Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Digital Campaign Trail Is Where Elections Are Won Today

PBS News Hour Ray Suarez reports on how both political parties are connecting with constituents on the Web.
Listen to "Wired White House Looks to Harness New Media" - How Democrats are harnessing new media following President Obama's successful presidential campaign on the Web. mp3
Listen to "Republicans Hope to Maintain Social Media Edge into Midterm Elections" - Republicans Hope to Maintain Social Media Edge into Midterm Elections. mp3
It should be obvious from Obama's 2008 Presidential Election that the web would begin to make a difference in political campaigning. But, there is still hesitation to use the Internet extensively in political campaigns. Many campaigns still focus exclusively on direct mail, phone banking, block walking and television while ignoring Internet mass media audiences. Less than 10% of political consultants believe the internet is an effective channel to reach voters.

What accounts for candidates’ and consultants’ delay in embracing digital strategies, including online web advertising? Many political strategists dismiss the Internet because they think it does not reach the “right” people. For them the Internet is seen as a medium for the younger generation who do not vote in the same numbers as, say, older retired voters.

Yet, according to a October 2009 eVoter Institute research study (PDF) the majority of all voters (87%) today expect candidates to have an official rich media web site and 70% expect them to use it to raise money and for posting videos. 67% of voters expect candidates to use on-line ads, webcasts and campaign video on other sites.

A Pew Research Center Internet & American Life Project study conducted in December 2009 shows that while only 38% of U.S. adults age 65+ go online 70% of adults in the next-oldest 50-64 age group regularly use the Internet. That compares to 81% for the 30-49 group and 93% for the 18-29 age group. The study also reveals that 55% of adults across all age groups connect to the internet wirelessly, either through a WiFi or WiMax connection via their laptops or through their hand-held device like a smart phone.

Another Pew Research Center research report titled "The Internet's Role in Campaign 2008," published in April 2009, revealed that some 74% of internet users--representing 55% of the entire adult population--went online in 2008 to get involved in the political process or to get news and information about the election. (More information)

The two most commonly thought of elements of a digital campaign strategy tend to be e-mail and a static bill board Web site. In 2010 that type of limited internet strategy is badly out of date.

YouTube for Politics

Google Adwords

Google Demographic Bidding
To Target Ad Placement

The modern digital strategy employs campaign websites with rich media, videos and plenty of interactivity through social media channels with contextual web advertising to drive people to the rich-media campaign website.

Relatively cheap web ad buys are employed to drive people to the official rich media website to watch streaming video and television-style campaign ads and listen to podcasts.

Persuasion comes in many forms. It happens when people are persuaded to click a web ad to go to a candidate's or advocacy group's media rich website where they can be persuaded to give money, or send their e-mail address and cell phone number for future communication, to follow on Twitter or to even change their mind about a candidate or issue.

The modern digital strategy can be used for reinforcement as well as persuasion, by bolstering other traditional fund-raising and get-out-the-vote programs, including direct mail, phone banking, block walking, yard signs, apparel and old media television and radio buys.

On March 1, 2010, the Dallas Morning News wrote about how Rick Perry is running a new kind of campaign:
Rick Perry's campaign has a radical approach that eschews traditional voter turnout efforts in favor of extensive use of social media networks to win Tuesday's GOP primary.

Haven't seen a Perry yard sign? There aren't any, and Perry has no local office to house them. Dreading yet another phone call from a political candidate? Don't worry; Perry has no phone banks. And you probably won't see supporters with T-shirts knocking at the door.

But you may get a Facebook message from a friend in your social circle. You're more likely to find Perry campaign appeals on Twitter, even Craigs List, than to see his mug on a highway billboard.

The new approaches are largely a response to a changing electorate. Tech-savvy young adults who couldn't or wouldn't vote 10 years ago are more actively involved in the political process, and they're more likely to want to follow a candidate on Twitter than plant a sign in their front yard.

What's more, it's becoming increasing difficult to reach even older voters by phone. With everyone carrying a cellphone, landlines have become a wasteland for solicitations.

Television is a problem as well, with prospective voters using DVRs to speed through commercials. And the cost of advertising on television has never been higher.

"Campaigns are evolving just like people and technology," said Mari Woodlief, president of Dallas-based Allyn Media. "You have to go where the people are, and more and more that's become the Internet."

"We probably don't know what the highest and best use will be, but the Internet and social media has become an effective campaigning and fundraising tool," Woodlief said.

The governor's ground game is mostly devoted to a movement he calls the Perry Home Headquarters program, built on the same framework as social media sites.

That part of the approach is nothing new. In 2004, President George W. Bush developed a grass-roots program that called on a massive voter turnout effort 72 hours before Election Day. The program relied on volunteers to get their friends and neighbors to the polls.

Perry's effort differs in that it's mostly Internet-based. Part-time workers used Facebook and MySpace to sign up potential voters. Others, in it for a buck, used Craigs List, the online classified ads site, to gain an advantage.
The Dallas Morning News apparently has not noticed that since last fall Perry's Democratic opponent, Bill White, has been running a sophisticated Internet-based campaign complete with targeted web ads popping up everywhere for Texas Internet users.

National news blog front page with a web ad targeted only to Texas readers.

White Texas reader targeted FaceBook ad appearing in the FaceBook page for Collin County Commissioner's Court Judge Keith Self, a very conservative Republican

Politicians have long understood the persuasive nature of television and radio ads, yard signs and volunteers handing out literature or walking around the neighborhood. They also understand the ability of cable television ads to deliver targeted messages to specific audiences. Politicians are now learning that the Internet enables them to reach voters that are prohibitively expensive or just plain impossible to reach through old-media printed newspaper, radio or television buys or even phone bank telephoning.

Plus, none of the traditional old-media modes of communication give the viewer or listener a direct and immediate way to respond to a call to action, ask for more information or send money to a campaign.

But, an online ad can immediately turn persuasion into action. While a television commercial can tell you that a candidate needs your help, only an online advertisement can send a viewer directly to a Web site that accepts credit cards. A radio ad can fire you up to spread the candidate’s message, but only an online ad lets you forward the message to your friends.

Statistics Show Reliance On The Internet
Is Bigger Than You Think

The majority of U.S. households now have high-speed broadband connection to the Internet, particularly in Collin Co. Among the entire population the internet has surpassed newspapers and is roughly twice as important as radio as a source of political news and information for voters.

The Internet also continues to make strong gains to displace TV as the dominant information source. Among internet users and young adults, these differences are even more magnified. This provides an opportunity for political candidates to effectively execute Web-based campaign strategies.

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