Moving from Social Media 1.0 to 2.0

January 25, 2011

We have seemingly reached the point where social media is accepted in all crevices of Capitol Hill.  A vast majority of members from both parties have twitter and/or Facebook pages, and are updating them regularly with posts highlighting legislative achievements and local news appearances.  So now what?

While a majority of politicians have social media pages, they are still not leveraging their full capabilities.  It is not enough to tweet and post on Facebook, the true power in social media is its ability to inspire action.  Matt Lira, new media director for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, said in a recent Politico article that social media’s “real potential lies in organizing government itself and how it functions.”[1]

There is no formal definition of social media 1.0 and 2.0, but here is my vision.  Social media 1.0 is what you currently see coming from most Member offices.  It involves basic posting on Facebook and Twitter and floor speech recordings on YouTube.  Its goal is to supplement traditional media coverage and draw attention to a Member’s legislative achievements.

Social media 2.0 is a planned and clearly orchestrated attempt to inspire action among its followers.  Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube posts are coordinated to present a central theme and encourage followers to express their feelings through replies or definitive action.  All social media postings are integrated to ensure a consistent message.  In addition, new forms of technology – such as mobile – are leveraged to enhance exposure.

A recent Roll Call article discussing radio’s influence on Congress included a quote from Rachel Maddow noting that “comparatively speaking, messaging on the left is much more ad hoc, much less disciplined and repetitive, and much less wide-reaching.”[2] The fact is Republican social media has been much more coordinated, with many more GOP members leveraging Web channels, as noted in our past article “Enthusiasm or Emphasis?“.  While social media is not the only reason for greater Republican messaging coordination, it is an important one.

Need a lesson on the power of social media 2.0?  Look to private business or entertainment.  Watch television commercials and see how the advertisements are encouraging you to log online or visit a Facebook page for more information.  Congressional communications in the digital age is about salesmanship as much as it is about substance.  And Members of Congress that harness a coordinated message supplemented by next generation social media tactics will be the ones to prevail.


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Enthusiasm or Emphasis?

October 24, 2010

Recent studies have found Republicans capturing a decided advantage over Democrats in the social media sphere. A September study by OhMyGov finds Republican Members of Congress outdistancing their Democratic counterparts on Facebook by more than 2-to-1. The gap is also widening, with the Republican Facebook following increasing by 35 percent from May 1 to August 31, compared to 22 percent by Democrats. A recent Burston-Marsteller report found similar numbers for Twitter. Republican campaign-focused Twitter accounts average 4,820 followers versus 2,972 for Democrats. Of the top ten most followed Twitter accounts, eight are Republicans.

According to the OhMyGov report, on Election Day in 2008, President Obama’s Facebook page had more than 112,000 fans compared to Senator McCain’s 4,600. The Democrats’ social media dominance seemed as firmly entrenched as their Congressional majorities. But in a span of two years – just as they are on the cusp of flipping the makeup of Congress –­ Republicans have captured the social media market. The question is how? Is it firmly the result of voter enthusiasm? Or have the Republicans placed a greater emphasis on social media and used it to ignite an anti-Democratic fervor?

Accounting for official Congressional social media pages, Republicans Members of Congress have 133 Twitter pages (61%) and 206 Facebook pages (96%), according to www.govsm.com. Democratic Members of Congress total 99 Twitter pages (32%) and 238 Facebook pages (76%). These numbers demonstrate that Republicans place a greater emphasis on digital communications than their Democratic counterparts.

Heading into the 2010 midterm elections, no constituency has shown more enthusiasm than the Tea Party. A recent CNN poll finds that 73 percent of Tea Party supporters are “very enthusiastic” about voting in November. Consequently only 43 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Republican say the same. And these numbers are reflective in campaign social media statistics. According to a recent study by headcount.org, four of the top seven Senate campaign social media followings – when combining Facebook and Twitter followers – are Tea Party backed candidates. These politicians include Jim Demint, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Sharron Angle.

While far from being statistically significant, these numbers prove that both enthusiasm and emphasis are necessary to build a social media following. In 2010, the Republican Party has both – its base is much more engaged and party leaders are effectively capitalizing on that fervor through multimedia means – reminiscent of President Obama’s campaign in 2008.

 


Party Website Wars (Part Two)

September 26, 2010

After reviewing the DNC’s new Website last week, it is time to fixate our eyes on the RNC’s revamped www.gop.com.

As the minority party, the site takes a very aggressive tone. When opening the home page, there are two images with rotating messages – these messages include:

  • Where’s the Bus? – redirects visitors to www.firepelosibus.com
  • Deficit of Hope – opens a negative video regarding the President, stimulus and budget deficit
  • Stop Obama, Start Volunteering – redirects visitors to volunteer.gop.com, which presents upcoming volunteer opportunities and a video message from Congressman Mike Pence (R-IN)
  • Get Your Fire Pelosi Gear Now – redirects visitors to the GOP store
  • Volunteer from Home – redirects visitors to volunteer.gop.com
  • Show your Support – presents GOP donation opportunities

Of the six rotating messages, four are negative. This is an example of the Republican strategy heading into the midterms. Somewhat surprisingly, the new House Republican agenda unveiled by Congressman John Boehner (R-OH) on Thursday is no where to be seen on the Website – minimizing its significance during the campaign season.

Scrolling down the page, there are three subsets with the headers “Steps to Victory”, “Trending” and “New & Noteworthy.” Further down the page there are imbedded campaign videos from Republican candidates throughout the country. This is something the Democratic Party lacks on its home page. The videos are effective in highlighting top-tier candidates and top-level Republican messages.

An innovative feature of gop.com is RNC Women. Just as the DNC has a Spanish option specifically to connect with Hispanic constituents, the RNC has a specific site dedicated for outreach to women. RNC Women spotlights female Republican candidates, contains RNC Women social media links, and has female-specific resources such as videos, training manuals, groups and polling.

The RNC’s Website also contains a customization option for the home page. Visitors can change the color of the page, enter their zip code and highlight issues that are most important to them.  This tool – despite its prominent positioning on the page – is not very effective. Allowing users to control the look of gop.com eliminates the Republican Party’s ability to brand itself. In addition, the zip code and issue elements do not appear to have any redeeming value. After entering those into the system, the home page does not change and it lacks the local flare of the DNC’s site.

Objectively, the site could use more social media interaction. While the DNC directed supporters to individual candidates’ Facebook and Twitter pages, the RNC only directs visitors to official RNC social media sites.  In addition, gop.com lacks interactive elements such as the iPhone canvassing app and localized content. These differences are indicative of party strategies for November with the Democrats trying to localize races while the Republicans are working toward a national referendum.

The RNC does a great job of incorporating video on its Website and those videos coupled with attack-oriented merchandise and alternative Websites – such as www.firepelosibus.com – will go a long way toward driving the Republican base to voting booths on November 2.


Party Website Wars (Part One)

September 21, 2010

Last week the DNC released its redesigned Website, www.democrats.org. This follows the RNC’s unveiling of www.gop.com earlier in the summer. A close inspection of both Websites highlights the parties’ differing strategies as they compete for votes in November. Today, we will begin examining the party Website wars with the Democrats.

Opening democrats.org, it is easy to be struck but its simplicity. The top prominently displays the party’s new slogan – “Change that Matters” – and a new logo with ambitions of building upon the successes of President Obama’s logo which was prominently displayed on merchandise throughout the summer of 2008. In the top right corner the site offers a Spanish version – something the Republicans lack – demonstrating the Democrat’s outreach to that important constituency.

The new DNC logo

The most eye catching element of the site’s home page is its large banner with four rotating messages:

  • “The history of the Democrats is the history of America” (with a picture of President Roosevelt)
  • “A new identity that captures the spirit that unites us all” (exploring the new look and image of the party)
  • Join an organizing rally with President Obama
  • Pledge a commitment to vote in November

Democrats.org main banner

Remaining above the fold, the most innovative aspect of democrats.org is the “find a local candidate” feature. Users can type in their zip code and the site will highlight all Democratic candidates running for Senate, Governor or House of Representatives in that state or district. When users click on the candidate’s profile, a quote from the candidate is displayed along with their primary Website, Facebook page, local event information and volunteer information.

Scrolling down the home page, visitors will find the main DNC social media links – including Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Flickr – and streaming Democratic Twitter updates from the party, a candidate and a state party. In addition, as Website users scroll to the bottom of the page they find a group of nine boxes with links to such features as the Democratic store, an iPhone canvassing app and a video from David Plouffe.

OFA iPhone Canvassing App

When a user signs in, they are presented with a personalized Dashboard. The Dashboard includes options such as signing up for events, finding Democratic groups in an area, writing a blog and updating a profile. Users can also enter their cell phone number to receive campaign messages via text.

For me, the most effective tool of the Website is the local candidate feature, which not only informs voters of their local candidates, but highlights upcoming events and connects voters to their candidates via social media. The Spanish option for the Website is very important and the site does a good job of incorporating the party’s new logo and inspirational leaders (Obama and Roosevelt).

Objectively, it would be great to incorporate video more prominently on the home page. Democrats.org has minimal embedded video and does very little on its home page to incite passion among the Democratic base. The Website does a tremendous job of delivering local information to supporters but lacks the fervor to rally people to volunteer and vote.

And when it comes to passion and inciting fervor, it is tough to compete with the GOP – and we will examine their Website in our next installment.


Planting the Seeds of a Campaign on Social Media

September 7, 2010

The other day I received an e-mail alerting me that George Allen was following me on Twitter. This peaked my curiosity, knowing the former Governor and Senator is exploring a return to politics after his stunning loss to Jim Webb in 2006. The question to ponder is how can perspective politicians utilize social media as a precursor to a campaign?

2012 Presidential hopefuls Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee are obvious candidates to examine for this article but instead we are going to fixate our eyes on the state of Virginia and examine two statewide politicians from opposing sides of the political spectrum.

Heading into his 2006 Senate reelection campaign, George Allen was seen by many as the preeminent face of the Republican Party. Many considered his Senate reelection campaign a mere footnote to a 2008 Presidential run. Then on August 11, 2006 Allen had his infamous ‘macaca’ moment, and the campaign derailed. Allen ended up losing to Jim Webb by approximately 8,800 votes, forcing the prominent Republican into obscurity.

Fast forward to 2010 and it is no secret that Allen is considering a rematch against Webb in two years. Allen is very active on Facebook, with his page consisting of more than 3,000 fans. He is working feverishly to increase his Twitter following. Allen is using social media to promote events he is attending on behalf of fellow Virginia Republicans, highlight articles that expound his political views, discuss sports and promote his new book.

Terry McAuliffe is best known in Washington has the chief fundraising architect for President Bill Clinton and former head of the Democratic National Committee. McAuliffe decided to try his hand in elected office, running for Governor of Virginia in 2009. Despite an overwhelming fundraising advantage and a lead in the polls for much of the primary, McAuliffe succumbed to a late surge from State Senator Creigh Deeds.

Judging by his actions, many belief McAuliffe is considering another run in 2013. McAuliffe is not active on Facebook though he is on Twitter, with more than 2,300 followers. He also regularly updates his Web site, www.terrymcauliffe.com. Similar to Allen, McAuliffe uses social media to promote events he attends on behalf of fellow Virginia Democrats as well as highlight interviews he participates in with reporters. McAuliffe is not as active as Allen on Twitter, only tweeting every few days.

Social media is a great avenue for prospective candidates to test the waters of a potential run for office. Politicians can demonstrate their commitment to the community, showcase their work with local political leaders and test messaging. Similar to other aspects of a campaign such as fundraising and community support, it is much easier to build a successful social media infrastructure by planting the seeds before announcing a candidacy.