Internet Altering Political Media Priorities

March 20, 2011

A new survey by the Pew Research Center demonstrates the Internet’s emerging influence on politics and media.  While it is no surprise the Internet is affecting how politicians communicate, some of the survey’s results are striking and may force Members of Congress and candidates to adapt new media policies even quicker than expected.

During the 2010 campaign season, 54 percent of all American adults went online to get news or information regarding campaigns, according to the Pew survey.  Online initiatives are categorized as obtaining political news online, going online to take part in specific political activities, or leveraging Twitter or social media sites for political purposes.

The Internet’s emergence is even starker when comparing statistics to past surveys.  People watching campaign-related videos online jumped from 19 percent in 2006 to 31 percent in 2010.  In addition, only 16 percent of adult Internet users utilized social media sites in 2006, while 60 percent did in 2010.  Lastly, 24 percent of adults got a majority of their campaign news from the Internet, a three-fold increase from 2002.  Adults ages 18-49 leveraged the Internet more than newspapers and radio to obtain political news during the 2010 elections.

Another Pew Research Center study, examining how people obtain local news and information, continues to demonstrate media’s extraordinary transformation.  The “How Mobile Devices are Changing Community Information Environments” study finds that 47 percent of American adults report they have received some local news and information from their cellphone or tablet device.

Pew’s statistics demonstrate the need for political press professionals to critically evaluate their media priorities.  As radio and newspapers succumb to the rise of Internet news sources, blog interviews and online chats with supporters may take precedence over radio interviews and Sunday editorial columns.  Politicians will have to evaluate their local media to determine the best avenue to reach constituents, but must ensure Internet-based outlets are part of the equation.


The Ascension of Mobile Tracking

March 7, 2011

Mobile phone tracking garnered extensive media attention this past week when the Chinese government announced it would monitor the locations of residents in Beijing in order to alleviate traffic congestion.[i] The announcement generated condemnation from privacy groups and reignited concerns among Internet and mobile users on the safety of their personal information.

In much less publicized announcements, both AT&T and Loopt, a location-based application company, unveiled technologies that will allow businesses to send location-specific offers directly to consumers’ phones.[ii] As CNN explains, Loopt’s Reward Alerts application will send participating smartphone users notifications that a deal is immediately available in their area. AT&T customers will be able to opt in to receiving location-based deals by text message and will either be directed to a mobile website where they can redeem the deal or be told to go to a local establishment.

As traditional forms of advertising continue to decline in influence, location-based marketing offers exciting opportunities for businesses, and subsequently politicians, as we will explain in a minute.  Expansion is inevitable, with only four percent of online adults using “geosocial” sites according to a Pew Research study from December 2010.[iii] This number will quickly escalate as more consumer use smartphones and tablets, such as the iPad.  Foursquare, the leader in location-based subscribers, has more than seven million users, up from two million in July 2010, when we first discussed location-based applications in the article “Mapping Congress.”[iv]

Politically, particularly when it comes to campaigning, location-based applications are a valuable tool for organizing canvassing efforts and alerting supporters of upcoming events.  In addition, by creating a mobile application that constituents can download, campaigns have an additional tool to collect phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and other contact information from potential voters.  On Election Day, campaigns can send alerts to supporters reminding them to vote and pointing them toward their polling location.

Location-based applications have more than tripled their subscriber numbers in the past eights months.  Considering the exponential increases other social media tools experienced in their infancy, coupled with extraordinary sales numbers for smartphones and tablets, it only makes sense that location-based application usage will continue to surge leading into 2012.  Just as businesses and communications service providers are launching mobile advertising and tracking initiatives, incumbents and potential challengers will need to leverage new technological capabilities to maximize campaign and canvassing efforts during election season.



What Does AOL’s Acquisition of The Huffington Post Signify about Media?

February 26, 2011

The news that AOL purchased The Huffington Post for $315 million shook the journalism world.  Liberals lamented the potential demise for one if their most potent voices.  Business commentators debated the deal’s financial implications for the past Internet titan.  But the most important question is what does this convey about media as a whole?

We have previously highlighted statistics demonstrating the readership decline for traditional print newspapers, particularly in our article “The Power of Online Political News”.  The Huffington Post exemplifies a successful online media model.  The publication, started in 2005 by founder Arianna Huffington and a core group of contributors, leverages an array of news sources and columnists to delve into a multitude of subjects, particularly progressive politics.  In 2010 the publication posted its first profit, a virtually non-existent concept among print media publications today.

AOL is betting its future on the idea that online media will maintain its profitability.  The company, which once stood as the stalwart for connecting people to the Internet, is experiencing difficulty as its original business model – dial-up Internet service – becomes obsolete.

AOL operates dozens of online media publications including TechCrunch, Patch, and PoliticsDaily.  According to this e-mail from CEO Tim Armstrong, AOL is integrating its media brands under the Huffington Post Media Group, with Arianna Huffington serving as president and editor-in-chief.

“We continue to put significant bets behind our strategy of high quality content and advertising at scale – on AOL properties and our growing network of publishing partners,” said Armstrong.

“By combining HuffPost with AOL’s network of sites, thriving video initiative, local focus, and international reach, we know we’ll be creating a company that can have an enormous impact, reaching a global audience on every imaginable platform,” said Huffington in a note to her publication’s readers.

Traditional newspapers will continue to maintain an important presence in American culture, but their decline will persist in the face of deteriorating readership and consolidations.  Warren Buffet, investment tycoon and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, noted that “the newspaper business will be tougher and tougher and tougher, and it is already plenty tough.  While the [The Washington Post] is the centerpiece of the Washington Post Company, that doesn’t mean it will earn the most money.”[i]

The AOL and Huffington Post merger is a bet on media’s future.  According to Huffington, AOL just finished building a pair of state-of-the-art video studios in New York and Los Angeles, and video views on AOL have gone up 400 percent over the last year.[ii] This changing media dynamic will continue to alter political campaigning and governing, accentuating the importance of new media, video, and future technological innovations to promote legislative achievements.

The Missing Art of the Lower Third

February 19, 2011

Members of Congress are increasingly posting videos on YouTube and other social media channels, a phenomenon we have highlighted extensively in previous posts.  But many Members are missing valuable opportunities to further enhance their video quality and ensure their primary messages resonate.

As an example, here is a recent video from Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) questioning Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

In a seven minute video, Senator Sanders highlights many causes for this country’s current budgetary deficit.  The Senator offers many poignant points, including ways in which he worked to stem the deficit, but because the video is so long, viewers may miss some of the speech’s key points.  This is where video graphics, particularly a lower third, can help.

Now those unfamiliar with video and advertising may be asking what a lower third is.  Understandable, as I had no clue until leveraging them extensively for advertisements when I was working at Ohio University.

Above is a press conference clip, telecast on MSNBC, involving House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) discussing a meeting with President Barack Obama.  The lower third is the graphic underneath the Majority Leader with the header “developing now”.  You will see lower thirds routinely in advertising and news.

Lower thirds are easy to program and widely effective.  Considering many Congressional offices use Adobe Premiere Pro to create videos, the software offers dozens of premade templates that new media directors can easily edit to fit within the office’s overall design theme.  When an office records a Member’s floor speech, it can include information such as the Member’s website URL, speech highlights, additional facts to reinforce the speech’s content, information about a Member’s e-mail newsletter, and much more.

It can be hard to capture a constituent’s attention for a full five minute floor speech, or eight hours as Senator Sanders demonstrated back in December.  Video graphics are an easy and cost effective mechanism to accentuate messaging and drive viewers to other communications resources.  In addition, stylish video graphics will ensure viewers continue to tune in and enhance the probability they will forward video links to friends.

Social Media Invoking Social Change?

February 3, 2011

While it normally does not fit within the context of discussions on this website, I would be remiss to neglect discussing what we can learn about new forms of communication from the events in Egypt this past week.

It is impossible to draw parallels between what is happening in Egypt and past utilization of social media in the United States, or anywhere else in the world.  What one has to admire, and study, is how multiple communications tools have turned uncoordinated social protests into a political movement.  What is extraordinary to witness is that this social revolution – which it can be legitimately called at this point – is truly a movement from the masses, with no help from centralized leadership.

Earlier this week, NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams interviewed some of the ten volunteers who are helping coordinate protestor activity in Cairo.  You heard that correctly, there are only ten people actively coordinating the demonstrations of millions.

The events in Egypt are also an illustration of how newer, multimedia channels are dwarfing traditional media.  The Egyptian people are communicating through social media, text, and mobile phones, and the world is watching through those same avenues.  This past week weekend, traditional news sites were leveraging Twitter as a means to collect news and the Egyptian government’s decision to shutdown internet service caused worldwide condemnation.

Certainly Egypt is a once-in-a-generation example, but what we are witnessing is an illustration of how communication is continuing to evolve and effect our lives.  Just as the printing press had an instrumental affect on the reformation and subsequent revolutionary activity in Renaissance Europe, new forms of communication are central to invoking social change in the world.


State of the Union Multimedia

January 29, 2011

The State of the Union address is always an exciting time for political junkies.  The proliferation of technology has continuously changed the address and created ample opportunities for the President’s supporters and opponents to express their opinions.  No longer do Members of Congress have to file into Statutory Hall in the hopes of garnering a 15 second sound byte on the national news, although many still do.  Politicians can now take command of their message and ensure it reaches their core audience.

Instead of delving into the policies presented in the speech, which many pundits already have, we are going to examine the ways in which Members of Congress leveraged the Web to ensure their voices were heard during the important occasion.

Following the Congressional Twitter stream on, two Representatives stood out as the most active during the speech.  Congressman Paul Broun (R-GA) was the most outspoken critic of the President’s address.  It was revealed on national news the next day that the Congressman watched the address from his office instead of the House floor.  During the speech he presented many critiques such as “Obama’s policies kill free-enterprise.” Ultimately, the Congressman’s efforts were rewarded as national news programs, such as Hardball with Chris Matthews, publicized Broun’s activities, giving the Georgia Representative more publicity than virtually all of his colleagues.

Congressman Keith Ellison (DFL-MN) was the most prolific Democratic Twitter user during the speech.  The third term Congressman expressed elation and consternation at many of the President’s policy positions.  The Congressman now has nearly 10,000 Twitter followers, a very strong number for a Representative.  Organizing for America also tweeted live during the speech, repeating many of the President’s key phrases and policy positions.

After the speech concluded, many Members expressed their initial reactions via social media.  Some Congressman took it a step further, delivering their initial remarks with video.  While Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) was delivering the official Republican response to the State of the Union, leading House GOP members including Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) responded to supporter questions received via Twitter on House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s YouTube page.  In addition, Congressman Cliff Stearns (R-FL) streamed his response live via UStream.

The White House joined in on the most wired State of the Union address in history. streamed the address live and had policy advisors answer questions from Americans following the President’s speech.  In addition, the website had a seating chart identifying who was sitting with the First Lady.

Technology’s affect on the State of the Union is truly remarkable.  The President even joked, as he was walking toward the podium, that the address had already been leaked for hours and there was no purpose for him to read it.  Technology will play an even greater role in the years to come.  More people will watch the speech leveraging a mobile device and Members of Congress will become more creative in expressing their views.

Lastly, as a side note, will a staffer please buy Governor Mitch Daniels (R-IN) a DVR or Tivo.  This is 2011, the technology is available to watch two things at once.


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.