Google+ went live for the masses today (assuming you got in before the system stopped taking new users), meaning that the search giant has taken another stab at social networking — and at staving off the threat of Facebook. How should political and advocacy communicators approach this new platform?
First, as Steven Levy points out in Wired (via Matt Stempeck), today’s launch is just one piece of a process that will stretch out for months, so we’re only seeing the bones of what should be a much broader set of tools. But what’s out there now is already interesting, and definitely check out Amy Sample Ward’s excellent overview for a glimpse of how it works. Two elements jump out: first, the platform’s integrated ten-person video chat feature (“Hangouts”), which should be extremely useful for volunteer-organizing, for media/blogger calls and for campaigns whose staff is scattered across the country or the world.
Second, in addition to a Facebook-style social newsfeed, Google+ incorporates what it calls Sparks, which are Twitter-ish content streams on a given topic. These may have powerful implications for communicators down the road, since they could become many people’s primary source of news and information. Even in their early stage, Sparks could encourage us to use more video and imagery, since visual-heavy news items will apparently get more prominent play. But think also about the future implications for groups wanting to cut through the information clutter, via Levy’s article:
Here’s a fun (and fundamental) mistake to avoid: don’t promote a web address for your campaign until you’re sure you’ve actually bought it….
You see, the New Jersey branch of Americans for Prosperity recently launched a judicial elections initiative, promoted via a press release that also touted the website “NJDisrobed.com” as a source for “information about decisions and implications on the electorate.” One minor problem: no one had actually bothered to buy the URL yet, a situation that was quickly “rectified” by a liberal activist, who in turn pointed it at the Sourcewatch entry on Americans for Progress. Which of course lovingly details the group’s funding by the conservative Koch Brothers and its work on behalf of union-busters and the tobacco industry.
Besides being a true joy to tell you about, this particular screw-up is worse than the oopsie that led to that excellent Jane Corwin parody campaign site a couple of months ago, since at least Corwin’s staff had bought her OWN domain. Hey kids! Be sure to click on your link before you put it in a press release. Ah, sweet amateurs — without them, who would keep pros like us in business?
So there I was, innocently puttering around the e.politics bunker last night with the Military Channel on in the background (a show on CIA spycraft! Yum), when all of a sudden Mike Huckabee’s Southern drawl rolled out of my fine 150-watt 1993-vintage Infinity speakers like a silt-choked Arkansas river on a hot summer morning. What was up? It turns out that someone seems to have passed a Health Care Law that he doesn’t much like! And we only need four new Senators to get rid of it….
The ad, run by Repeal It Now, is as fine a piece of propaganda as I’ve seen in a while, but what really jumped out at me was what a blatant list-building endeavor it was. Alas, their website only has this lame-o version — the one I saw last night had plenty of scary black-and-white footage of Obama and Biden, along with some excellent recruitment-maximizing language. For instance, at one point Huckabee asks people to sign up online or call an 800 number, and “even if you’re signed a petition or called before, do it again.” I.e., even if you’re on someone else’s list, join mine! And there’s an explicit word-of-mouth element as well, since he also implores the viewer to “ask your friends to do it again.”
Of course, this isn’t new advice (parts of it are also in the list-building and social network chapters of Online Politics 101), but it’s always good to emphasize the way different parts of an online outreach campaign can work together. Email is great as an education and mobilization tool, but blast-emails aren’t much for actual engagement since there’s no real back-and-forth with supporters. Facebook and Twitter provide much better opportunities to interact with followers, which helps build long-term relationships that help people make the jump into taking action when (for instance) your email arrives on their desk with an urgent headline. And naturally, each channel is a potential recruiting tool for all the others. Integrate or die!
Here’s something to chew on while you’re waiting for those promised Netroots Nation after-action reports: the results of an attempt to use Facebook advertising as the primary paid outreach tool for a ballot-initiative campaign. And though the results as published do not completely rule out the idea that other factors were at play, the ad campaign itself seems to have been a deciding factor in defeating a Florida initiative that would have led to larger class sizes in the state’s public schools. And, it was the product of Chong & Koster, which is cool because Josh Koster is a long-time Epolitics.com reader and hence an all-around smart guy.
The article contains plenty of details that you should definitely check out, but here are a few key takeaways:
Whew, that was one hell of a long weekend, full of panels, presentations and parties — good thing I’m a trained schmoozer, ’cause this was no place for amateurs. One highlight of the trip? Our Left Meets Right/Right Meets Left Happy Hour with a few folks from Right Online, the [cough] smaller [cough] conservative echo of Netroots. Andrew Breitbart didn’t make it for the free drinks, but a HuffingtonPost reporter and videographer did, and they edited together their attendee interviews into the epic film below. Note that I and my fine orange polyester shirt get to open and close the video, and I’d also like to point out that the not EVERY Lefty skimped on the tip (some of us used to wait tables). Plus, we got a shout-out in the Post! Wish you were there….
Howdy folks! I’m off to Minneapolis with my National Women’s Law Center colleague Danielle Jackson for the Netroots Nation conference, where we’ll be learnin’ and schmoozin’ with some of the finest folks in the progressive movement. If you’re in town for Netroots or its Conservative equivalent RightOnline, be sure to come by the Right Meets Left and Left Meets Right Happy Hour that Epolitics.com is co-sponsoring. And whether we run into each other at the happy hour, at a panel or just in a convention center hallway, come on up and say hello if you read the site. Be sure to time how long it takes me to start pestering you to write a guest article….
The free version (example to the right) first lets you choose a bill to oppose or support. Next, it generates code that you can then use to display a contact-Congress form on a blog or other website — and I suspect on a tab on a Facebook Page as well, since it uses iframes, Facebook’s currently preferred method of customizing Pages. Once a user enters a zip code, PopVox matches him or her to the correct legislator(s) and sends an email via the congressmember’s webform or email address. Plus, it allows people to express their opinion in their own words, the kind of personalization that we’re always told increases the effectiveness of advocacy email.
Once it’s sent, the message is also tallied in PopVox’s record of support/opposition to each piece of legislation, adding to a public record of opinion about the bill. The paid version adds more functionality, including the ability for campaigners to add talking points text and to collect email addresses as people take action. Activism on the go! A cool idea, and related to one that we’ve seen here before, Call2Action’s video/activism embedded widget.
BTW, I got introduced recently to another interesting site that aims to get people to weigh-in publicly on legislation before Congress, Votetocracy.com — check ‘em out.
As recently as twenty years ago, communication experts talked about political communication using two key buzzwords: “rhetoric” and “gatekeepers.” In those days, political communication was about getting the gatekeepers, primarily the mainstream media (remember that this was before the heyday of cable TV), to regurgitate their rhetoric to their constituents in the hope that they would remember it on election day.
Today, social media has blown the paradigm to bits. Today, we don’t have rhetoric so much as we have targeted messaging and messaging strategy. Today, the mainstream media would like to believe they are still the gatekeepers, but more and more people are discovering that THEY have the power to be gatekeepers of their own.
Here’s a question for all of you online politics gurus out there — and yes, I mean you. What digital technologies will REALLY matter in the 2012 elections? I have my own predictions, which we’ll no doubt explore later, but first I want to hear what YOU have to say. Choose from the list below, and be good and choose no more than five (oops — NOW you can choose five, since for a few minutes you could only choose one).
Once we have a critical mass of answers, I’ll write up the results. Am very curious to see what y’all think — and how it compares to what actually happens over the next 16 months.