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Capitol Hill Beginning to Embrace Digital Media

This report from Edelman on the attitudes of Capitol Hill staffers in the U.S. and Europe is worth reading.

One statistic that jumped out at me: 32% of Members use Twitter and 62% use Facebook.  I’m surprised these numbers aren’t higher.

Politico’s #NextinTech and the Future of Newspapers

As better writers than I have already turned out excellent work on the tech policy discussion sponsored by Politico’s @morningtech writers and Qualcomm,  I wanted to draw some attention to what Politico, as a news organization has been doing over the last several months as compared to DC’s other news outlets. (By news outlets, I mean published in print and online.) While newspapers have come a long way since  our 2008 report on the Use of the Internet by America’s Newspapers, Politico stands out in several important regards.

next-42-tech-freemium-inline1. Organizing off-line events to generate unique content and drive traffic

In the last three weeks Politico has organized two events with great speakers that attracted a significant amount of earned media. The October 25th “Political Campaigns and Social Media” panel discussion hosted at GWU was covered live by CSPAN and attended by a capacity crowd. Likewise today’s “#NextinTech” event was attended by a capacity crowd and featured discussions with US CTO Aneesh Chopra, U.S. Senators @MarkWarner and @JohnEnsign, Representatives @AnnaEshoo, ITIF’s Rob Atkinson, Google’s Pablo Chavez and Dell’s Frank Muehleman. So far it has generated at least 715 tweets by 301 influential people and several dozen high impact blog postings. (Not to mention an unknown amount of potential new subscribers for Politico Pro.)

2. Making their reporters available off-line

Outside of online Q&A sessions and their own book signings, few reporters from other news organizations make public appearances. (Local TV station and online newspaper TBD, which is also a subsidiary of Allbritton Communications being a notable exception.) I intend to do additional research to document this, but from a brief survey of colleagues in the know, similar efforts by other outlets are hard to find. For instance, the Washington Post’s website lists nothing in the way of future or past events. There are just certain things you will hear from reporters in person that you won’t online, such as that Politico’s Ben Smith is often frustrated by the trolling and off-topic comments on his blog. Things like this are objectively true, yet not something really worth him writing or complaining about.

3. Adapting 50-Cent’s Business Model

Don’t let the ‘Biblical Strategies’ title scare you, Michael Holmes does a great job of summarizing how 50-Cent used a mixture of ambition, hustling, finding a way to stand out, having testers and turning adversity into opportunity and achieve success. A lot of these theories have been applied in some manner or fashion by Politico, such as how Mike Allen’s Playbook endeared itself to a unique and powerful audience, which in turn generated a NYT profile, that generated even more subscribers and  has at least given Politico’s new paid content- Politico Pro a chance at succeeding where others pay-walls have not.

Recommend write-ups:

Grant Gross at PCWorld: “Some Tech Issues May Move Forward in Congress.”

“ From 1994 to 2000, Republicans controlled Congress and a Democrat, Bill Clinton, was president, yet several major pieces of tech-related bills passed during that time, Atkinson…Legislation passing during that period included the Telecommunications Act, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Electronic Signature Act, and Congress passed new high-skill immigration rules and significantly increased money for tech-related research.”

Alex Howard at gov20.govfresh: “US CTO Chopra on what’s next in tech: open government, spectrum policy, HIT, learning IT.”

”First, it’s clear that Chopra and the Obama administration is thinking about online privacy, with the recently announced Internet privacy committee. There are open questions about how much portfolio, budget, subpoena power or other authority any new position would hold, but it’s an area to watch. Chopra said that he had met with Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and had found him supportive of privacy policy.”

"Politics Get Social" – A Social Media Club DC Event

blog_smcdc_event1This past Wednesday, we attended another excellent event organized by the Social Media Club DC (SMCDC), about the state of social media use in elections. As a topic that The Bivings Report has touched upon many times in the past several months, we were excited to hear the perspectives of political operatives, academics and non-profit consultants as to the best practices and tactics of the 2010 midterm elections. Lobbyists, PR professionals, and social media entrepreneurs were all eager to analyze the impact and results that Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare had on voter turnout and results.

Professor Lauren Feldman of American University shared her analysis of  the polling data her team obtained during the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. The rally offered special badges on Foursquare just for checking in, and Feldman shared statistics about what parentages of people used social media to learn about the event and its details. For instance, of the 232,122 people who RSVP’d on Facebook, it appears that nearly everyone showed up. Also worth noting- while 31% of survey respondents at the rally reported directly volunteering for a political cause at some point in the past year, twice as many- 64% used social media as a form of political participation.

As for the role of location based tools and during the election,  while 12 million Facebook users clicked the “I Voted” button, only 56,000 Foursquare users got the voting badge.  Also for those of you wondering why custom Foursquare badges are few and far between, one attendee with insider knowledge claimed that Foursquare asks for $100,000 and 6-month timeframe to get a custom badge created. 

The event speakers included:Katie Harbath, Chief Digital Strategist at the National Republican Senatorial CommitteeLauren Feldman, a faculty member at American University in political science and Michael Mayernick, founder of social giving startup giv.to. A few interesting highlights from the panelists included:

  • For the 2010 election cycle- Only 5% of all expenditures went towards social media. However it is worth remembering that  in 2004 when most incumbent Senators last ran for re-election, social media barley existed.
  • Social Media as a platform for brining partisans together: Both Democrats and Republican agree that candidates should do their own tweeting and that campaigns need to devote more resources to online engagement. Both staffers and supporters prefer candidates who engage in conversation over staff managed accounts that do nothing but push press releases. Many of those we talked to in attendance mentioned they would not contribute to a candidate who does not do their own tweeting.
  • National campaign committees are seeing an increasing amount of mobile traffic, with the NRSC receiving an impressive 7% of website traffic from mobile phones. They also found that iPhone push notifications were more valuable then SMS text messages.

Moving forward, the Q&A session also brought up some interesting social media policy questions, such as whether or not it is appropriate for elected officials who leave office to keep their official titles in their Twitter handles and if official accounts such as @PressSec created by Robert Gibbs belong to him or the government. The consensus was that for accounts like @GovMikeHuckabee, keeping the “Gov” title is acceptable as a matter of protocol, but that @PressSec belongs to the office of the @WhiteHouse Press Secretary, not an individual person.

Facebook as Predictor of the 2010 Elections

A few days ago Facebook released a study that showed that in most cases the candidate with the most Facebook fans won the election.  Specifically, they wrote:

“The Facebook political team’s initial snapshot of 98 House races shows that 74% of candidates with the most Facebook fans won their contests. In the Senate, our initial snapshot of 19 races shows that 81% of candidates with the most Facebook fans won their contests.”

Folks a lot smarter than I am have deftly pointed out the problems with the concept that you can predict election results based on the number of Facebook fans.  We have no idea how many of the fans actually live in the district of the politicians they are fans of.  Tea Party and colorful folks tend to attract more fans that more straightforward candidates.  Etc.  Etc.

However, I did want to add one small point to the discussion.  For politicians in lower profile races (Congress in particular), the number of Facebook hands is more an indication of how hard they have worked to recruit fans than it is of voter enthusiasm.

These fans don’t just appear out of the blue – campaigns work hard to actively build their fan base using a variety of tactics.  Do they have a prominent Facebook link on their site?  Do they include their Facebook address in email communication?  Do they post compelling content?  Do they run Facebook ads in an effort to promote their page?

Politicians with national profiles can simply put a Facebook page up and watch the numbers grow.  But your run-of-the-mill Congressional candidate has to work to grow their supporter base.  If you put in the time and spend some money you can make your numbers go up.  If you don’t, your numbers will stay pretty flat unless you are a sensation like Christine O’Donnell or Sharon Angle.

Foursquare’s “I Voted” Badge- How Will Campaigns Use It?

WebWhile most of the news surrounding Foursquare’s announcement on Mashable that users will now get a custom badge for voting on election day, so far not much has been written about the most interesting, and potentially explosive aspect- the Foursquare election data visualization site.

Although Gowalla was first to announce an election badge and actively seek to partner with individual campaigns, Foursquare along with partner organizations have taken it to the next level with their integration of OpenStreetMap and official polling locations provided by the Voting Information Project.

Traditionally campaigns have monitored turnout on election day by recording the cumulative total of votes cast per polling place on an hourly basis. This data is then put into a spreadsheet / giant whiteboard and if turnout is lower than expected, you redirect all of your phone banks and canvassers to ‘flush’ your voters out of their homes and to the polls.

In 2008 the Obama campaign realized that rather than wait an hour, they could get real time results that would not only tell them how many people voted, but also who voted. Thanks to smart phones, a simple web application and local election laws allowing campaign volunteers to be inside polling places, the Obama campaign now had real time results of how well they were doing. (Disclosure: I volunteered for the Obama campaign as a legal poll monitor and observed this first hand. I do not know if McCain campaign had a similar program.)

If voters do embrace Foursquare to check into polling places for the 2010 midterms,  not only could this boost turnout for key demographics and identify issues at polling places, it could also make exit polling obsolete.

ivotedbadgeWith this new data on hand, a savvy campaign or organization could create another app to search for the #ivoted hashtag and report back a list of users who checked into certain precincts. Next, an algorithm performs a quick sentiment analysis of past tweets to determine political affiliation, and BINGO- up to the minute election results. While no automated sentiment analysis is perfect, I would imagine that counting & comparing  the number of politicians  someone follows would get you close. Cross checking with the candidates followers would get you closer still.  Count the # of  @BarackObama vs. @SarahPalinUSA re-tweets and you’re there.  

So What Should Campaigns Do?
Besides email address and cell phone numbers- Ask for Twitter handles. Encourage your supporters to sign up for Twitter and Foursquare to support your candidate and let you know when they have voted. If you have a Foursquare account for your candidate, you would also have the benefit of a customized stream of your supporters checking in and voting.

What Will Campaigns Do?
As my former colleague Philip de Vellis of Murphy Putnam pointed out at the Politico / Facebook panel on politics and social media Monday evening, in times of uncertainty campaigns tend to fall back on what they know- namely TV ads. Others mentioned that campaigns have shifted to spending less than 5% of their budgets online. Given that devoting resources to something new and unproven is a little bit scary, I predict that widespead adoption of social media advertising (and spending that follows) will not be broadly adopted until 2012.

For some background on how this all came about, check out the 9/28 RWW blog posting “Could Location Base Services Increase Civic Engagement in Millennials.”