Millennials

MySpace, YouTube & the future of American politics. Though one of these things is no longer really at play in the online world (rhymes with spymace) the book, Millennial Makeover, by Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais, still has themes that play strongly in today’s digital/political landscape.

In the video of Winograd and Hais, Winograd said that in 2006 they approached publishers predicting that in 2008 we would witness a complete political transformation, Democrats would raise more money than Republicans and young voters will come out in record numbers and much of it would be raised online — and we’re laughed away. Turns out they were right.

Politics is not linear — the American political system is cyclical, said Hais. Historically, one political party has dominated for a long period of time, setting the tone for public policy, until a new cycle begins. And the authors predicted a change would be coming in 20008. Again, turns out they were right.

I enjoyed the discussion in Wining the Technology Arms Race regarding the different approaches to online media by Republicans and Democrats. Mike Turk, eCampaign Director for Bush-Cheney 2005 offered some points: “Republicans were simply not as interested in virtual networking…If you’re cynical, you could make the argument that it is a party that doesn’t trust its people enough to let them participate.” It was said that Democrats embraced user-generated content more, which gave them an advantage.

Yet, another approach that came to mind is that young people are more likely to be Democrats, and therefore more likely to online savvy. Perhaps it wasn’t that Republicans didn’t trust ITS people enough to let that participate, maybe they didn’t trust the opposition — the digitally capable Democrats.  This seems to be the case in the McCainSpace example, where Turk tried to sign up for the online platform but after two weeks his account still had not even been approved. Without approval there could be no participation.

Regarding political campaign promotion, the Social Networks section, the authors wrote that, “The same pattern of displacement (as TV outpaced radio) will cause television to lose its role as the primary medium for campaigns to get their messages out to voters in the near future.” I agree, and think that television will be overtaken by online media in the future. Currently, there is still a large amount of people who rely on TV and nightly news for their information consumption. Yet, as the current millennials grow up and everyone is comfortable using the web until old age then I predict the internet will be the primary source of information gathering.

Insights about Millenialls and how they (we) shape the digital/political landscape will continually evolve, and as communication professionals we have a front row seat to this shaping of the online world.

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Follow through?

ePolitics recently asked, What Good is a Facebook Follower? The author questions how valuable Facebook fans really are. Although he explains their increasing importance:

“These days, corporate brands and nonprofits alike are diving into Facebook marketing — for a small indicator, look at how many TV commercials now drive potential customers to a Facebook page rather than to a company’s own website (ten years ago, it might have been a AOL page!)”

But he centers on what can you actually get these fans to DO? As a marketer or campaign manager, how can a Facebook follower be translated into a purchase, a donation or a vote?

In comparison to other online outreach, particularly emails lists, Facebook does’nt seem to match up. “For most nonprofits, getting 3-5% of their email list members to take a particular action is pretty good, meaning for instance that a list of 100,000 people should generate several thousand emails to Congress on a given issue.” Yet, “even simple actions posted on Facebook often have response rates lower by a factor of ten or more than the equivalent sent out to members of an email list, making an “easy” Facebook ask similar to the heaviest lifts you might ask of your list.”

One of the problems with Facebook is that if a fan missed that fleeting update on their bewsfeed then chances are you’ve missed them. It is much easier to catch an eye and attention with an email. It is argued that Facebook “liking” creates, “The “loose ties” that Gladwell believes undermine the medium’s ability to create change in the real world.”

This leads to the hard part. How do you strengthen those lose ties and create engaged followers who will act?

The author states that the least amount of resources should be invested into Facebook recruiting, because there are much better response rates and ROIs with services like Care2, Change.org and Google AdWords. Although no one can deny that Facebook is a great place to nurture interaction and conversations with and among fans, because we can’t yet figure out how to get those fans to mobilize funds should not be invested in recruiting them.

I agree with the author that Facebook fans’ impact is hard to measure and therefore hard to transfer into sales/donations/votes. Yet, I think Facebook is a general publicity tool that shouldn’t be neglected. The level of exposure that pages with high amounts of fans see only grows as more and more people join and act. Maybe the person who “liked” your last comment didn’t go buy Domino’s pizza — but maybe the person who saw that Joe Smith “liked” Domino’s Pizza’s comment gave in to his grumbling stomach and ordered delivery.  As time goes on and more platforms emerge it will be harder to keep an active Facebook following, but until Facebook fades completely (which isn’t anytime soon) then a standard level of time and effort should continue to be invested.

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Measuring

Measuring and metrics are an important element of any campaign. As Dr. Rosenblatt’s discussion and tips in Rules of Social Media Engagement and Measuring the Impact of Your Social Media Program, we need to focus on influence. Where are we making an impact? Who is doing it better? What existing audiences can we leverage?

Some of the areas to look at when considering metrics include:

Reach

  • How many people are you reaching?

Engagement

  • Are you interacting with your audience?

Driving web traffic home

  • How are you directing people back to your website?

Although we want to measure just about everything nowadays it can still prove difficult to determine just how to do that. Dr. Rosenblatt writes:  “That said, there is still much we would like to measure in social media that we cannot. And there is a great need to bring many of these disparate metrics tools into a central dashboard that makes collecting the data less time consuming and confusing. All of this will happen, eventually.”

Reading these articles led me to take a closer look at Care2’s ROI Calculator for Social Network Campaigns. The tool lets you calculate an estimate of cost and ROI for the efforts of your staff in social networking sites, like recruitment and fundraising. As they put it, “It works sort of like an online mortgage calculator.”  The tool is from 2007 so I’m sure its a bit outdated but a very cool concept. People always want to know the ROI on social media and its such a hard figure to offer.

There are many tools and gadgets out there to help with social media metrics, but finding reliable favorites is another story. What are some of the best tools you use?

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POPVOX = People’s Voice

ePolitics turned me on to “Smart As A Fox,” the website of Sandi Fox, a strategic communications professional.  She recently wrote about POPVOX, a platform that advocacy organizations, trade associations, unions and other groups can send their members to to take action on bills pending before Congress. People are directed to find a bill they care about, choose to support or oppose it, and share their opinion with Congress. Congressional staff and lawmakers can then log into POPVOX to measure the pulse of their district.

POPVOX is meant to help the greater public communicate with Congress easier.  We all know that it is harder than ever to get a letter or email opened by a Congressman and organizations are looking for a get their message across. On the other hand, Congressional offices are often looking how to find information on constituent opinions. POPVOX brings together those needs in one place.

Fox believes that POPVOX is the next big thing for government communication. “In my opinion, POPVOX is truly Gov 2.0 at its best and will do what LinkedIn did for career networking and what Change.org did for social change advocacy.”

The functions that Fox is looking forward to include:

1) Public Opinion by Congressional District!

2) Individuals‘ positions on legislation are counted and have greater impact.

3) Organizations can post policy statements or press releases on specific bills.

4) Launch advocacy campaigns & increase list building.

This tool can definitely be leveraged by organizations even if Congressional offices don’t tap into POPVOX. Organizations can direct their online communities to express their support or discontent with a bill. When there is a large amount of entries on POPVOX the organization could publicize how a congressional district “feels” toward a certain piece of legislature. The organization can showcase the support/discontent of a congressional district on their website, present it to the media, or send it directly to a legislator.

POPVOX. Your Voice. Verified. Quantified. Amplified.

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State by State

Have you ever tried to track down every state politician on Twitter? I have attempted — and it wasn’t fun. Sure, Listorious or other platforms can offer some assistance but some very smart people have done some very smart research to help us miserable souls who have lost hours to this task.

A couple weeks ago epolitics wrote about DCI Group’s Excellent Guide to State Politicians and Social Media. The blog outlined the DCI Group’s “Digital America,” a state-by-state breakdown of state officials’ social media presences and examines the amount of Facebook/Twitter accounts in a state relative to its 2010 Census population. As DCI Group wrote, “This breakdown of each state’s unique social media participation rates will help public affairs and communications professionals better understand the geographical differences in the use of social networking technology to facilitate more strategic campaign plans.” The interactive flash map allows visitors to view the state rankings easily and links to politicians’ accounts where available.

The insightful findings are described by DCI Group below (The full state by state breakdown can be found here):

Twitter Highlights
Governors:

  • 48 governors have a personalized Twitter presence

State Legislators:

  • At least 10% of state legislators have a personalized Twitter presence.
  • The top five Twittering state legislatures are Florida, Missouri, Pennsylvania, California, and Illinois.
  • At least 80 state legislative caucuses have a Twitter presence.

Facebook Highlights:
Governors:

  • Every governor has a personalized Facebook presence

State Legislators:

  • More than one-third of state legislators have a personalized Facebook presence
  • Every state has a legislator using Facebook.
  • The top five Facebooking state legislatures, by total numbers, are Illinois, New York, Minnesota, Michigan, and Texas.

The specific state pages are very informative and offer really interesting stat break downs. Each page (where applicable) has info on the state, the Governor, the state legislators and Federal resources. Massachusetts’ page (my home state) reads that it is the 7th top Facebook state and 3rd top Twitter state. The page has links to the 81 reps that have Twitter and/or Facebook — an impressive number I thought! This insight would help a digital campaign craft its strategy and make educated decisions about its outreach. Massachusetts looks like it would be a receptive state for social media outreach, whereas New Mexico is ranked 50 for Facebook and 40 for Twitter — not the best prospects for digital outreach. Now, this map is not the end all be all determinant of how and where to disseminate social media messaging. However I think it offer a great snapshot into where the most/least receptive areas will be.

What a helpful tool! This will definitely make my life easier down the line. Give the map a look and let me know what you think. http://www.dcigroupdigital.com/digital-america/

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Learning From Obama

I certainly did learn a lot from “Learning From Obama.” The 2009 epolitics report was a useful, clearly written handbook for anyone looking to replicate the results of Obama’s 2008 campaign.

One of the sections I found most intriguing and helpful was the testing of campaign initiatives, particularity emails.New media team director Joe Rospars regards measuring and testing as an integral aspect of a campaign. So much so that he preferred Google AdWords over display ads purely because of the ability to measure success. The report read, “The point: what’s the use of doing something you can’t test? If you can’t test it, you don’t know how much good it’s doing you, and your money might be better spent elsewhere.” Very true!

The way that the Obama campaign tested mass email communication was to use varied emails to their listservs and gauge the responses. The email recipients were sometimes grouped randomly and sometimes divided by demographics/age/location. The emails sent out tested responses dependent on who the emails were sent from, message, subject lines, imagery, links and other adjustments. The responses, which included information like messages opened, actions taken, donations made, allowed them to determine how to change the emails for next time.

Now in the case of the Obama campaign they were working with lists of millions of names. For a campaign that you or I would be working on we would most likely have significantly fewer people to test communication on. If you are planning blanket emails to your entire list I think that dividing test groups randomly is probably the best for return data. This will give  “average” results representative of your whole audience. If you have a segmented campaign that targets people dependent on location or age then demographic division would be best.

I am not sure exactly how the Obama campaign did it but I think that only one element of the email should be changed across your test groups per email distribution. This allows all other constants to remain the same and you will really know if a high response rate is due to your funny subject line or not. Too many varied elements will only muddle the outcome.

The other section of this report that stood our to me was how to respond to negative opposition. I thought it was very surprising, but very smart, to address the Obama-is-a-Muslim-like remarks and arm supporters with information to combat these ill-informed opposers.

The campaign also launched web pages and online action groups to fight the underground, e-mail whisper campaigns and robo-calls that surfaced in battleground states. In one effort, the campaign urged supporters to send out counterviral e-mails responding to false rumors about Obama’s personal background and tax policies.

“Propelled by Internet, Barack Obama Wins Presidency,” Sarah Lai Stirland, Wired.com, 11/4/2008

This meant teaching Obama supporters how to respond in favorable, non-hash ways when they are included on forward email chains. Such as responding to those group emails with a reply all that clearly outlines the truth and links back to credible sources. Building off the we-listen-to-peers-more discussion in the report, I think that this counter argument would have a better impact on the people who have been exposed to the negative message because it is coming from a real person, rather than a news article (though the articles are used as evidence).

Negative opposition can also act as a catalyst because supporters are more energized to prove the opposition wrong. This was the case after Sarah Palin’s speech that mocked community organizers, which “functionally lashed out at everyone on the Obama list who’d embraced the campaign’s organizing model.” The report said that Palin’s speech was followed by Obama’s biggest day of political fundraising ever. Turning negative into positive!

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SAVESEALS

As the semester progresses I am feeling more comfortable in some areas of digital campaigns and still on shakey-ground with others. This week I found Mobilizing Generation 2.0 a simple, but still useful text. Because mobile campaigns, particularly text programs, are still one of most unfamiliar areas for me I paid close attention to the fourth chapter dedicated to Mobile Phones.

Recruitment

I found the section on recruitment most applicable for causes that well-known or are associated with celebrities, as was the case with Bono.  This outside recognition further encourages people to participate in the opt-in texts. I discovered the best ways to request community joining is at events on large displays, like concerts, rallies or political events, where the message can be viewed by many at one time. It was said that live events have a 50% response rate — I think this is because people are in the moment and “taken” with the cause. Therefore, they are more likely to proactively become involved. Campaigners should capitalize on this and make sure to present the text recruitment as being part of the community and benefiting the organization/party/cause at large. Aside from verbalizing the request at events and in the media, the text recruitment campaign should also be transferred into print ads, fliers and websites to maximize exposure.

Petitions

I learned in the petition section that pairing a compelling call to action, like the seal ad depicted, can prompt a reader/viewer to sign up to stop/encourage/bring attention to your topic. Paring these visuals with keyword based texts, like SAVESEALS for example, further connects the text action and the offline cause being supported.

Time Sensitive/Personal Messages

Texts are a personal form  of communication so it makes perfect sense to use messages of a personal nature through this medium. Examples in the book include asthma or STDS. In the case of asthma people would not necessarily feel the need to publicly rally around asthma, but if a person was a sufferer then they would be personally invested. Text message tips and resources for allergy season could be of great use to them. For STDs the nature of the message is very private so people would almost certainly not feel comfortable announcing their participation. But if they engage in risky behavior a text with nearby testing facilities could be life saving.

Since this approach is personal and not based in a public service message you need to be sure to advertise specifically and in target areas. For example, asthma ads about allergies would be best advertised outside, as it said in the book. For STDs the best settings could be college campuses, where young people may be engaging in risky behavior.

Ringtone Advocacy

Although I agree that offering something in exchange for signing up for an email list is a good practice, I think ringtones are outdated (I do acknowledge that this book is a few years old). A song download is probably more popular right now.

After reading about the how-tos it was a change to read about the how-it-was-done. “Year One of Organizing for America: The Permanent Field Campaign in a Digital Age” was definitely an insightful look at a full year of Organizing for America’s work. Tying in with this week’s online to offline theme, this certainly demonstrated tangible results. The report noted that OFA, “volunteers made over a million calls to Congress; over 230,000 people submitted health care stories; 250,000 letters to the editor were sent; 65,000 people attended Congressional lobbying events; and 37,000 local events were executed around the country. In all, OFA estimated that members spent a cumulative 200,000 hours volunteering in 2009.” These impressive results are obviously thanks to a well-known, wide-spread cause. However the strategy of multi-layered initiatives and constant outreach can certainly be whittled down to apply to lesser-established advocacy topics .

 

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