Talking with several different groups lately, I’ve ended up using the analogy that online politics has more in common with trench warfare than it does with blitzkrieg (hmmm, maybe not bring that up with the Poles next time). What I mean is that it’s usually incremental, the communications equivalent of a battle of attrition. An effective online political campaign is most often the cumulative result of many, many individual connections over a long period of time — rarely do you get the kind of sudden, overwhelming breakthrough that catapults you far along toward your goals all at once.
When organizations or campaigns are floundering around online, you’ll often see stabs of activity — a video or two, a brief run of Google ads, a blog that starts and sputters out — rather than a sustained campaign. Often it seems that they’ll try a couple of things almost at random, and if those experiments don’t “work” immediately, they’ll move on to tinkering with something else…or get distracted and drop the online outreach entirely.
But in the real world, blogs and other content streams takes months or even years to really build an audience, and you often can’t predict which individual pieces will take off even after a lot of experience with your audience’s tastes. Sometimes you can’t even predict which particular CHANNELS will take off, so it’s almost always the consistency that counts — the sustained effort.
As an example, Shawn Dakin of StopPoliticalCalls.org described at today’s Chamber of Commerce Grassroots Forum how he spent a year promoting his issue online, relentlessly working every online channel he could. He slowly built a supporter list (now up to some 70,000 people), links to his site (and hence search engine placement) and connections with experts. When political robocalls popped into the news this past week, he was ready — he had the exposure, he knew the reporters and bloggers and he had the right material at the right time. In the past few days, he’s achieved the communications equivalent of breaking his enemy’s lines (right after our talk today, a CNN car whisked him off to an interview), but it only came at the end of long months of months of bombarding the world with blog posts, tweets and emails.