Commentary

Candidates Click Into Interactive Tactics

Since the 2004 presidential election, we have seen a seismic shift in the online world--a transition that took political campaigns and advocacy organizations from a dependence on text-heavy, "static" Web sites and vaulted them into the dynamic world of blogs and vlogs, RSS feeds and news aggregators, social networks, video and photo-sharing, mashups and video e-mail.

Political campaigns, both issue- and candidate-based, are experimenting with the new interactive tools, and trying to figure out how to turn clicks into loyal followers and convert energy into action. Not every technology that is available to candidates is a good fit--and campaigns and other issue-oriented groups traditionally trail the consumer marketing world when it comes to trying new things. But, with the communications landscape changing and audience expectations rising, the need to adapt is clear.

Four of these new technologies seem to hold the greatest promise and deserve a closer look for those wishing to have their message in the mainstream--or even a small rivulet of community thought: social networks, video, mobile and mapping.

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Social Networking for Serious Candidates

Social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook have become the darlings of the media world. The political world has taken notice, too.

More than 1,600 candidates for office around the country posted profiles on Facebook, hoping members of the online community would adopt them as "friends" and spread the word around their communities.

Kinky Friedman, a cigar-chewing, cowboy hat-wearing independent candidate for governor in Texas, has won acclaim with his MySpace profile. So has Chuck Poochigian, a buttoned-down Republican state senator running for Attorney General of California. Poochigian and plenty of others like him are blogging, posting photo galleries and video interviews and recruiting networks of volunteers via MySpace.

Organizations with a political or social agenda should be doing the same, and some are.Two advocacy campaigns have combined social issues with popular brand entertainment and real action. The Save Darfur Coalition has 5,635 MySpace friends, and rising Democratic star Sen. Barack Obama left one of the 374 comments on the Darfur page.

JoinRed, an effort sponsored by MySpace to raise money for women and children with HIV/AIDS in Africa, has teamed up with big-name celebrities like Oprah and Bono to create Red-branded products--and collected 457,278 friends along the way.

Video: Beyond Stupid Human Tricks

While Madison Avenue fights over how to use social video sites like YouTube and Google Video, political campaigns and organizations are actually leading the way in producing relevant and compelling video content and grabbing attention.

Everyone is familiar with the negatives aspects of online video. Just look at what happened to Sen. George Allen's reputation when tens of thousands of replays of his famous "macaca" remark were passed around.

But candidates on the left and right are posting campaign ads and other positive videos on the sites as well. It takes no time at all to locate video of the gubernatorial debate in California--or a rally featuring Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Go Mobile

Not all eyeballs are glued to computer monitors or even laptop screens anymore. Our society is flooded with cell phones, PDAs, BlackBerries and other devices-- some 220 million across the U.S. alone. Mobile owners increasingly use their devices to get and share information, create content and mobilize in support of causes.

Organizations with serious intent are already recognizing this opportunity and moving. Mobile Voter has launched a nationwide voter registration effort that users activate with a simple text message. The New York State Democratic Party has just created a Mobile Action Network to connect with its most dedicated activists.

The U.S. Fund for UNICEF and a handful of charitable organizations nationwide are exploring ways to collect and process donations from cell phones. They could be pioneers in the movement that will result in the democratization of the political giving world.

Geospatial Storytelling

Political campaigns have always known that what is local is what matters, but they have not caught on to the technology that will let them localize their online efforts.

The most important interactive trend today is the increasing localization of information. The stories we tell, the information we access, and the interaction we have with our peers must be personalized--and localized--to us. I call it Geospatial Storytelling. You probably are more familiar with it as "mapping." The principle is simple: you're fixing information in time and space for a local audience.

CBS News now allows viewers to subscribe to a special feed inside Google Earth and browse all of their news articles by location.

The Republican Party is using mapping to direct get-out-the-vote operations at the local level, creating personalized voter contact strategies for volunteers and activists. And, very soon, organizations will be able to map information directly to users based on where they are standing--for real-time activation and specific content. The days of wasting your digital breath are rapidly coming to an end.

Politicians and organizations are starting to catch on--using social networking, video, mobile, and mapping to effectively promote a serious agenda. The early adopters are taking best practices from the marketing world and contributing strong case studies that all groups can follow.

With the election still a few weeks away, the true impact these efforts will have is largely unknown. Interest in the political process is growing again, and the turnout on Nov. 7th is likely to show the results of this renewed interest.

When we look back after the voting is complete we will be able to determine what worked and what didn't, and how politicians and organizations can continue to make progress as future opportunities arise.

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