Magazine article Politics Magazine

Here's Your Real Online Advantage: And No, It's Not Viral Videos; Too Many Consultants Think of the Internet as Just an Automated Teller Machine

Magazine article Politics Magazine

Here's Your Real Online Advantage: And No, It's Not Viral Videos; Too Many Consultants Think of the Internet as Just an Automated Teller Machine

Article excerpt

For several years now, we've known certain truisms about the Internet: It can help candidates raise money, generate e-mail lists useful for all sorts of campaign activities and lead to massive earned media (especially when Obama Girl is involved). But what's most fascinating is that the web has other abilities that campaigns are only beginning to tap.

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Not the least of these involves the oldest political task in the book. Last year, Karl Rove shared with me a letter that Abraham Lincoln wrote to the Whig committee in 1840. Lincoln told them his four essential activities for campaigning: 1) make a list of issues, 2) ascertain supporters with certainty, 3) have "undecideds" be talked to by supporters whom they hold in confidence and 4) make certain every voter is brought to the polls. Karl updated the letter to include: enlist volunteers to do the four tasks, register voters and raise money to support the other six activities.

I'd like to suggest one more critical addition: Use the Internet as a more efficient, less expensive channel to reach voters with certainty. And I mean more than establishing a presence on social networks and video-sharing sites, although this is a wise first step.

Social networks and video websites do provide an excellent opportunity for candidates to be heard, but they are largely media strategies based on hope: I hope someone will join my network, I hope someone will watch my video, I hope my video will go viral. In a mass-media world where control has shifted into the hands of the masses, it's not enough to rely on social networks and video sharing to gather large-scale audiences; candidates and campaign strategists will never deliver the certainty in message delivery that they need to shift opinion and win elections.

The main problem is that most campaigns see social networks and video-sharing sites as a cheap alternative to paid media. In fact, these sites are "participation media" that rely on users to keep them fresh and relevant. But they are not an alternative to paid media, which guarantees your political message will be delivered to specific audiences at a specific time. Similar to traditional media, online paid media--through both search and online display advertising--provides the certainty campaigns require.

Just consider that 72 percent of U.S. households are online and that, according to Forrester Research, that audience will grow to 80 percent by 2012.This figure surpasses the 61 percent of U.S. households that have cable television. So whether you are running for a federal, state or local office, your supporters and undecideds are online. In fact, 18-to-64-year-old online users spend 17 percent of their weekly media consumption on the Internet--excluding e-mail. On Yahoo! alone, there are more than 114 million adults of voting age, two-thirds of them between ages 25 and 64.

Yet political campaigns are about seven years behind the private sector in their use of the Internet as a paid media vehicle. Between 1 to 2 percent of political media budgets will be allocated to the Internet in the 2008 race. As they have done for more than 50 years, campaigns will turn to TV and direct mail, which, according to PQ Media, will garner 79 percent of the $5. …

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