ELECTION-WINNING LESSONS FROM ANOTHER BROWN; Web Social Networking Could Be a Trump Card for Politicians. Philip Delves Broughton Explains How It Works

Article excerpt

Byline: Philip Delves Broughton

INNOVATIONS in political campaigning now move at warp speed. So while the Tories and Labour are throwing money at former campaign advisers to President Obama, hoping they can repeat the magic of America's 2008 presidential election, the tricks of that era have been overtaken already.

The Obama campaign's great leap forward was to recognise the value of letting supporters use social networks to persuade their peers. It even recruited one of the founders of Facebook to run its social networking strategy. Millions of political novices were able to make the campaign their own in a way that had never occurred before.

Eighteen months on, the campaign momentum has reverted to the Republicans who, after their hammering by Obama in 2008, quickly learned their lesson. In January, they won back Teddy Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts, a Democratic fortress for decades.

The virtually unknown Republican candidate, Scott Brown, updated the campaign manual yet again. He went online to devastating effect -- not promoting a blog, but rather creating a hub for a network of supporters. He used Ning, an online platform that allows you to build a social network around any area of interest you choose. The Brown Brigade was born.

His under-resourced campaign also used free Google applications to communicate. Volunteers began using Google Docs to create call lists and schedules, which could be updated by anyone, anywhere.

The campaign also made great use of Google advertising. During the last week of the campaign, it ran Google ads targeted to appear in Republicanleaning districts asking for volunteers.

The ads were specific to each region, giving directions to Brown's regional offices. Hundreds of people came forward, so many in fact that they were queueing up to man the Brown phone banks. …