Sunday, April 02, 2006

tell your neighbors

There's an article in the NY Times this morning about the role that the Internet will play in the 2006 and 2008 elections. Nothing against Adam Nagourney, but this same article was written in 2000, 2002 and 2004 (and likely included the words "Howard" and "Dean" and "Joe" and Trippi") and will probably be written again sometime between now and 2008. The real conclusion to be made from the article is that folks are still pretty clueless about how the hell to use the web to reach voters and get them to pull the lever for your candidate.

I don't think there's a question about the potential for "new" technology to mobilize folks -- last week's stories about MySpace playing a role in getting students across the country to walk out of class and join in the anti-immigration legislation protests demonstrated the potential, as did the post-Madrid bombing text messaging that rallied voters to transform Spain's government.

While there's still a great deal to figure out, I'm going to propose that it should not be about, as the article suggests is happening, moving resources away from door knocking and face to face contact with campaign staff, volunteers or the candidate themselves. Voters in New Hampshire and Iowa KNOW their votes count, in part, because, in the months leading up to the primary and caucus, they can't swing a dead cat without hitting a candidate desperately trying to shake their hand. And, with more and more credence being given to word of mouth marketing, what is key to keep in mind is that, according to BzzAgent founder Dave Balter, 80 percent of word of mouth is happening offline.

The personal matters.

If candidates and campaigns are going to use new technology to mobilize voters, it should be to provide opportunities for these voters to generate content and spread the word on their behalf. The early success of the Howard Dean campaign was not about a web site and a blog. It was the message that the campaign was "people powered". Screw the establishment, this guy is speaking for the little guy. In fact, the message became so people powered that Dean was turned into something -- by the voters, the press and his opponents -- that he wasn't: a hyperliberal.

Nagourney writes that the Dean campaign failed in the end because people are more likely to pay attention to television ads than they are to a web site, but I think that misses the mark completely. The problem was that, while the campaign had mobilized people online, they couldn't manage to do so on the ground with the same dexterity. Screw television ads, the tried and true door knocking was not as good as it could have been.

You can't kiss babies online. You can't make meaningful eye contact online. You can let people tell their neighbors why they think you're fabulous and why they should gather down the street at a rally online.

The personal matters.

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