The Campaign Spot

A Look at Campaigning in the YouTube, MySpace, Facebook Era

Public affairs firm Waggener Edstrom Worldwide and the Politico hosted a discussion of the tools, best practices and strategies the campaigns are using in the primary season.


Besides the Politico’s Jim Vandehei and Ben Smith, the panel included Maria Comella, Rudy campaign, Macon Phillips of BlueStateDigital, Mindy Finn of the Romney campaign, Jon Henke of the Thompson campaign, and Eric Carbone of the Biden campaign.


Some of the highlights:


Comella said that the Giuliani campaign is “looking to provide unique content to [their] social networking sites, things you’re not going to find anywhere else on their campaign.” She played one of the “Running with Rudy” videos, an episode of Giuliani appearing at a NASCAR race in New Hampshire, similar to C-SPAN’s video of candidates shaking hands, but on YouTube.


Macon Phillips emphasized he was not appearing on behalf of Obama campaign, but was familiar with some of their efforts, and discussed that campaign’s “grassroots match program,” which asks existing donors to fill up a pledge bank to create a resource that will match people’s donations. “Programs like that, where you get $25 from someone, creates someone you can go to in a following quarter,” he said.


Finn said that the Romney campaign had figured out early that despite enormous potential of web activity, that they would not try to do everything; they would focus where their strengths were: “We had a candidate most people still needed to be introduced to. He’s good in person, and on camera, so we put this strong emphasis on video.” This led to MittTV, an effort to get the positive impact of his “Ask Mitt Anything” event to reach beyond the attendees.


Finn also discussed the “design our ad” contest, letting people create the ad, and vote on the best (voting continues on the Romney campaign web site). The winner will appear on television later this week.


Beginning with the observation that the Q&A will be more interesting and informative than his remarks, Henke said the same dynamic is at work on today’s campaign trail: dialogues are more interesting than monologues.


“In today’s campaign, it does not work to get up, give a speech, and then get up to go to the next speech,” Henke said. “In the age of Youtube, everything you ever say will be brought back up and used against you.”


He also said that new media can be a “force multiplier” if you can target your efforts correctly: “You hire a staffer in Iowa, you send out a press release to the Washington Post or to the Politico, but to them it’s not really news. But to the right people in Iowa, that is news.”


Eric Carbone, who played a similar role in online media for Wesley Clark in 2003-2004, said, “In 2004, we worried about one web site – now we worry about dozens.” In addition to the MySpace, Facebook, and other campaign-related social networking sites, Carbone displayed, a separate web site Biden’s campaign launched, focusing entirely on his plan on that issue, and several YouTube videos. One, “Popularity Contest,” makes a funny, borderline mean ad, including the high school picture of “Johnny Edwards.”


(I would note that another user-created video Carbone displayed, entitled, “Joe Biden: Our Next President” had all of 549 views.)


Finn said that higher traffic at Democratic campaign sites than Republican ones is “something for Republicans to be concerned about, but it’s not doomsday.”


Vandehei said that the Obama campaign has more low-dollar donors than all the Republicans combined – BUT he didn’t mention that Obama was counting every purchase of a hat or button or other campaign paraphernalia as a campaign donation. The other campaigns aren’t, and you would think that skews the numbers more than a bit. (But I guess once you’ve reported that John Edwards is dropping out of the race because of Elizabeth’s cancer, an error like that is small potatoes.)


Phillips pointed out that Dean campaign maintained its presence and sense of community after the primary is over. Wes Clark also has an online continuing support network that has, in Smith’s words, “kept him a player in Democratic circles.”


Henke noted that grievances motivated the right to create an online presence in the 1990s (FreeRepublic, WorldNetDaily), and that grievances motivated the left in the past few years (particularly the Iraq war in 2003), but that the left had done a better job of using those who went online into activists and a resource for their efforts.


“You’re on all the other campaign sites, every day,” Carbone said, adding that then when he was asked why so many campaign sites look alike, his response is, “Campaign web sites need to do 15 million things in about 15 seconds. People realize what works, and they steal from each other.”


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