Howdy folks, whew! That Armenia trip threw me for a loop for a few days: it was a fantastic experience, but I think I caught both ends of the jet lag on the flip side (my poor aging brain was addled for days, the body longer). All is well now, and we might just have some Quick Hits and other articles in the hopper, headed your way soon.
In the meantime, check out the pictures from the trip, which covered most of the length of Armenia and took us within a few dozen miles of the Iranian border (one funny sight — a couple of bar/strip joint/party clubs out in the middle of nowhere, basically tourist traps for Iranian men eager to get out and have A Good Time). In all of four days, we put more than 500 miles on the car…many of them as much vertical as horizontal, as you’ll see in photos like this one.
Also, the slides I used as the outline of each talk (we held four, in three different towns) are below — “social media for practical journalists”. Take a look, and let me know if you have questions.
[One funny note: I included a picture of Albert the cat in a couple of places, something that makes American audiences laugh, b/c the cat-focused nature on digital communications is a running joke over here. In Armenia, not so much -- people just looked slightly puzzled. Cultural gulfs kill jokes...though we kept 'em engaged, nonetheless. In any case, I'd go back in a second. It's an amazing country.]
May 17th, 2013
Update: Greetings from Armenia! I got in late last night and we’re on the road today, so I’ll post a copy of the presentation Powerpoint once we get to a hotel (assuming the interwebs are in a mood to work). And, check my Facebook page for photos — more to come.
Exciting times in the e.politics bunker: I’m heading to the ancient country of Armenia on Wednesday, to lead a series of social media trainings for local journalists. Wow! Armenia’s one of those places I’d heard of for years (in the Middle Ages, it was a border area between the Byzantine Empire and the Persian Empire and its Islamic successors), but I never figured I’d actually end up there. Layers of history? Sign me up!
The trip was organized through the U.S. embassy there, which brings in a couple of speakers a year as part of its public outreach. I’ll be talking with journalists in three smaller cities, aiming to help them use Facebook, Twitter et al to develop stories and promote their work. In the process, I’ll get to see a big slice of the country — the trip starts in the Armenian capital, but we’ll drive a few hours south on the first day. Very cool.
Epolitics.com may have to take another short break in the meantime, but we’ll see — hours in the passenger seat may just yield some writing (plus, I’m DEFINITELY bringing a camera). In any case, the trip is all because of this site, and by extension because of you — you guys keep Epolitics.com going by reading it, contributing guest articles and spreading the word. Thank you!
April 29th, 2013
A few days back, I was on my way to a meeting with folks at NGPVAN, where I’d get a look at the company’s new CRM tools. On the way, I fired up the mobile web to get the exact address, and lookie here! Something interesting popped onto the screen:
Yes, that’s a Blue State Digital mobile search ad, running on search results for NGPVAN’s name and making a direct pitch to NGP’s customers. The mobile angle’s particularly devious: if someone’s looking for NGPVAN on a cell phone, it’s quite likely that they’re doing so for the same reason I was…they’re on their way to a meeting there.
Now, running search ads on a competitor’s name is nothing new in the business world — or the political one. But this example is still pretty brazen, particularly the direct pitch to NGPVAN’s existing or prospective customers. So, who in the political space will next jump into this new gladiatorial arena? My prediction: food fight!!!
April 26th, 2013
Great observation from Shannon Chatlos at CampaignTech: mobile devices are like your toothbrush, in that they’re deeply personal. She was talking in the context of political targeting, since reaching someone on a cellphone is far more immediate and even intimate than hitting them via a desktop or laptop. Shannon’s follow-up quote elaborated the point: “You don’t share your toothbrush, and you don’t share your mobile phone.”
We’ve talked about the personal nature of mobile communications on Epolitics.com before, but mainly in the context of sending text messages. Shannon expands that to other forms of communications, including advertising, and you might make a similar argument for Twitter messages consumed on a cellphone (though in that case, Twitter’s particularities as a medium might override the broader characteristics of mobile comms in general). The more-personal relationship we have with our mobile critters goes a long way toward explaining why mobile communications can have such immediacy…and why a communicator who intrudes on that circle in a way that’s perceived to be inappropriate can face blowback.
April 25th, 2013
“Big Data” is a popular buzz-phrase in the online world these days, tossed around in settings ranging from brand marketing to web analytics to grassroots field organizing. Much of the time, it’s being used as a sales hook — i.e., “our product helps you leverage the power of Big Data for your campaign” — which makes plenty of people suspicious. Is “Big Data” the latest vaporous marketing trend that’ll wash across the land, leaving little of substance behind?
At CampaignTech last week, former Obama analytics guru Amelia Showalter used a great definition for “Big Data”, something that cuts through the bullsh*t to get to the heart of what we’re talking about. In her eyes, data is all about listening to people. Ideally, if we were trying to find out what would motivate customers (for a brand) or political supporters (for a campaign), we’d ask them one-on-one what they care about. But that’s not always practical, so we use data as a stand-in.
Sometimes we’re talking about data from polling or focus groups, where we’re using a small sample of our target population to get a sense of what the larger group is thinking. Other times we’ll use direct information: where do they live? What primary elections have they voted in? What campaigns have they donated to? What answers did they give to a canvasser’s questions? If they’re already on our list, where did they come from (i.e., through what channel did they join)? Which emails are they opening? What action links are motivating them to respond? Which website stories are they reading? Which are they ignoring? Which social media posts are they sharing, and which are falling flat? All of these data points are proxies for the bigger questions: what do people think? What do they want? What can we do to fire them up and get them moving?
Of course, the danger is that the data becomes more important to us — more “real” in some sense — than the people whose activities and interests we’re trying to use it to measure. This can lead to bad decisions, particularly if the data isn’t as representative as we think (one of the oldest ideas in computer science = garbage in, garbage out). As former Obama data manager Ethan Roeder said in the CampaignTech panel I moderated, “no targeting model is as good as asking someone how they feel.” And listening — really listening — to the response.
April 24th, 2013
DC votes today for a new at-large city councilmember — hooray for voting! And hooray for sophisticated digital tactics, which are moving down-ballot fast, judging from this race, at least.
First, advertising — around the time that early voting started, I saw ads for candidate Matt Frumin everywhere online. I spotted one first on Epolitics.com; it’s embedded to the right. After that, I noticed them on Slate.com and other sites — clearly I was geo-targeted the first time and either geo-targeted or cookie-retargeted (from visiting Frumin’s site) thereafter.
The ads led to an engagement-oriented landing page on Frumin’s site, which was run through NationBuilder (note the Facebook here’s-who-Likes-Frumin panel to the right).
I might have wrapped the text around that candidate photo and moved the email signup form higher on the page, but it’s a solid product as-is. And, the site echoes the look and feel of his direct mail print pieces, of which I have received a few. Still, as the Post article linked above notes,
But despite his aggressive print and online advertising campaign, Frumin said it has been a challenge to raise his profile citywide.
Welcome to running city-wide from a far-Northwest power base, my friend! At least Frumin has a lower hill to climb than repeat candidate Patrick Mara, a Republican who supported Mitt Romney in November in a city that went 90% for Obama. It’s a special election, though, and very few people had taken advantage of early voting as of this weekend, meaning that a candidate able to pull a core group of supporters to the polls has chance. Mara’s answer? Data, according to the City Paper:
Mara says he’s learned from his failed runs in 2008 and 2011 how to put together a data-driven campaign that clearly identifies his supporters and focuses its attention on making sure they vote. In an interview last week, Mara said his campaign has already identified 10,000 of his voters, compared to only 6,000 his 2011 campaign had identified at a similar junction.
This race isn’t Mara’s first experience with digital campaigning; back in 2009 Epolitics.com noted his use of targeted Facebook ads to recruit volunteers in an earlier race. Still, it’s a big jump from identifying a supporter (note: a potential supporter) and persuading him or her to show and vote. And as a City Paper commenter noted, trying to cherry-pick supporters via data analysis can be a sign that a candidate can’t get broader backing:
A DATA DRIVEN CAMPAIGN IS CODE FOR I NEED ANOTHER WAY TO WIN BECAUSE I CAN’T WIN BY GOING TO AN ANACOSTIA OR DEANWOOD CHURCH ON A SUNDAY MORNING AND SWAYING AUNT GERTIE AND/OR UNCLE JO-JO TO VOTE FOR ME!
I.e., Mara needs to rely on data to find his handful of conservative/white voters because he can’t make a case in majority-black parts of town. Zang! In any case, we’ll know the results by tonight.
BTW, as of yesterday, I’d received four direct mail pieces from Mara, three from Frumin and one from Elissa Silverstein…they like me! They really like me!
April 23rd, 2013
First fruits of the CampaignTech conference: according to Benny Johnson from BuzzFeed, who spoke on a panel this morning and who covered the digital video side of campaign 2012, Obama 2012′s YouTube channel recorded 300 MILLION individual video views, to Mitt Romney’s 30 million. A ten-fold difference! What immediately comes to mind is the earlier comparison between Obama and Romney’s online ad spending…in which Obama again blew Romney out of the water.
Just as in 2008, when the campaign saw over a billion minutes of video viewing, Obama’s staff also posted a slew of individual video clips, often several per day, and often designed to deliver a targeted message to a specific audience of voters…or campaign volunteers.
While on-stage, Benny predicted a decline in campaign videos, because he saw the viral-wannabe video idea as becoming played-out in the political space. He may be right when talking about videos designed to break out and get a wide viewership, but that’s not the only way sophisticated campaigns USE video. Smart candidates and organizers do what Obama did and what many other advocacy and electoral campaigns are doing right now: create videos that are designed for a specific and concrete purpose, whether it’s to motivate a donor, train a volunteer, or deliver a message aimed at a niche audience. Campaign video ain’t going away anytime soon…at least, I sure as hell don’t see it happening.
April 18th, 2013
Howdy folks, things have been a bit hectic down here in the e.politics bunker lately, but let’s get rolling again on the editorial side. Also rolling: the new consulting business, which officially started just over a week ago. Business is coming in already, too. First interesting development: I’ll be heading to the country of Armenia in two weeks to run training sessions on social media for local journalists, on a trip organized by the U.S. embassy there. Wow!
Today, though, it’s time for the CampaignTech conference, where I’m busy picking up notes and other tips for future articles. Plus schmoozing, natch. If you’re at the conference, be sure to come by our 9 AM session tomorrow morning — we’ll be talking about applying 2012 lessons moving forward, in a session called “How to Act Like Obama Online When You Don’t Have a Billion in the Bank.” We’ll have veterans of Obama 2008 and 2012, plus folks who’ve worked on scads of congressional and state campaigns, and I’m looking forward to a great conversation. Hope you can make it! If the tech gods allow, we’ll have video to post afterwards.
April 18th, 2013
Inspired by an amusing autocorrect moment on a listserv last week (“hashtags” converted to “hostages,” in the context of a discussion of online activism around marriage equality and the Supreme Court) it’s a serious question — all it takes is for someone to take a tweet, text or email that’s been automatically “corrected” to a politically embarrassing state and make a big deal out of it. You’d expect the sender to explain what happened, but sometimes that can be lost in the explosion…or ignored.
I’m being a little tongue-in-cheek, since you’d expect it to be obvious when someone sent “poo” when they meant “ppo”, but you never know…some folks have no sense of humor. Or proportion. For an idea of what CAN go wrong, check out more from the ever-amusing “Damn You Autocorrect” site.
April 4th, 2013
During last week’s Supreme Court arguments over California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, the internet exploded with support for marriage equality. Social media provided a particularly public venue, and as a Facebook analysis of the demographics of the burst of equality activism noted,
For a long time, when people stood up for a cause and weren’t all physically standing shoulder to shoulder, the size of their impact wasn’t immediately apparent. But today, we can see the spread of an idea online in greater detail than ever before.
The passion may have been spontaneous, but the activism wasn’t — well, not entirely. The Human Rights Campaign in particular worked hard to mobilize support online, as this short Mashable overview of its online outreach strategy shows. As for results, while the Supreme Court is essentially immune to online outreach, the broader public isn’t — and these activists were targeting a much bigger court, that of public opinion. For details on who got involved and what they did, check out Rad Campaign’s excellent infographic after the break (click for a larger version).
April 4th, 2013
Hi folks, along with the consulting business launch, I’m considering a new tagline for the site. It’s been “dissecting the craft of online political advocacy” since Epolitics.com went live in its current incarnation in 2006, but I’m thinking of switching to either “digital strategy for politics and advocacy” or “digital strategy for political advocacy.” The latter has a bit more poetry to it, but the former is slightly less restrictive (i.e., the latter one could be read to exclude political campaigns, which I’m very much happy to work for. What do you think? Comments are working again, btw.
April 4th, 2013
Since I started spreading the word a few weeks back that I was launching a digital strategy business, plenty of people have come to me with a single question: just what IS digital strategy?
A simple question, for sure, but one with an answer that’s straightforward at one level and complex at others. I’d argue that digital strategy is — at heart — the fine art of figuring out the best way (or ways) to get there from here. I.e., it’s the process of sifting through the huge array of available tools, tactics, techniques and channels to find the ones that are the most likely to help an organization, company or campaign reach its goals, both short- and long-term. But strategy is just the start: the success is in the execution…and in adapting to a constantly changing landscape.
Let’s look at a few of the many factors that play into a digital strategy:
Just what is your organization, company or campaign trying to DO? Pass a bill? Stop a pipeline? Sell a product? Elect a candidate? The strategies that make sense for you will likely differ in each case and may change over time as well. Know your goals before you start your strategy — it’s a simple rule, but one too-often ignored.
April 1st, 2013