democratic and progressive icon Harold Washington’s mouth that Pat Quinn is unqualified to handle budgetary matters.  At first, it helped to bring Hynes up in the polls with Quinn.

But then something remarkable happened.  To the Quinn campaign’s credit, the Governor was able to turn the Washington ad into an issue of race and M achine politics where Dan Hynes and the Hynes family stood on the wrong side of that debate.  This was a good and pretty predictable response from the Quinn camp.

The Hynes response to this was deeply flawed.  Hynes could have distanced himself from the Quinn attacks, stating his father’s politics was ancient history and that his father was not running against Pat Quinn.  He could have voiced disagreement with the race wars of the 1980’s and Tom Hynes’ role.

Instead, Hynes fell off message, defending his father and allowing Quinn to shift the conversation that previously focused on job performance to a much more emotionally-charged issue of race.  There was no doubt that Quinn worked for progressive candidates and causes and he was able to use the Hynes attack to his advantage to demonstrate solidarity with minorities and middle class voters.  The message completely escaped Hynes.

The timing of course was critical.  This all took place a few weeks before Election Day.  Leading in to this period, a candidate wants to be focused on their message.  The Hynes defensiveness was very costly communications hiccup.

The Irony in Voter Apathy

I’ve taken a long break from blogging.  During the 2010 Democratic Primary Elections I worked on two campaigns and so I decided not publish my personal take on politics for the sake of my candidates.

Now that the election is over, I would like to get back to blogging regularly.

If there’s one major observation I took away from from this election, it’s that voter apathy has an ironic way of self-defeat.

For instance, we commonly heard throughout the course of this election how fed up people were with politics in Illinois and our political leadership.  This led to cynicism about the system in general and a feeling that all politicians are corruptible and on the take.

The irony is of course that this attitude leads people to refrain from voting and therefore gives the Democratic Machine a free pass to win elections.

Off the top of my head, look at all the good government, reform candidates who lost in 2010 primaries:

  • David Hoffman lost to Alexi Giannoulias
  • Jonathan Goldman lost Anazette Collins
  • Rudy Lozano Jr. lost to Dan Burke
  • Stella Black and Todd Connor lost to three Machine-backed candidates for Water Rec
  • Monica Torres-Linares lost to Jerry “Iceman” Butler
  • David Schroeder lost to Ken Dunkin

And the list goes on…

The point here is that voters who want good government, who want reform, who want honest people in elected office – only hurt themselves when they stay away from the voting booth.

We had a historic low turnout this election.  All that does is ensure the majority of those who show up are Machine supporters.

Good candidates can’t get elected when turnout is so low.

This is a fallacy in Chicagoland’s political culture that has to be changed.  We face huge problems – mounting debt, failing public transportation, failing schools, corruption, etc.  Change won’t happen when we throw our hands up and allow those who seek to protect the political status quo to walk away with elections.

It won’t take much on our end – just a commitment to learn about candidates and to cast our votes.

Establishing the Hoffman for Senate Brand

David Hoffman’s US Senate campaign email last night was probably the best email I’ve seen from a political campaign in the 2010 cycle for sure, and maybe even beyond that.  Why was it so effective?  One word: authenticity.  So many campaigns are trying to copy the Obama-styled emails and communications that propelled him to the presidency.  However, most campaigns fall way short.

From a new media perspective, Hoffman’s campaign is so interesting because I have not seen a federal campaign literally ask voters to contact their offices, promising a real person will return their email or phone call.  Many campaigns pay lip service to “two-way” communications.  Many of these tools are just c0-opted to broadcast messages, unfortunately.

Then there’s the commitment to new media.  That signals the Hoffman campaign is interested in finding and working with online grassroots advocates who will be the campaign’s evangelists.  The online community is commonly the group who starts the buzz and sets the agenda far in advance.  That plan seems to be on solid footing in Illinois too, though it may not take off because for an online community, Illinois is relatively small.  Then again, for a primary a campaign is really speaking to the ardent party supporters.

All of these aforementioned “principles” are setting up the Hoffman brand, it’s promise, that it has nothing to hide.  The email was an invitation for people to come in, sniff around and if you like what you see, then support Hoffman.  It’s a really great effort so far to ensure the campaign is “walking the talk” of its reform and anti-corruption agenda.

Here’s the email:

Dear Valued Constituent:

Now that we have a full campaign team up and running, I wanted to introduce myself, kick off some guidelines for our communications, and give you a look at the fight ahead.

I’m Dan O’Neil, the Director of New Media for Hoffman for Illinois. I’m responsible for the online team, which includes our Web site, email communications, social networking sites, and all other online outreach. I’m aided by Mike Hardy, our Online Content Director, and Lara Sanders, our Director of Online Organizing.

You may have already heard from Lara over the last week. She has been contacting volunteers who have raised their hands and offered to help us turn the page on politics as usual in Illinois. She is also working through all emails sent to the campaign with specific suggestions for events, fundraisers, and other offers and requests. If you haven’t heard from Lara yet, expect to hear from her in the next few days. You can contact her directly at (312) 772-3539 or lara@hoffmanforillinois.com.

A Few Guidelines

We’re running a different campaign for a different candidate.

  • We’d like this to be a two-way conversation. If you get a blast email, and would like to respond to us personally, by all means do! Let us know what you think about what we had to say, whether we’re contacting you too much or too little,or anything else
  • Our emails are written by real people, and we sign them as our own. You won’t get an email written by a campaign staffer that says it’s from David. You won’t get template pleas written by campaign finance professionals. If we’re going to do this (and we are), we’re going to do it together, and with honesty
  • Please feel free to forward on these emails, blog about their content, and tell your friends and family what we have to say
  • A good amount of our communication is via Twitter and Facebook. We like it, because it cuts down on inbox clutter, allows you to have greater control over how you get our messages, and keeps us in the context of the rest of your daily life

David on the Issues

Many of you have expressed a need to hear more from David on the issues that matter to you most. While we are getting ready to announce our formal policies on our Web site, David has already spoken out on a number of them:

September 30 Filing Deadline

An important milestone in the campaign is the Federal Election Commission financial reporting deadline of September 30. We need to have a strong showing on that day to prove that we will have the support we need to win in February and beyond. David is a strong candidate, and is capable of beating back the Republican challenge for President Obama’s former Senate seat.

We accept no PAC money or contributions from State or Federal lobbyists, so please consider pledging your support for our campaign.

We’re now less than four and a half months until the Democratic Primary Election on February 2, 2010. There’s a lot of work to do. We are fully
engaged in this battle now, and we’re certain that together, we’ll win.



Daniel X. O’Neil
Director of New Media
Hoffman for Illinois

Don’t Take Local Judiciary for Granted

Published in the Urban Coaster, August 21, 2009

I’ve been active in progressive politics, issue campaigns and elections my whole career.  Never have I been faced with a more complex challenge than my current job: managing a judicial candidate’s primary campaign. But like most voters, I didn’t know the first thing about judge races.  All I knew was that these races were confusing.  What’s the difference between county-wide races and subcircuit races? The “Yes” vs. “No” votes?  Why are judges elected anyway?

The confusion aside, one thing I believed before I became a judicial candidate’s campaign manager and now believe even stronger, is that our judiciary is a critical part of our democracy.  And just as we voters exercise our responsibility to hold our elected officials accountable and put the best person in the job, we need to do the same for Cook County’s judiciary.

I’ll try to clarify some things about judicial races.  About half our judges in Cook County are appointed and half are elected.  The appointed judges are appointed by sitting judges…

To read the complete article, click here.

49th Ward Dems Come Out in Support of Public Healthcare Option

For supporters of the public option in the national healthcare debate, last week was disheartening as the Right mobilized disturbances of townhall meetings and used Nazi comparisons of Democrats that support the public healthcare option.

Last night at the Loyola Fieldhouse on Sheridan and Greenleaf, the 49th Ward Democrats turned out in a huge way to support elected officials pushing for the public option in America’s quest for healthcare reform.  The un-airconditioned room was packed, with people sweating and bearing the heat to hear from Dr. Anne Scheetz, William McNary, Congressman Danny Davis and Leslie Combs of Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky’s office.  Not only did people not leave the hot room, but the crowd responded very enthusiastically to the speakers calling for healthcare reform.

Dr. Scheetz gave an impassioned presentation for single payer healthcare.  Her knowledge of the issue was really impressive and she received a rousing ovation from the audience.

Bill McNary, President of USAction and always a great speaker, followed Scheetz.  Among the highlights he offered were to check out healthcarforamericanow.org and sign on to the following principles:

  1. People should have affordable coverage
  2. Healthcare reform needs to offer comprehensive benefits
  3. People need equal access to quality care

McNary really ramped up the crowd when he compared the struggle for healthcare reform to struggle for social security, medicare and civil rights in previous generations.  He offered the ingredients to win the healthcare reform battle is: unity, discipline and passion.

Congressman Danny Davis spoke last, noting that he is a co-signer and longtime advocate of single payer healthcare reform.  He had hoped that Congress would be on the verge of passing meaningful healthcare reform at this time.  However, politics, Davis described, is “how you squeeze as much as you can get out of a process.”

Davis said he would not sign any bill that did not include a strong public option.  He said that insurance executives should be ashamed to take a paycheck knowing there are those people out there with no access and no option to get healthcare.  (The top guy at Cigna for example took home $12m last year.)

He talked about the opposition to a public option from the Right, calling it  a contrived, organized effort meant to scare people.  He concluded with the call for healthcare reform to be the legacy of this generation.

FYI, Jan Schakowsky is holding a townhall meeting coming up on August 31 at 6:30 PM at Niles West High School in Skokie.  Make sure to get there early to ensure the fear mongerers do not make headlines.