Guest article! In the piece below, Beekeeper Group’s Justin Kutner looks at social photo site Instagram as it’s playing out in the 2012 elections. Note that Beekeeper’s Shana Glickfield and Henri Makembe have appeared in our august pages in the past.
Political Trends: Social Media Photography On the Campaign Trail
Sepia-toned photos of architecture and vividly colored snapshots of soup and sandwiches aren’t just for the hipster set anymore. Candidates are embracing Instagram , the photo sharing mobile app recently purchased by Facebook for $1 billion. 2012 is the year of the photo-sharing social network, and Instagram is a powerful tool in the belt of a good online communicator. For the uninitiated: Instagram allows a user to use his or her smartphone’s camera to take a picture, after which he or she can add a variety of effects to the photo, and post the snapshot to the app’s photo sharing section. Users then grow their follower bases and watch as the number of “Likes” and Comments on each photo grows.
Instagram is primarily a mobile device application and functions almost entirely on its user’s mobile devices. Instagram can be in the pocket of virtually every smartphone user, which translates to millions of voters across the country. It’s a simple concept – think Twitter, but for photos.
President Obama’s campaign uses Instagram to push put photos of the President as he speaks in front of audiences, to contribute to the larger message of the campaign and to demonstrate that he knows how to hoist babies. In the first week of July, for example, the campaign’s theme was “We’ve got his back.” And this photo appeared on the Instagram feed. Quickly earning over 30,000 Likes, the campaign saw engagement on this somewhat new social media tool grow at rates greatly exceeding the same photo’s engagement on Twitter. With the image earning a comparatively small 704 re-tweets and 287 “Favorites” on Twitter, Instagram saw more users actively engaging with content and having discussions in the comment section of the photo. (This photo earned nearly 1,120 comments, as well.) The Obama camp updates its Instagram account at a rate of nearly four times per week, as well.
The Obama Campaign isn’t the only one on the Democratic side using Instagram to promote messages and appeal to voters and potential supporters. Massachusetts senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren uses Instagram daily.
Warren staff updates the Instagram feed on nearly the exact same schedule as they update their Twitter feed, indicating that the campaign understands and sees the importance around supporting this newer and supremely active social network.
While the majority of Warren’s photos feature her on the campaign trail interacting with voters at events, Warren has participated in the time-honored Instagram tradition of posting early photos of oneself, such as this photo of herself and husband Bruce she published to celebrate her 32nd wedding anniversary.
Though Warren counts fewer than 30 total followers on Instagram, her campaign is still updating and generating content for the network consistently and with quality content.
Democrats aren’t the only ones who’ve been using Instagram , though they may be having more success. President Obama can count over 1.1 million followers on Instagram , while Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney has only 25,000. The Romney campaign has also posted 12 photos, whereas the President’s campaign has posted 91 photos.
Romney’s most recent photo, a four-picture montage of Mitt and his father and family, is over one month old and was posted in celebration of Father’s Day. It’s seen significantly less engagement than any of Obama’s posts. Whether this is indicative of the quality of Romney’s posts, the social-media savvy of his supporters or something else entirely, isn’t clear. What’s obvious, though, is that Obama is winning the Instagram popularity contest.
Romney’s presence on Instagram begs a quick mention of the Romney camp’s foray into the creation of its own photography app, titled With Mitt. Launched the week of May 30th, the app initially proved disastrous. An obvious typo integrated into a key component of the app, (America spelled as “Amercia”) prompted myriad snarky blogs to snipe at the Romney camp. The app itself, which also integrates with the user’s mobile device camera to overlay text with slogans like, “I’m With Mitt”, “I’m a Mom for Mitt”, and “I Stand With Mitt” on a photo, and then allows the user to share the photo with friends via Facebook or Twitter, has over 700 reviews on the iTunes app store, with an overall rating of two and half stars, out of a possible five. The Obama Campaign, on the other hand, does not have its own photography app.
With Mitt deserves the attention of the voter as it’s doing something new, even if the platform wasn’t 100% ready for prime-time. (The typo has since been fixed.) Voters need to embrace new outreach technology in order to spur future growth, which will bring about better and more robust options.
Back on the Massachusetts race, Warren’s opponent and current US Senator Scott Brown doesn’t currently have any campaign presence on Instagram , though he is the subject of some user-generated content. Whenever a user takes a photo of Scott Brown or tags another photo with the hashtag #ScottBrown, Instagram catalogues it, and makes the list available for user’s perusal.
Right now, Instagram is doesn’t have many #ScottBrown tagged photos, and what IS there now isn’t all that flattering. There’s a post tagged with his 1982 Cosmopolitan centerfold, for example. There’s another post tagged with a photo of Brown next to a photo of a two people, one in an alligator costume and one that’s not very NSFW [Ed note: oh my....] There are a couple photos of Brown on campaign stops, but the point I’m making is this: the campaign should recognize the importance and prevalence of photo sharing apps so that they can control the message and what’s popping up for voters who search for Brown online.
Though both sides of the aisle have a presence on Instagram and other mobile photo sharing apps, their presence isn’t equal — at least for now. Obama and Warren have a solid understanding of the app’s uses, while it seems Romney and Brown have more to learn in order to fully engage their users and potential voters in this new space.
It’s all about optics
The introduction of a dedicated Romney photography app speaks clearly to the overall message: photography is becoming a bigger driver of engagement than ever before, perhaps supplanting Twitter and Facebook’s ability to motivate users to interact with content [Ed note: we'll see....]. Instagram and With Mitt are delivery vehicles of unique content and deserve voters’ attention.
The content delivered by these apps is different from what is posted on Twitter: nearly every Tweet posted by both presidential campaigns over the last week contains a link to an outside site, funneling the user to a 360 degree experience wholly guided by the campaign, whereas no Instagram posts link outside of the app or website itself, forcing the campaigns to operate within its confines.
Because of this, Instagram is being used as a platform to speak to each campaign’s approach. If a voter is viewing the different campaigns through a wholly Instagram med lens, what can they infer about the candidate’ politics?
Take this information as an example:
Obama has as 1.2 million followers, is Following 11 others and has 95 photos. Romney has 26,000 followers is Following 0 others and has 12 photos total.
Four (25%) of Romney’s photos prominently feature an American flag; while only four (13%) of Obama’s last 30 photos have any part of a flag in them.
Obama himself “follows” only 11 users, all of which are official state chapter Instagram accounts of Obama For America, and all have thousands of followers with hundreds of pictures of local state events featuring volunteers, rallies, slogans and quotes.
Romney, on the other hand, follows exactly zero users on Instagram .
The Obama Instagram account encourages users to share their own photos with campaign by prefacing the account’s info text with: ” To share a photo with us, use the #Obama2012 hashtag.”
Romney has no info text.
All but two of Romney’s photos include the candidate. Only about 30% of Obama’s photos actually include the President in them. The rest are photos of supporters, rallies, Mrs. Obama or are of the Vice-President.
Optics matter for two reasons. First, even the slightest variations between the campaigns are exaggerated as the media and voters look for anything that differentiates the candidates. Look, for example, at how strongly ridiculed Obama was in 2008 for not wearing an American Flag on his lapel while all the other candidates did. He was hounded to the point that he had to acquiesce. You won’t catch him without one now. This small distinction at the time led the media to speculate about the meaning behind the lack of a pin, and a similar scenario could arise on social media, depending on the message and imagery each candidate displays.
Second, optics make the candidate. How does he or she look? Who is he or she meeting with? What are they wearing? Who is appearing at events with them? Candidates are partially defined by who they surround themselves with, and TV can only dedicate so much time to displaying the candidates and talking about them. Social media photo sharing gives users on-demand, 24-hour access to viewing the campaign and analyzing the messages and imagery that the candidate is displaying. This gives the voter the chance to not only be more informed, but to also spend more time engaging with the campaign, a goal for any electoral candidate.
Be there or be (Four)square
Campaigns don’t exist within one app, website or the confines of a 3.5-inch screen. However, I recognize that photo sharing apps are pieces of a larger social media presence. In the high-stakes world of federal electoral campaigning, where every word and every character matters, candidates can’t afford to neglect technologies and software that their opponents are using. Campaigns must be nimble and willing to not only adopt tools like Instagram , but they must know how to use them to grow their communities and manage facilitate user and voter engagement.
Where is the tipping point, though?
Both Obama and Romney are active users of the popular location-based app Foursquare. Foursquare is another mobile app that allows users to “check-in” at any location, gain “badges” for completing special tasks, take a photo while at the location and share their whereabouts with other users.
The Romney camp has posted 11 photos on the site, while The Obama Team has over 100 photos on the site, though Obama’s site is managed by The White House and isn’t used as a campaign tool. Obama’s team uploads about one photo per week, complete with description and comment. All of Romney’s posts are unaccompanied by comments, leaving a litany of non-contextualized photos for users. Foursquare, like Instagram , can be an essential tool in building community online and inciting fanfare around a candidate. It’s got to be used correctly, though.
Not all social media is created equal. There are hundreds of other photo-sharing apps out there too. It isn’t feasible for any campaign to participate in every one of them, but they still need to be wary of being left in the dust by their opponents. Having a good strategy, and going after the apps with the largest reach are clearly the smartest option, but staying on the cutting edge is key
Another important photo sharing opportunity exists on Facebook. The father of all social media, Facebook is where the action really happens. Both camps maintain a lively presence there. At the end of last year, Facebook revamped its approach to photos, placing a greater emphasis on them over text content. Now that photos are larger and more prominent than in the past, taking high-quality and engaging photos is now more important than ever.
Staying on the cutting edge is important for any campaign, even if campaign managers may hesitate to try something new. Voters are becoming more nimble and tech-savvy, as evidenced by the 1 million+ Obama Instagram followers, the 2.8 million Facebook followers Romney has, the 27.5 million Facebook followers President Obama has, the 17.8 million Twitter followers that Obama has and the 800,000+ Twitter followers Romney has. Every one of these followers has the potential to participate in new and ways with the candidates, and it is up to the campaigns to feed their hunger for engagement in the digital space.
When it comes to social media photo sharing applications, if a picture is worth a thousand words, then the lack of high-quality photo sharing presence silences a powerful ally.
Hi folks, the other day I started wondering just how many people had contributed content to Epolitics.com since the site launched, so I decided to go diggin’. It turns out that sizable bunch of kick-ass experts have shared their wisdom with us over the years — 23 24! guest authors in total, assuming I didn’t miss anybody. Here they are, roughly in reverse-order of when they started writing for the site, along with a link to a representative article (many have written more than once). Wouldn’t you just love to be among their number? Drop me a note with some ideas and let’s chat.
It’s an online politics celebration! Good friend and regular Epolitics.com contributor Henri Makembe is leaving Blue State Digital to join Shana Glickfield and the rest of the crew over at The Beekeeper Group (where they keep the buzz going, get it?). He’s joining as a Partner, which is very cool, and will be heading up their technology side. Congrats to all involved! Don’t forget about us little people on your meteoric rise to the top.
On October 14th, I had the opportunity to be a presenter for NOI’s New campus GOTV series. My presentation centered around integrating in a campaign’s GOTV efforts, with an eye toward showing how conscious integration of your online presence can boost your efficacy and reach and help your campaign expand capacity in many ways.
In the slides, I attempt share best practices of integrating your online program for GOTV, and show helpful tricks to increase productivity as you move voters to the polls. Whatever else you take away from the slides, I’d like to highlight two items from the presentation:
Empower your supporters and volunteers (to help with your new media efforts)
Online efforts should amplify and support existing offline organizing efforts.
Hope you enjoy the presentation. If you have any questions, comments, suggestions or need help with your new media GOTV efforts, don’t hesitate to leave a comment or contact me.
Call it innovation, call it self-preservation, call it a traffic scheme, but the Baltimore Sun, one of the leading papers covering Maryland politics, has made the decision to offer a blog to every legally registered candidate running for office in the state of Maryland. The offer is bipartisan and covers both federal and state candidates. The paper’s site states the following:
The Baltimore Sun is offering free blogs to political candidates in key races this year. It is up to the candidate to decide whether to accept the blog invitation and to decide how often to post on the blog. The Baltimore Sun does not edit any candidate’s blog, and it is not responsible for any content posted by the candidate or the candidate’s representatives here.
Technology is the enabler
What makes this experiment by The Sun plausible is the advance in technology in recent years. During the last election cycle, the same experiment would have been nearly impossible. The staff and time required to implement such an idea would have far exceeded any benefits the paper would have derived from the endeavor — both in terms of money and readership. The advent of WordPress Mu changed that equation for The Sun and similar organizations. Used by the likes of Harvard Law School and Le Monde, WordPress Mu is an open platform powered by WordPress that allows site administrators to maintain multiple blogs (even with separate domains) from the same installation. This solution has drastically cut the cost and time required in creating and hosting multiple blogs.
Opportunity for candidates
The Sun‘s experiment is not only beneficial to the paper, but also to the candidates — many of whom are running for obscure seats in the state legislature. For these candidates, having a blog on The Sun‘s website is an enormous platform to get their ideas and thoughts in front of a wide audience. Individuals who would not normally venture to a candidate’s site can now see excerpts on the homepage of The Sun and in other prominent areas throughout The Sun‘s website. Moreover, this experiment gives candidates a way to establish a more credible web presence. Many candidates have awful websites that get in the way of presenting themselves, their ideas and policies in a clear, concise and thoughtful manner. This opportunity allows candidates to be judged for the quality and depth of their ideas, and not their web-building acumen. Lastly, it allows the media more accessibility to challengers thus somewhat leveling the playing field with their incumbent counterparts, who stand in the media spotlight brighter.
It’s not all gravy
While this effort by The Sun is a promising one in theory, in practice it leaves many questions unanswered. For instance, will Sun columnists feel the pressure to link to blog posts on their site instead of other articles on the web? Will the coverage of candidates who do not sign up for a blog be affected? How will the paper handle criticism from politicians on its on pages? Will blogging on the site give the impression that candidates received endorsements from the paper? In addition, the fact that The Sun stands to make money from ads on blog posts written by politicians, will not sit well with many readers and voters. These questions will not be answered by executives at the paper in a breakfast meeting while enjoying sandwiches and lattes. Instead, bloggers, the paper’s Ombudsman, competing media outlets and the voters — those who stand to benefit or lose the most from this — will have to work together to develop a system of checks and balances to keep the paper accountable.
Moving in the right direction
Despite the many unanswered questions this experiment by the Sun should be encouraged — even celebrated. For the last couple of years, many have been predicting the slow and certain death of newspapers. If this effort is any indicator, it appears that they will not quietly into the night. And for that I for one am glad — our democracy stands to benefit if we can find more ways for old media and new media cohabitate, especially at the local level.
Hey kids, this post comes to you from an Undisclosed Location somewhere in the Eurasian landmass (hint: the locals speak an Indo-European language, except when they don’t), where I’m currently ensconsed in a hotel bar enjoying among the finest cups of coffee ever made. The reason for the secrecy? I’m here with a couple of politically minded colleagues (a pollster and a messaging guy) to help a regional political party that’s been knocked out of power and trying to regain its mojo. Consequently, they don’t want to make it too easy for The Other Side to know what they’re up to. So, no digital footprints for now — sorry, Mr. Google.
This is the second of three trips we’re scheduled to make as a part of this project, which is taking me to a lovely city full of even more lovely inhabitants (mom, how would you feel about some half-[redacted] grandchildren sometime down the road?). And here’s what you need to know about why I’m here — the organizers of our expedition found me online, so it was this very website you’re reading now that got me flown across the [redacted] Ocean and plopped into this wonderful place. If it happened to me, it can happen to you, but only if you’re writing online. So start thinking about those guest posts — don’t leave Henri all alone out there.
Following the Politics Online conference, I had the opportunity to chat to with Isaac Salazar, New Media Director MD Democratic Party (@mddems). As one would expect, our conversation centered around new media. Isaac offered some insights into the state of new media in political organization at the state and local level. Unlike many in our field, he has a tempered view of of the role of the new media in the upcoming gubernatorial in Maryland (and 2010 cycle in general). In the end he recognizes that people, not technology, win elections. As he later told me, "my goal of is to get in touch with the voters".
HM: How did you get started in politics?
IS: Back in high school I was a page for the Maryland General Assembly. That experience sparked my interest. I later I got an internship working with the state legislature during college. At the time, then State Senator Chris Van Hollen was running for Congress and I was looking for a job after graduation. I decided to jump in and help during his primary campaign and the rest is history.
HM: Given your background, how did you transition to new media?
IS: In fall 2008, a lot of folks were taking note of how the Obama campaign was successfully using "web2.0" to reach their supporters. At the time, I was working for a national non-profit housing organization on affordable housing policy. We were grappling with how best to elevate affordable housing legislation and advocacy after already passing historic national housing legislation in the wake of the foreclosure crisis.
I thought that we could benefit from identifying and organizing our affordable housing grassroots supporters online for advocacy campaigns. This quickly evolved into creating a social media presence for the entire organization to promote our work, for fundraising and advocacy as well. I worked with several colleagues that had an interest in social media from various department including communications, marketing, fundraising and public policy. We developed a strategy to get buy-in from the Executives and then to implement the presence once it was approved. This involved creating objectives, goals, targets, demonstrating value, etc. The President of the organization was very open to the proposal from the beginning and we began implementing it. We developed a social media policy, formed social media team from various departments and started experimenting.
HM: How did the opportunity to become New Media director for MD Dem party come about?
IS: I was forwarded the job opening from a friend. I knew the chair of the party from a previous campaign so I reached out to them and here I am half a year later.
HM: What was the new media infrastructure when you arrived?
IS: To be honest, it was a mess. The website was in desperate need of a makeover. The CMS we were using was antequated and clunky. There were a few social media accounts that were either dormant or not very engaging. It wasn’t very easy to subscribe to our e-mails. We were using a vendor named Orchid. It was very difficult to navigate and customize on your own. You could put in ticket requests for new designs but it wasn’t as easy for the user to install new templates, etc. We weren’t using a commercial e-mail vendor…as far as I understand it was a system that was created solely for the MD Democratic Party.
HM: What are some of the changes that you’ve made since getting there? Why did you make them?
IS: As I mentioned, I took an inventory of what existed and did an analysis of what needed to be done. From there I picked some of the "low-hanging fruit." I activated our Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media channels.
I then worked with a vendor to redesign our website and started a blog. I also shopped around for vendors for a new CRM. I then set-out to craft a new media strategy. From there I started to build communities on different social media channels.
We made some of these changes because they were no-brainers. If we wanted to reach our goals of registering new voters, raising more money and reaching out to more voters, we need to modernize our systems.
HM: Are those changes paying off? If so, how?
IS: Definitely. Well, for starters, we actually have a website that doesn’t have dead links and loads properly. We have a method of obtaining e-mail addresses and other information on our website that dumps directly into our new CRM. We have a method of obtaining online contributions that is integrated into the same database as our e-mails. We have social media channels that drive traffic to a new website to obtain e-mail addresses and online contributions.
HM: Can you walk us through a day in your role?
IS: My day starts with reading through as many Maryland political blogs and news clips as I can. This usually informs whatever blog post I may be writing that day or week. I’m usually editing e-mail blasts that are scheduled to go out or drafting them for the next week.
I always have a two computer screens running. The one that’s not on my laptop is running Tweetdeck so I’m on Twitter all day. I usually have about 3 browsers open at a time (Chrome, Firefox and IE (only to test new content on the website). I also always have Facebook open just to kind of get a sense of the conversation online at any given time. I equate it to having cable news on all day.
I try to work on long term projects after normal working hours since the website, e-mail, Twitter and Facebook can pretty much consume most of my day.
HM: What is next is for New Media in the MD Dem party?
IS: We’re working on a lot of exciting things at the Maryland Democratic Party. We’re starting to build a social network for Maryland Democrats on Ning and pretty soon we’ll be launching our text campaign. We’re also exploring the development of some smart phone apps and trying to figure out how to best utilize new geolocation tools but we’re not giving anything away.
HM: How do you see new media playing the upcoming gubernatorial race?
I think new media is going to play a significant role, especially compared to the last gubernatorial election. Anyone with a smartphone has instant publishing and broadcasting capabilities today. That means the candidates messages will be amplified in real time. This obviously cuts both ways. While we’ll be able to mobilize our supporters quickly with different methods, you’ll also potentially have gaffes spread a lot quicker in real time.
HM: Are you in communication with Governor’s campaign new media team? If so, what type information are you sharing? if not, why not?
IS: I am in communication with them pretty regularly. We tend to bounce ideas of of each other a lot. Talk analytics in terms of e-mail responses, etc. We’re always looking for new ways to engage supporters and testing what works best with our respective audiences.
HM: How is the party helping other local candidates with new media?
IS: I’ve been wanting to have a series of webinars for local candidates on the basics. Similar to your 10 things every website should have presentation (AUTHOR’s Note: shameless plug – Read the blog post and listen to audio here. EDITOR’S Note: you have learned the dark arts of self-promotion well, young Jedi.). We’re working a little more closely with our county central committees to bring them up to speed with a good website, e-mail blast and contribution tools. However, I do want to make have a series of trainings for candidates so that they can know things like the difference between aFacebook profile, page and group.
HM: How do you recommend that candidates at different levels approach technology/online politics?
IS: That’s a tough question. I hate to repeat a phrase that we use in social media circles a lot but, "it depends." It should be a top priority for any campaign because it CAN help you a reach voters where otherwise you might not be able to afford the reach using traditional media channels.
I think any candidate’s top priority, regardless of level, has to be a good website. It should be the hub of any online presence because it’s the first impression voters will have of you online. If you want to be credible candidate, your site has to look professional. The good news is that there are any number of great, affordable options for the non-tech minded so there shouldn’t be any excuse for a good website. E-mail, for now, is still king, so you also need to have a good CRM. Again, there are any number of good commercial and political tools out there. The same goes for collecting donations online.
From there candidates can start exploring Facebook pages, Twitter, etc. At the end of the day, regardless of which tool they use, candidates need to approach the online world the same way they approach door-knocking. Voters want authenticity. Once they realize that, they’ll realize that there are real people online that are looking for a connection.
HM: What tools does do you think will be making a difference in 2010 cycle?
IS: I think this was touched upon briefly at the Politics Online Conference this week. Despite the vast number of people who have subscribed to campaign e-mails in the last cycle there are still millions of potential e-mails that campaigns can obtain. I think mobile campaigns will begin to mature and will become a must have. I’d love it if we could use geo-location to figure out who has voted but I don’t think we’re quite there yet.
HM: When are you ready to move on, what do you hope to have accomplished?
IS: I hope I will have left an infrastructure in place that can easily be upgraded. Data is extremely important. I’m doing my best to track our progress and analyze what works best so that the next person that takes over can build on what we’ve done. Ultimately, I hope I can build a solid community of Maryland Democrats online who are engaged and energized to continue electing Democrat in Maryland for years to come.
Isaac, best of luck with your goals modernizing the MD Dems. I, for one, will certainly keep my eye out on all the work you are doing.
Guest author! Actually, a guest no more: on the heels of his well-received piece on the Martha Coakley campaign, Henri Makembe will be contributing to e.politics regularly starting with the words below. BTW, how’s that next article coming, Henri? We have column-inches to fill here, buddy! Welcome aboard! And who out there in reader-land would like to be the next victim, er, contributor?
Five Talents Campaign Managers Should Look For in a New Media Director
As the fall elections approach, many campaigns, large and small, are staffing up. Since I’m on many different online politics-related listservs, I’ve seen a number of postings from campaigns looking for the kind of talent that will lead them victory. As in past cycles, I’ve seen a number of posts for finance directors, field directors, field organizers/canvassers and campaign managers. Unlike in past cycles, one position that seems to garner a lot of attention is that of new media director/manager. The listings usually include some or all of the following tasks:
Manage campaign presence on all social networking mediums (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, and so on)
Manage campaign website and blog, including all multimedia content (video, audio, photos, etc.)
Manage voter file databases
Monitoring chatter about our candidates
Have experience with XYZ software package
These types of listings serve to highlight that campaigns are not yet aware of what they should be looking for in a new media director. For instance, a new media director should be a high-level position. While s/he should not be afraid to get hands dirty when needed, the position should be at the same level as field director, finance director and communication direct and should also report directly to campaign manager or candidate. Campaign managers should be looking for a skillset that make the hire not just a “doer” but also “thinker.” Consequently, I’d argue that campaigns should be looking for the following in their new media director candidates:
Experience on the campaign trail
Campaigns, especially those at the local level, usually make the mistake of offering new media jobs to recent college grads, a friend with a blog or even “the high school geek.” This is a fundamental mistake: these people usually do not have campaign experience and are not ready for the grueling demands of a campaign. It’s a decision is usually based on two false perceptions, first that a new media director with experience is an expensive hire, and second that a new media director must be on staff. The reality is that, especially the local level, a new media director can be a consultant and need only be present during strategy calls/meetings and be easily reachable should any crisis occur. The people that need to be around daily are staff and volunteers executing the plan. Candidates and campaign managers should think of new media director as an Architect — he or she devises the plans and checks in that construction is going well and on schedule, but does not necessarily do any actual building. All in all, it’s much better to have someone with experience architecting a campaign’s new media plan for the obvious reason that he or she can draw from past experience and help the campaign avoid common pitfalls.
Personnel management experience
This requirement stems from the belief that every campaign should have a new media team. As such, the new media director should the person overseeing that team. This requires basic academic understanding of how team works and how to motivate individuals, especially those working for little or no pay. Managing staffers or volunteers will prove to be a challenge of its own, having someone with experience in charge can only be helpful. Good techies aren’t always good leaders!
While your new media director should not be required to have coding skills of developer at Google or Microsoft, s/he should have a good grasp of the technologies at play. With reasonable technical abilities, the new media director should be able to set realistic timeline on projects and avoid spending energy implement technologies would be in play still end of the campaign. Moreover, an individual with adequate technical background would better understand the requirements for third party tools to integrate and increase efficiency.
Communication skills & project management experience
If placed correctly in the campaign hierarchy and given the adequate level of decision making, a new media director will touch all facets of the campaign as well as overseeing the actual new media team. And given the fact many campaigns inevitably end up undertaking website building and tools integration, it’s imperhas project management experience the new media director be able to communicate affectively both orally and in written form. S/he will be handling multiple moving pieces with various deadlines attached to them in the heat of campaign. Being able to plan and manage those projects as well as affectively communicate the needs of campaigns, the deadlines and possible pitfalls are a must.
Lastly, a new media director has to be a strategic what s/he wants to build and spent the campaign refining that vision. One the problem plaguing new media is the cookie cutter approach, i.e., we have to sign up for all major social networks and fill them up with as much content as possible. Indeed such an approach does not require much vision or experience. However, an affective new media strategy is one tailored for the campaign based on story the candidate trying to tell, the resource available to tell that story and community’s use of the internet. A candidate with these skills is likely to be a great asset to any campaign at any level.
And unfortunately, probably all too rare…. Thanks Henri! Looking forward to the next one.
Check out the following guest article for a view of the Brown/Coakley race different from what is rapidly becoming conventional wisdom in the online politics world. My friend (and Blue State Digital staffer) Henri Makembe was on the scene, and while he’s not happy with the outcome of the race, he’s here to defend Coakley’s new media team from accusations that they were asleep at the proverbial switch. For more from Henri, see his LocalPoliTechs site.
In Defense of Martha Coakley’s New Media Team
By Henri Makembe
Running on cheese pizza, RedBull, cold Dunkin Donuts coffee, cookies and the memory of the late Ted Kennedy, I spent the last few days volunteering for Martha Coakley alongside some of the best Democratic new media operatives. Some analysts are describing this as the most important election in the last 50 years — not including presidential contests. Despite our best efforts, Scott Brown won the seat that was held by someone who continues to be regarded as one of best, if not the best, senator of our time. Mr. Brown has some big shoes fill, and while I will be working hard against him in 2012, I wish him and his staff the best for the sake of the people of the commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Unavoidably, there is much more analysis more to be written before this story is put to bed. The forthcoming commentary will be predictable and many blogs will be filled with what can only be described as pedestrian analysis. Undoubtedly, Kate Kaye will write about how much was spent on online advertising and where it was spent (Scott Brown blew Martha Coakley out of the water). Micah Sifry will inevitably link this loss to the “Obama disconnect” despite the fact that OFA volunteers and organizers made hundreds of thousands of calls from across the country. Colin Delany will accurately map out where the Coakley camp failed to learn from the Obama campaign and diverted from his blueprint on how to win in 2010. Many more posts and articles will be written addressing how the GOP is closing the new media gap. And some fools will inexplicably try to establish a direct correlation, between the number of Twitter followers and Facebook fans and the outcome of an election (see Gavin Newsom and CA-GOV for evidence to the contrary).
What is being lost…
What will undoubtedly be missing from all these articles and blog posts, the good ones and the bad ones, is a true and fair account of what went on in the new media department. It’s true that they made mistakes, even rookie ones at that (who doesn’t?). It’s true that they were outmatched in the end (let’s be honest, did you know who Scott Brown was before two weeks ago?). What is not true is that they fell asleep at the wheel. The people I met, volunteers and staffers, worked tirelessly day in and day out for a candidate that they whole-heartedly believe in. They did their best given the resources and the strategy the campaign had adopted. They did not engage in turf war once we (the DC insiders) came in because they wanted to do what was best for the campaign; they wanted to win. They were open to changes and suggestions. They relinquished control when they were in over their head, though as some will rightfully argue that it was too late by then. In brief, they should not bear the brunt of Coakley’s failures online. This is not to say that they are completely blameless in the loss. I wish they had reached out sooner and fought harder for more resources and a different internet strategy. Not having been there, I don’t know that these things did not happen.
After the proverbial ink has run dry on this story and blame game has stopped, the fact still remains – we lost yesterday. It’s gut-wrenching, even maddening. That being said, Democrats still have a 16 seats majority (excluding the two Independents) and much work remains to be done. Despite the outcome of this election, very little of the blame lay at the feet of the new media team. Given the right strategy — the Internet remains one of the best weapons at our disposal to bring about change. With our knowledge we will move forward on the words of a truly great senator, “The work begins anew; the hope rises again, and the dream lives on.”