Monday, July 18, 2011

Groups Neglect Web in Wisconsin Recall Elections

Writing for ClickZ Politics, Kate Kaye takes a look at the online action — or lack thereof — around the Wisconsin recall effort.

In the wake of the Wisconsin state legislature's passage of a controversial collective bargaining law, Democratic and labor groups mobilized to trigger recall elections against six Republican state senators. The Democratic candidates each won their primaries, fending off candidates running with Republican support and advancing the recall effort, the Washington Post's Rachel Weiner reports.

To bolster efforts to recall state senators who voted for the collective bargaining law, which weakened public sector unions, progressive groups engaged in online community organizing and activism. But, Kaye reports, they did little to no online advertising. She quotes Democratic digital consultant Chris Talbot on the why:

"It's unfortunate that some operatives on our side see the Internet only as a direct way into voters' pocketbooks. They see it as an ATM, then ignore the Internet as a channel for communicating a political message," said Chris Talbot, president of Talbot Digital, a digital consulting firm working with Democratic candidates and organizations.

Colin Delany, chief editor of, and a digital consultant who works with left-leaning groups, said, "I definitely applaud their viral attempts." Still, he suggested that plucking a small percentage of money from the TV ad budget to buy Facebook or Google ads could have brought in even better results. He noted the diminishing returns of TV ads, and told ClickZ News, "When you're pouring money into TV and the airwaves are getting crowded, putting some of that money online may get you much better results."

Simple search ads [or Facebook ads], for example, can lead people to a site to learn more about candidates or get them to the right polling place on voting day.

"Consider the reinforcing effect of people seeing ads on TV and in places like Facebook," added Delany. "Particularly if the other side isn't active online, then you have that whole arena to yourself."

Added Talbot, "The background for a lot of political folks is in field operations and organizing - and they're finding incredible, innovative ways for the digital world to enhance those efforts. The problem is that this background doesn't offer a whole lot of training in ad strategy or media planning. Just look at the trends, how the Internet is now a top source of news for most American voters, how it surpassed print as the second largest advertising market. People who work in media would spot these things and adjust, but too many political groups are still running a playbook that's a decade behind.

Around the country, unions have looked online to mobilize against collective bargaining changes and budget cuts.

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