Using YouTube and Online Video for Politics — Effectively

Last article from the GW media school post-election panel discussion, I promise. We’ve already heard from Joe Rospars on the Obama campaign’s use of online video, along with NBC’s Chuck Todd on the future of corporate journalism, so let’s wrap up with what YouTube’s Steve Grove took away from two years of intimate exposure to the best and worse of online video campaigning.

What did successful politicians do with video in the 2008 election cycle? First, Steve says that they recognized that EVERYONE is a potential content creator in a world of networked information, including the political campaigns themselves. YouTube saw a 500% increase in demand for political content this year, and smart campaigns met that demand by putting up their own material and not leaving the online video space to their opponents or to outsiders.

Good campaigns both listened and responded, either directly (by replying to video questions with video answers) or indirectly (by putting out pieces intended to counter and overwhelm less-favorable clips put out by others, the “flood the zone” strategy). Also, as we keep hearing over and over, good campaigns integrated video into their efforts comprehensively, tying online persuasion to offline mobilization and using video as one of many different channels to deliver a given message.

Looking ahead, Steve (not surprisingly) sees tremendous political potential for online video both for campaigns and for individual activists — with broadband, easy hosting and cheap editing tools, the “last and most compelling medium is delivered into the hands of the masses,” leading to a creative explosion both from average citizens and from professional communicators. The world is “thirsty for information,” and the tools will let anyone with gumption and talent be a publisher — video is no longer the preserve of television networks and big-budget production companies. The political world may have seen web video as a “gotcha” medium in 2006, but not any more (at least, not those members of the traditional political world who’ve been paying attention).

One final note: lest you think that these rules apply only to big campaigns with the resources to put out Obama’s 1800 separate YouTube clips, Tom Rosenstiel noted that individual videos can actually matter MORE to a smaller campaign, for instance for a Congressional race or a local issue. Since the ‘net will contain far less information ABOUT that election or topic, any given piece will be more likely to be found via search or a link from a relevant website, and it will be less likely to be balanced by a counter-message. The closer to home you work, the more likely you are to make a difference! It’s as true online as it is in the real world — my friend Jose Antonio Vargas may be right to say that modern online politics is becoming viral, but successful politics is still pretty damn local, too.

For more specific tips on creating effective political video for the web, see this still-relevant article from 2007.


Written by
Colin Delany
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