Harnessing tHe Political Power of
online social networks and
U s e r - g e n e r at e d c o n t e n t
T h e G r a d u at e S c h o o l o f P o l i t i c a l M a n a g e m e n t
Harnessing tHe Political Power of
online social networks and
U s e r - g e n e r at e d c o n t e n t
T h e G r a d u at e S c h o o l o f P o l i t i c a l M a n a g e m e n t
3. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
Person-to-Person-to-Person: Harnessing the Political Power of Social Networks and User-Generated Content is a
publication of GW’s Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet (IPDI).
Julie Barko Germany, deputy director of IPDI, is the principal editor of this publication. Riki Parikh (research-
er) assisted with research, editing, and writing. Ed Trelinski (event manager), Chris Brooks (financial manager),
and Ryan Sullivan (assistant event manager) provided invaluable assistance and helped with the editing. Carol
Darr, director of the Institute, provided additional editing. Ian Koski of On Deck Communication Studio de-
signed and paginated the publication.
This project benefited greatly from the advice and assistance of many individuals. We especially thank all
of our authors: Eric Alterman (KickApps), Colin Delany (epolitics.com), Chuck DeFeo (Townhall.com), Brad Fay
(Keller Fay Group), Joe Green (Essembly.com), William Greene, (RightMarch.com), John Hlinko (Grassroots
Enterprise), Heather Holdridge (Care2), Valdis Krebs (InFlow), Mike Krempasky (Edelman and RedState.com),
Chris MacDonald (Liberated Syndication), Nicco Mele (EchoDitto), Justin Perkins (Care2), Zach Rosen (Civic-
Space Foundation), Alan J. Rosenblatt, (Internet Advocacy Center), Gideon Rosenblatt (ONE/Northwest), Carl
Rosendorf (Gather.com), Phil Sheldon (Diener Consultants, Inc.), Michael Silberman (EchoDitto), Ravi Singh
(ElectionMall.com), and Mara Veraar (Democracyinaction.org). Their opinions, however, as interesting and
provocative as they are, do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute.
IPDI is the premier research and advocacy center for the study and promotion of online politics in a manner
that encourages citizen participation and is consistent with democratic principles. IPDI is non-partisan and
non-profit and is a part of the Graduate School of Political Management at The George Washington University.
F. Christopher Arterton is dean of the school. For more information about the Graduate School of Political Man-
agement, visit www.gwu.edu/~gspm.
For more information about the Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet, visit http:/ /www.ipdi.org.
© GW’s Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet. The editor is Julie Barko Germany.
The date of publication is September 15, 2006.
PERSON-TO-PERSON-TO-PERSON | Page v
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5. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction ................................................................................................................................................ 3
By Julie Barko Germany
Chapter 1 – Social Media: Promising Tool, Double-Edged Sword .................................................. 7
By Colin Delany
Chapter 2 – Don’t Let Go Yet! What You Need to Know about
User-Generated Media and Politics before You Take the Plunge ...................................................13
By Julie Barko Germany
Chapter 3 – Reaching the Under 30 Demographic:
Social Networking in the 2006 Campaigns........................................................................................ 19
By Riki Parikh
Chapter 4 – How Howard Dean Turned Online Social
Networks into an Offline Phenomenon .............................................................................................. 23
By Michael Silberman
Chapter 5 – Call in Now! How Townhall.com Turned Talk Radio
into a Community of Bloggers ............................................................................................................... 29
By Chuck DeFeo
Chapter 6 – Building Networks of Informed Online Adults ........................................................... 33
By Carl Rosendorf
Chapter 7 – The Social Context .............................................................................................................37
By Eric D. Alterman
Chapter 8 – The Emerging Podcast Swing Vote .................................................................................41
By Chris MacDonald
Chapter 9 – Building a Blog Network .................................................................................................. 45
By Michael Krempasky
Chapter 10 – Go with the Flow . . . But Not Just Any Flow ..............................................................49
By Valdis Krebs
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6. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
Chapter 11 – Identity Formation in Online Social Networking Web Sites................................... 53
By Mara Johanna Veraar
Chapter 12 – Take Action, Get Action: Using the Power of Love to Drive Activism ............... 59
By John Hlinko
Chapter 13 – How an E-mail Campaign Can Tap into Social Networks ...................................... 61
By William Greene
Chapter 14 – Take It Offline: How One Person Can Reach One Thousand .............................. 63
By Brad Fay
Chapter 15 – Moving Ideas: A Higher Order Social Network ....................................................... 67
By Alan Rosenblatt
Chapter 16 – Building a Network of Political Allies: How the
Environmental Movement Is Learning to Leverage Its Network of Allies ................................... 69
By Gideon Rosenblatt
Chapter 17 – Essembly ............................................................................................................................ 75
By Joe Green
Chapter 18 – Think like a Rock Band: How to Use Social
Networking Sites for Political Campaigns .......................................................................................... 79
By Justin Perkins and Heather Holdridge
Chapter 19 – Video Games Are Political Tools ................................................................................. 83
By Nicco Mele and David K. Cohen
Chapter 20 – Creating an Online Voter Space ................................................................................. 87
By Ravi Singh
Chapter 21 – Political Organizing through Social
Networking Sites: the Fred Gooltz Story ............................................................................................ 89
By Zack Rosen
Chapter 22 – Is the Hot Factor Worth the Trip?
Why Some Groups Are Forgoing the MySpace Experience .......................................................... 93
By Phil Sheldon
Author Biographies ................................................................................................................................ 97
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7. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
by Julie Barko Germany
Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet
“Social software is political science in executable form.”
- Clay Shirky, Social Software and the Politics of Groups
In July 2006, a Web site called MySpace.com, So what’s a campaign, non-profit, or advocacy
originally used as a way for bands and music lovers group to do when the public wants individualized,
to connect online, became the most popular Web interactive, on-demand content thisveryminute?
site in the United States. Bigger than Google. Big- The good news is that the tools for building active
ger than MSN or Yahoo. Bigger than Amazon. So- social networks already exist. They are surprisingly
cial networking officially arrived for most of main- affordable, and they seem to work well for both na-
stream America. tional movements and small, local campaigns.
Its reign as King of the Web, however, lasted just
a few weeks. YouTube, a site that allows users to
post, share, and discuss videos soon emerged as
the new most popular site on the Web, serving up “Every time someone interacts with
more than one million videos a day. another person, there is the poten-
Is the hype of MySpace in particular and social tial to exchange information about
networks in general justified? In the grand sweep people they both know. The struc-
of social networks – both online and offline – In- ture of everyone’s links to everyone
ternet giant MySpace is considered to be a “low
trust” social network because of its size, the pro-
else is a network that acts as a chan-
liferation of fake profiles, and its devalued concept nel through which news, job tips,
of what constitutes a friend.1 Further, some would possible romantic partners, and
argue that sites like YouTube contain so many dif- contagious diseases travel.”
ferent videos that the only way for political groups – Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
to break through the clutter is to create extreme,
even offensive content – a move that some groups
and campaigns may be unwilling to make. On the
other hand, the promises that Web 2.0 will engage, Nodes and Ties
rejuvenate, and activate the public in new ways
have led many organizations to leverage social net- If you’re looking for a tome on social network
works in relatively simple ways and with successful analysis, then you’ve picked up the wrong hand-
results. book. Person-to-Person-to-Person does not delve
into social network analysis, a cross-disciplinary
study that maps and measures relationships within
1 Cindy Gallop, “Monetize My Social Network? How One a network. You won’t find scatter diagrams in this
can Answer the $580 Million Question,” Adotas, August 10, publication (except on the cover). On the other
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8. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
In a social network, the term “nodes” is
hand, if you’re seeking guidance on how to incor- another word for individuals. The term
porate the existing technology into the strategy of “ties” refers to the relationships between
your campaign or organization, then you’re in the actors. A “scatter diagram” is used in
right place. The authors in this publication offer social network analysis to show poten-
step-by-step guidance and a wealth of expert tips tial relationships between individuals in a
to help you figure it out. network.
Person-to-Person-to-Person includes the advice,
strategies, analysis, and predictions of leading the-
orists and practitioners who work for political can-
didates, advocacy groups, non-profits, and busi-
Some of our authors take a more philosophical
nesses. Almost all of the authors in this publication
approach to using social networks. Others discuss
highlight the importance of blended networking,
incorporating social networks and user-generated
which incorporates both online and offline network-
content into strategy. Still others present case stud-
ing. They use MySpace profiles to drive volunteers
ies that outline their successes and failures. Some
to campaign headquarters, and talk radio shows to
of them talk about the past; others look toward the
herd people onto blogging communities. They en-
future. A few of them discuss large, national cam-
courage their supporters to talk online and publish
paigns, while others illustrate the best tools for lo-
content, such as blog entries or Web videos, and
cal campaigns and non-profit organizations. One
they invite them to attend offline events, volunteer
or two question the power of large social network-
as door-to-door canvassers, and evangelize in their
communities and offices. All of them use technol-
ogy to engage individuals in a community and ask The purpose of this publication is to introduce
them to take some kind of action – whether online you to their ideas, provoke questions within your or-
or offline. ganization, and give you some concrete techniques.
This publication isn’t designed to sit on your shelf.
Every chapter includes tactics, best practices, and
suggestions for creating a social political space –
ideas that you can begin to implement immediate-
ly, once you understand the underlying concepts.
Further Reading Social networking involves a lot more than sim-
ply creating a MySpace profile and asking people to
Mark Buchanan. Nexus: Small list you as their buddy. The idea is to use technol-
Worlds and the Groundbreaking ogy, like the Internet, to develop an active network
Science of Networks (New York: W. W. of supporters around your issue, organization, or
Norton, 2002). candidate. It involves creatively altering your com-
munications strategy to give supporters a voice,
Peter J. Carrington, John Scott and Stan- engage them in the work of your campaign, and
ley Wasserman. Models and Methods empower them to reach people offline.
in Social Network Analysis (New York: This isn’t new. But it is the new business of
Cambridge University Press, 2005). politics. In his 1997 book Interface Culture, Steven
Steven Johnson. Interface Culture: The Johnson writes, “There’s a funny thing about the fu-
Way We Create and Communicate (New sion of technology and culture. It has been a part of
York: Basic Books, 1997). human experience since the first cave painter, but
we’ve had a hard time seeing it until now.”2 Person-
Martin Kilduff and Wenpin Tsai. Social to-Person-to-Person takes what you already know
Networks and Organizations (Thousand about human nature – for example, that people like
Oaks, California: Sage Publications, to be treated as individuals and are more willing
2003). to buy into something when they feel they have a
voice in it – and incorporates the concepts in an af-
Apophenia (http://www.zephoria.org/ fordable, tangible way into strategy.
Network Centric Advocacy Top Ten Tactics:
(http://www.network-centricadvocacy. Throughout Person-to-Person-to-Person, our au-
net/). thors offer some of their best tips, techniques, and
(http://www.networkweaving.com/ 2 Steven Johnson, Interface Culture (New York: Basic Books,
blog/). 1997), 2.
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9. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
advice. We’ve summarized some of their best ad-
vice below. “There’s a funny thing about the fu-
sion of technology and culture. It
1. Make Participation Simple. has been a part of human experience
If it isn’t intuitive, people won’t use it – particu- since the first cave painter, but we’ve
larly people who don’t log on to the Internet every- had a hard time seeing it until now.”
day for work or school. Think about how easy it is - Steven Johnson, Interface Culture
to send a YouTube video or post a photo on Flckr.
Long registration processes and pages of text are
time-consuming, and many people find them to be 3. Build Trust.
prohibitively encumbering. One of the main rea-
Justin Perkins and Heather Holdridge call trust
sons YouTube has become so overwhelming popu-
the “currency” of success in social networking.
lar has do to the ease of use. Writer John C. Dvorak
That trust is a two-way street. Mara Veraar writes
summarized this best in a piece for MarketWatch
of the challenge that advocacy groups face when
earlier this year: “It’s brain dead simple,” he wrote.3
they attempt to build trust with their supporters
Both Chuck DeFeo and Ravi Singh advise politi- online. When conversation moves onto the Inter-
cal groups to make it easy for people to communi- net, identity verification becomes difficult. Help
cate with each other – and with your organization. your supporters get to know you because, in the
As you will read later, DeFeo’s site, Townhall.com, words of Valdis Krebs, strangers don’t make good
created a blogging network of over 1,000 members messengers.
in just a few weeks by providing blog templates for
At the same time, many of our authors write
its users. Similarly, Singh suggests using simple, in-
that political organizations must learn to trust their
expensive software to connect supporters through
supporters. If you can’t trust them, how can you ex-
Web video networks. Technical and financial barri-
pect them to carry your message to others? Mike
ers of entry should not come between you and your
Krempasky suggests leading by example and giving
your supporters a sense of ownership and freedom
to make the site their own. Still, Phil Sheldon rec-
2. Encourage Conversation. ommends establishing standards for community
Zack Rosen calls a good social networking site conduct – and sticking to them.
“a living and growing organism.” Feed it by bring-
ing people together and encouraging them to talk 3.5 Trust but Verify.
to each other as often as possible. Conversation
Remember the adages about birds of a feather
will build a stronger, more active community, as
flocking together and being known by the company
people grow more comfortable working with each
you keep. Colin Delany offers a cautionary note
other – and with you.
about letting anybody and everybody link to you.
Carl Rosendorf recommends jump-starting “I’ve already seen news coverage of a candidate’s
conversation by posting comments at least twice a MySpace site that mentioned some of his more
week. Chuck DeFeo suggests programming inter- noteworthy, (i.e., risqué) friends,” he says. “My
activity into every page of your social networking approach so far has been to approve all friend re-
site. Give people the ability to post comments or quests, figuring that a blanket policy is the safest
forward information from every page on your site. course.”
In the words of Joe Green, conversation becomes
What could be even worse is the creation of a
the “gut-level appeal” that gets people to return to
fake profile. “Fakester Politicians” has happened to
other candidates and it could happen to you. If you,
Michael Silberman and Brad Fay suggest taking your candidate, or your organization has been in
this one step further by creating a two-way con- the public eye for anything longer than a split sec-
versation with your supporters. Invest personal ond, you could be a victim of unauthorized profiles.
time with supporters who are active in your online People may have logged onto a site and created a
community. Make it easy for them to contact you, profile without either your knowledge or your per-
treat their inquiries with respect, personalize your mission. It’s not a rare occurrence. In August 2005,
response, and respond to them in a timely manner. the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune reported that
at least 14 governors had fake profiles.4
3 John C. Dvorak, “Missing the point about YouTube,” Mar- 4 Brady Averill, “Fake MySpace profiles pose a dilemma for poli-
ketWatch (http://www.marketwatch.com/News/Story/ ticians,” StarTribune.com (http://www.startribune.com/587/
kx41F17ZJwXRG8Lm0R8nK9), August 10, 2006. story/612223.html), August 14, 2006.
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10. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
4. Don’t Forget What You Already Know. Rosendorf and Phil Sheldon, and create a group ex-
Joe Green reminds political professionals to ap- perience that enables your supporters to help you
ply what they already know about offline grassroots meet those goals.
organizing to the Internet. Cultivate your early sup-
porters online and empower them to spread your 8. Find the Leaders.
message. Both Ravi Singh and Michael Krempasky
Many of our authors recommend targeting in-
recommend building action tools directly into your
fluencers – the portion of the online and offline
site. But don’t stop there. Brad Fay, Zack Rosen,
population who function as opinion leaders and
and Michael Silberman all recommend combining
share advice with a large network of colleagues
online and offline organizing tools to encourage
and neighbors. Several of our authors offer differ-
activity. As Valdis Krebs writes, “don’t get enam-
ent ways to capture that collection of influential
ored of technology and forget everything you know
activists. Carl Rosendorf recommends finding the
about human behavior. Mix them together.”
people who lead the dialogue in your community
Provide online resources that they can use in the and engaging them more deeply in your organiza-
offline world, such as event planning guides, volun- tion. Michael Silberman also suggests pinpointing
teer registration, customizable newsletters, and your super-activists.
printable talking points.
The point is to target people who are especially
active and who are willing to act on your behalf.
5. Mind Your Content. You’re looking for people who do more than just
Don’t forget to post content regularly. Why? participate once in while. Once you find them, give
Because it provokes conversation, keeps people them more responsibility and reward them for their
engaged in what you are doing, and gives people extra effort. Zack Rosen writes that you might con-
information to share with their personal networks. sider giving them a little message training and let-
Content equals activity. Both Zack Rosen and Carl ting them create their own messages and respond
Rosendorf recommend posting no less frequently to online queries.
than every few days. William Greene suggests re-
sponding quickly to news and current events within 9. Join a Hub.
No one has the money or the staff to solve all the
Follow Chuck DeFeo’s advice and ensure that world’s problems. If you’re a smaller organization
you give people correct information. This includes or non-profit, considering joining forces with other
getting your facts straight the first time and giving organizations to accomplish major goals. A hub of
people geographically-relevant content, such as networks, such as the progressive-leaning Moving
the names and contact information for local media Ideas Network, help organizations work together
and elected officials. by increasing coordination, collaboration, and so-
cial capitol. Alan Rosenblatt, Zack Rosen, and Phil
6. Cross Promote. Sheldon recommend creating and driving people to
a hubsite – a place where people can sign petitions,
Not everyone can find you on his or her own.
write letters, recruit more activists, and learn about
For example, Chuck DeFeo writes that talk radio
boycotts. As Gideon Rosenblatt writes, “By work-
helps push visitors onto his Townhall.com site. Carl
ing in harmony, a network raises the effectiveness
Rosendorf recommends maximizing your media
of each individual while raising the collective effec-
strategy by using each component to promote the
tiveness and value of the entire network.”
others. Use events to promote your Web site, and
your Web site to promote your events. That way,
you reach a wider audience. 10. Be Yourself.
All of us feel a special bond with people and
7. Manage Expectations. organizations that depict themselves genuinely.
Don’t try to conceal your identity, or your human-
Technology does not win elections. However,
ity. Be up front about who you are and what you
using technology effectively can encourage a com-
are trying to accomplish. Often, all it takes is a little
munity to grow around your candidate, organiza-
Internet research to uncover misrepresentations.
tion, or issue. A strong, active community can help
Allow your personality to shine through. As Chris
you meet your goals – from raising money to win-
MacDonald writes, “If you come off like a press re-
ning a campaign. But don’t depend on your net-
lease, you’re dead to the listener.”
work for everything. Set realistic goals, say Carl
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11. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
Promising Tool, Double-Edged Sword
by Colin Delany
Many political campaigns are experimenting Social Networking Sites
with online social networking sites and social media Social networking sites can be a good way to
as ways to reach supporters and motivate volun- reach a new audience, though for most campaigns
teers. What should issue-advocacy and candidate they’ll supplement rather than substitute for an
campaigns keep in mind as they dip their toes into actual Web site. Let’s begin at the beginning – just
this new medium? What’s working? What might what IS a social networking site?
just blow up in your face?
Social networking Web sites are designed to al-
Let’s look at three basic ways to use the con- low people and organizations to set up profile pages
cept. First, your campaign can work with existing and link to other profile pages. It’s that simple. They
social networking sites such MySpace or Friendster work on a “circle of friends” model – presumably
to reach a new audience. Second, you can build
social networking tools into your campaign’s own
Web site to motivate your existing supporters. And
finally, you can take advantage of the broader world
of user-created content to help turn casual sup-
porters into passionate activists. MySpace isn’t the only kid
on the block.
Trying to reach a particular demographic?
Try some of the following sites:
The e.politics (www.epolitics.com/) blog • MomsRising.com
discusses online advocacy and online
politics, including a how-to folder on us- • MiGente.com
ing social networking sites. • BlackPlanet.com
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12. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
most networks of connected “friends” have some
preexisting basis in the real world, though they usu- Pay close attention to your profile design. Many
ally quickly grow beyond that initial nucleus. MySpace sites are garish and assault readers with
Users can follow links from one profile to an- sound and flashing graphics: they often look like a
other out of curiosity or to look for friends, dates, flashback to late-90s Tripod and Geocities sites,
customers, and supporters. Usually, they can also but are even more annoying. Some are so gooped-
search by keyword and leave comments on profiles. up that they’re almost impossible to read. You’ll
Getting friends is as easy as going to a profile and probably want to use pictures or other graphics to
requesting a connection. Really aggressive users illustrate your links and dramatize your issues, but
amass thousands of friends, most of whom they’ve use sparingly – having a “clean” site can actually
never met in person. Social networking sites can help you stand out.
function as mass communications tools when us- Like so many other pieces of the online organiz-
ers send messages to their friends all at once. ing puzzle, your results from social networking sites
MySpace and Friendster are the best-known generally depend on how much effort you expend:
social networking sites, with MySpace (originally if you simply post a profile and wait for people to
a place to promote bands) being by far the more come, you’re likely to be awfully lonely. What can
popular. By some measures, it became the most- you do to boost results?
visited site on the Web in the summer of 2006.
Because of its dominance, in this chapter I’ll often
• Be aggressive! – Successful MySpace-
refer to MySpace when I’m speaking of social net-
based campaigns really work at getting
working sites in general, but the same basic rules
supporters. For starters, go to profiles
apply regardless of which site you’re using.
devoted to similar issues and ask to be
Since setting up a MySpace page or a Friend- friends, and also try to develop direct
ster profile is quick and easy and the sites reach relationships with that profile’s friends.
such broad audiences, many advocacy organiza- It never hurts to ask – the worst some-
tions and corporations are experimenting with the one can do is say “no.” The more pro-
new medium. Social networking site users tend to files your link appears on, the more po-
be younger, so the sites are particularly good tools tential supporters can stumble over you
for campaigns trying to reach high school/college and fall in love.
students and recent graduates (e.g., that drive to
• Use MySpace to promote your nor-
save Social Security might not be quite as good a
mal campaign action alerts. – Send a
mass message out to all of your friends
MySpace pages also automatically include a and also post a notice of it on your site.
blog function, so they can be an easy way to get Readers are more likely to move beyond
into blogging if you’re not ready to set up a stand- MySpace and sign up for your main ac-
alone site. Technorati, the main blog search engine, tivist list if you present them with a spe-
now indexes MySpace blogs, so they’re fully con- cific action to take.
nected to the broader online conversation.
• Ask your friends to post your alert on
Often, your MySpace page will be simple “bro- their sites. – If they really care about
chureware” – little more than an online business your issue, they’re often eager to help
card and a chance to get your name in front of po- out. Plus, it gives THEM some interest-
tential supporters. To get more out of it, try adding ing (you hope) content for their site.
links to your individual campaigns (if you’re an ad-
• Send information to your friends of-
vocacy group) or to more information about each
ten. – MySpace readers are constantly
of your issues. Always include a link to join your e-
bombarded with messages, so you don’t
mail list, and a donate button wouldn’t hurt, either.
have to worry so much about wearing
them out. List exhaustion doesn’t seem
to be as much of a problem with social
networking sites as it is with e-mail ad-
Try adding links to your individual vocacy, so keep in touch and make sure
campaigns (if you’re an advocacy that they don’t forget about you.
group) or to more information about
each of your issues. Always include
A few other things to keep in mind:
a link to join your e-mail list, and a
donate button wouldn’t hurt, either.
• MySpace and Friendster users are a di-
verse bunch, and many people use the
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13. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
sites for dating and self-promotion. You
may end up with some “friends” with
an exhibitionist streak, so decide in ad-
vance how to handle friend requests Don’t just assign some random intern
from less-conventional parts of your or junior staffer to create and run
audience. This consideration is prob- a social networking profile because
ably more important for a candidate’s “they’re young and know about these
campaign than for an advocacy cam- things.” A MySpace site is just as much
paign – just imagine how your opposi- a part of your campaign’s public front
tion might use that “friend” of yours
who loves her bikini shots. I’ve already as your main Web site is, and it must
seen news coverage of a candidate’s be on message.
MySpace site that mentioned some
of his more noteworthy, (i.e., risqué)
friends. My approach so far has been to
approve all friend requests, figuring that Putting Social Networking Tools to Work
a blanket policy is the safest course, but for Your Campaign
I’m also working with issue advocacy
Another way to employ social networking tools
campaigns rather than for a politician.
is to integrate them directly into your own cam-
• Friend lists tend to build exponentially – paign by allowing your supporters to create profile
the more people who see you, the more pages on your site. The obvious benefit lies in help-
people who are going to link to you – so ing to wed your backers to your issue or candidate
try to build a healthy list right away. If emotionally: if they have pages on your site and
you have an e-mail list or newsletter, visit them regularly, they’re more likely to identify
mention your MySpace page to your with your campaign and become seriously involved
readers when you launch it and invite with it. With prompting, they’re also likely to ag-
them to become friends. The stron- gressively reach out to friends and family and draw
ger your initial base, the faster your them in as well. Also, social networking tools can
growth. help your supporters self-organize and work with
• As with every other Web site, don’t let each other to promote your campaign.
your content slip out of date. If you’re The potential downside? Just as with campaign
afraid that you’re not going to have time blogs, all of these people will be putting content
to keep your profile updated, stick with on your site, and you’ll be limited in the amount of
evergreen content. One trick I’ve found control you’ll have over it. As we’ll discuss in the
is to use your main campaign’s RSS feed section on social media below, communications
to keep your MySpace content current professionals are used to being able to control a
(you do have an RSS feed, don’t you?). campaign’s message, and it can be very difficult for
the usual tool to display a feed on a re- And for good reason – if you thought that having
mote site, but several people have built an exhibitionist “friend” on MySpace was bad, think
free applications that convert your feed about what happens when that same person can
headlines into an automatically updat- post content with your URL on the address line.
ing image, which you can then link to
A second problem derives from the smaller
a news or headlines page. Just go to
scale of most campaigns. MySpace and Friendster
Google and search for ways to display
depend on a “network effect”: the sites get more
RSS feeds on MySpace and you should
useful as more people sign up. A good analogy is a
find what you’re looking for.
fax machine: one fax machine is useless (it has no
• Finally, don’t just assign some random one to communicate with), but two can have a con-
intern or junior staffer to create and versation, and a million can become an essential
run a social networking profile because business tool. Similarly, social networking applica-
“they’re young and know about these tions work only if they have a critical mass of users,
things.” A MySpace site is just as much but most campaigns simply aren’t big enough to
a part of your campaign’s public front create one. Think of all the empty message boards
as your main Web site is, and it must be that sit lonely on low-traffic Web sites and you’ll
on message. Make sure that it meshes realize how painfully and publicly your social net-
with your overall communications strat- working application will fail if you can’t get enough
egy. supporters to sign up.
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14. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
Despite the potential pitfalls, campaigns and seeing the light of day). To keep from angering
corporations alike are experimenting with their own the creators, you’ll need to approve or disapprove
social networking applications. One of the most items quickly – people will get frustrated if their la-
interesting I’ve heard of is planned for the Wash- bor of love takes forever to appear. And if you block
ingtonPost.com. The site is already implementing a piece of content, be sure to contact the person
reader comments on all news stories, starting with who made it and explain why. This can help keep
less controversial topics and expanding to political feathers from being ruffled.
coverage after the editors are sure that the content
filtering mechanisms work. Next, the site will en-
courage readers to create profile pages that gather
all of their comments in a central place. Absolute If a campaign is going to use social
genius – every reader becomes an author! Not media, good gatekeeping is essential:
only will this tie them more strongly to the site, but content must be approved before the
they’ll also have every incentive to spread the word public can view it.
about their own creations and draw more people to
read the original articles. Turning a chunk of read-
ers into both passionate fans and aggressive mar-
keters is hard to beat. That said, allowing your members or readers to
generate content has some real strengths as a tac-
Social Media tic. For one thing, it allows you to capture the brain-
power of far more people than you could reasonably
Let’s expand our view and look at the wider hire – you can leverage the collective intelligence of
world of social media. First, what are we talking a chunk of the Internet. Some of the content will be
about? Social media is a broader concept than so- junk, of course, but the occasional gems that rise
cial networking: it refers generally to content cre- to the surface might just blow you away. And of
ated by site users rather than by a central person or course, it’s potentially a terrific tool for community
group. YouTube and Wikipedia are great examples, building, for all the reasons discussed above.
as are blogs that allow comments. Besides the obvi-
ous example of blogs, how can political campaigns
use social media?
Carefully, as MoveOn.org discovered during the Some of the user-generated content
2004 presidential campaign. If you recall, early in will be junk, of course, but the oc-
2004 the group encouraged its members to create casional gems that rise to the surface
anti-Bush ads that it would then evaluate for ac- might just blow you away.
tual use on television. Hundreds of ads were sub-
mitted and placed online, but one used historical
footage to associate the Bush administration with As an example of both aspects, in the summer
Hitler and the Nazi party. Oops – that one ad gave of 2006 the Ned Lamont campaign for Senate in
MoveOn.org’s enemies fodder for days of attacks Connecticut made great use of user-created video.
on the organization. An ad that never ran got plenty For instance, Lamont supporters shot clips of oppo-
of media coverage and took attention away from nent Joe Lieberman’s campaign appearances and
the issues on which the group wanted to focus vot- uploaded them to the Lamont site. Minor gaffes
ers. that would have passed unnoticed in the past could
Anytime you open the floodgates to user-gener- thus be preserved for all to enjoy (all except the
ated content, you take the same risk. Many cam- Lieberman folks, of course), and those behind the
paign professionals will have a very hard time ac- cameras could feel that they really were an essen-
cepting the concept – too many campaigns have tial part of the campaign. Lamont supporters also
been burned in the past by a candidate or staffer’s amused themselves and their comrades endlessly
loose lips, and political operatives are accustomed by cleverly editing Lieberman footage into their
to going to great lengths to make sure that informa- own online ads and “documentary” clips.
tion that goes to the press and the public has been Ah, but that sword can have two sharp edges:
carefully vetted. for the Lamont campaign, social media bit back as
If a campaign is going to use social media, good well, when a supportive blogger posted a photo of
gatekeeping is essential: content must be approved Lieberman doctored into wearing blackface. She
before the public can view it (be sure to keep those intended the piece as a satire of the incumbent’s at-
goose-stepping video clips and nudie shots from
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15. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
tempts to reach out to black voters, but it backfired:
Lieberman’s campaign pounced and forced the
challenger to publicly disavow the piece. Lamont
won the election, but responding to media coverage
of the dust-up was not how he wanted to spend a
day on which he was campaigning with Jesse Jack-
son and Al Sharpton.
Summing It Up
As we’ve seen, social networking and social me-
dia can be both a blessing and a curse. Use them
wisely and they can help your campaign turn casual
supporters into passionate partisans. But use them
less wisely and you might just find yourself being
spanked in public by the opposition. You have been
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16. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
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17. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
DON’T LET GO YET!
What You Need Know About User-Generated Media and
Politics Before You Take the Plunge
by Julie Barko Germany
Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet
Yahoo! is doing it. News Corp is definitely doing ers), the duo managed to earn $30,000.5
it. Sony, Mentos, and Toyota are doing it, too. This is called user-generated media (UGM), and
They’re loosening the reigns, letting go, and giv- it will change marketing. As Jay Rosen writes in
ing customers control of their message in an effort The People Formerly Known as the Audience, “There’s
to move beyond the same old 30-second advertis- a new balance of power between you and us.” It’s
ing spots. Many of them think they have the answer not about passivity. It’s about interaction and par-
in something called user-generated media. Instead ticipation.
of serving up a helping of the same-old, been-there- The people become the producers, which allows
done-that TV and print advertising spots, many them to engage with a brand or product line more
companies are investing in marketing campaigns than when they remained a passive audience. It’s
produced by consumers. cheaper than hiring an ad agency and paying enor-
Consider this summer’s unusual pairing of Diet mous production costs. And, according to writer
Coke and Mentos in a viral Web video that became Ulises Mejias, it has the ability to translate ideas
a marketing phenomenon. In June 2006, a lawyer into action.6 Instead of just thinking about a prod-
and a professional juggler (Stephen Voltz and Fritz uct, consumers do something with the product.
Globe) created a three-minute Web video of Diet Participation appears to translate into growth.
Coke bottles fizzing up like volcanoes when they In August 2006, Nielson/ /NetRatings reported
tossed Mentos candies into them. They posted their that five out of the top 10 fastest-growing Web
$300 video on the Web, and within two months, it brands focused on user-generated media, such as
attracted millions of viewers and generated tens of photo-sharing, video-sharing, and blogging.7 It is a
millions of dollars in free, prime-time media. Voltz growing trend, but is it right for politics?
and Globe became celebrities, and, by posting their
video on Revver (a site that shares the revenue it
generates by placing ads before each video with us- Can Political Groups Take a Leap of Faith?
Political groups and campaigns already engage
in a sometimes difficult balancing act. We worry
about how to say what we really feel without un-
necessarily alienating some voters who may dis-
User-generated content and user-gen-
erated media refer to interactive, often 5 Michael Geist, “Video and the Internet: An Explosive Mix,”
multi-media material that members, us- BBC, July 17, 2006.
ers, supporters, fans, and consumers pro- 6 Ulises Mejias, “Social Media and the Networked Public Space,”
E-Business Blog (http://www.line56.com), July 24, 2006.
duce and post online. Many marketers 7 “User-Generated Content Drives Half of U.S. Top 10 Fast-
view user-generated content as a way to est Growing Web Brands, According to Nielsen/ /NetRat-
build loyalty for a brand – or, for the sake ings,” Interest! Alert (http://interestalert.com/story/siteia.
of this publication, an issue, advocacy id=ADVERTIS&Type=News&Filter=Advertising), August 10,
group, political party, or candidate. 2006.
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18. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
Did you know? If I let go of your message, will my supporters behave or
What amount of money did media con- will they run amok and destroy my credibility?
sultants spend on network television
The answer to this question mostly depends
advertising for political candidates, par-
upon you and the rules that you set for your com-
ties, and political groups during the 2004
munity. Two of the authors in this publication
campaign? The answer: zero dollars.
– Chuck DeFeo and Michael Krempasky – launched
They placed ads on cable and net-
political blogging communities. When I spoke
work affiliates, but they placed no
with each of them about whether they could trust
national network advertising.
their communities, both men said yes. And they
mentioned that their communities were very good
at policing themselves. Their sites, RedState and
Townhall, both contain brief guidelines of behavior,
agree. We wonder if we can trust ordinary people and individual members hold each other account-
to speak on our behalf. We try to balance a proj- able.
ect’s potential with the time and human resources Sometimes these rules are written and posted
deficit that occurs in the middle of campaign sea- on the site. Sometimes they emerge organically
son. We worry about financial cost. Even though as offensive behavior emerges. One example
we’ve seen some evidence to the contrary, we still comprises a particularly telling chapter in Web
trust television advertising more than the Internet. lore. According to a few users of a creative, edgy
As with many choices in life, the decision to mashup network called YTMND.com, a teenage
embrace user-generated media brings some costs. boy found footage of someone torturing a kitten
The picture isn’t all rosy and warm – even though and combined the footage with music from the
many of us think it’s pretty darn cool. But when game Doom. The YTMND community was so out-
used appropriately, it may have the ability to en- raged that they started a meme of mashups called
gage a core group of supporters, who will share the NEDM (not even Doom music) to humiliate both
messages they create with countless networks and the American teenager and the man who originally
possibly even convince people who may have never posted the footage. Not even Doom music justified
heard your name or cared about your issue to take using the footage in a mashup. The NEDM meme
an action. emerged online as a stand against animal abuse.
Rules don’t necessarily have to ruin the party. In
fact, it may even help create a healthy, vibrant com-
Can you improve civic participation, generate more
munity. Several years ago, Clay Shirky wrote that
volunteer dollars, increase the activism of your sup-
the communities that will thrive online are those
porters, or expand the name recognition of your issue,
that set guidelines:
organization and candidate by allowing normal, every-
day people to create a media campaign for you?
While to our knowledge no one has studied the
potential effects of user-generated content on po-
litical organizations, we do know that interactivity
with your message – whether through a blog post- Can’t find what you’re
ing, a Web video, public discussion boards, mash- looking for on YouTube?
ups, photos, or any other kind of activity – breeds Try one of these other video sites:
intimacy with your organization. People feel closer
to you, and they become less susceptible to being • Revver
seduced by other messages.8 • Google Video
True, politics differ from big business, but the • Machinima
end result of any marketing campaign is similar: • iTunes
you want to get people to take an action. UGM is • PoliticsTV.com
participatory. People are already taking an action
by engaging with you. In the process, they feel as
if they are developing a two-way relationship, and
this may, in fact, lead to higher turnout, volunteer,
and donation rates. Time will tell.
8 Max Kalehoff, “Media Specialists Must Grasp Consumer-
Generated Media,” OnlineSPIN, August 4, 2006.
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19. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
Instead of unlimited growth, membership, Am I just using people to do the hard work for me?
and freedom, many of the communities The simple answer is yes. But that doesn’t nec-
that have done well have bounded size or essarily make you the bad guy. Stealing someone
strong limits to growth, non-trivial barriers else’s handiwork online and using it to make an
to joining or becoming a member in good enormous profit might categorize you as a villain
standing, and enforceable community – as well as a criminal. Asking your supporters and
norms that constrain individual freedoms. your super-activists to help you and going out of
Forums that lack any mechanism for eject- your way to thank them (even if it means an extra
ing or controlling hostile users, especially hour or two in the office) is a little different. It’s
those convened around contentious top- asking them to volunteer in a new, creative way.
ics, have often broken down under the
Would you pay a marketing company or an of-
weight of users hostile to the conversa-
fice full of paid staff to do the same thing? If the an-
tion.9 Thoughtful regulations can actually
swer is yes, then consider being particularly grate-
help, not hinder the growth of your com-
ful – perhaps even effusive – with your praise. And
make sure you individualize your e-mails of thanks.
Nothing goes over as poorly as a seemingly stan-
Whether you decide to post a few rules for your dard, machine-generated response when someone
community (i.e., no profanity) or allow standards of has gone above and beyond. In another chapter,
behavior to emerge as the community grows, the Michael Silberman discusses sending your super-
fact that you allow your community to have a voice activists special thank you presents, such as pins
in the first place will breed trust between both you and bumper stickers, as a sign of thanks.
and them. That element of trust works both ways.
Yes, your supporters will feel like trusted, valuable
members of your community. But there is an add-
ed bonus as you watch what they produce – from a
blog posting to an e-mail to an animation – you will “Different people want to drive their
learn about them and trust them more too. opinions around different topics.
This results in a richer response, and
Will it save me money? it helps you reach people you haven’t
Quite possibly. Production costs and aggrega- already met. The Internet allows us
tion cost next to nothing. And people spread viral to survey a varied audience and let
messages free of charge. them provide responses on topics
they care about in an unfiltered man-
Will my message go viral if someone else produces it?
No promises. The viral nature of a message de-
pends on its content and its ability both to appeal to - Richard Counihan, Senior Vice President
Strategic Development, Who’s Calling
emotion and interact with the immediate moment.
If a UGM contains each of those things, then it is
relatively easy for it to spread through networks
Many of the most successful niche Web vid-
UGM doesn’t feel like advertising. It feels fun eos and animations are textured, nuanced, col-
and catchy, and it has the ability to mesmerize ev- laborative endeavors – much like good Jazz music.
eryone from retirees to office workers to students. Their creators take an image (or several images),
a theme, a famous line, or a news clip and reinter-
“To create word-of-mouth about a pret it in a new way. While portions of Web media
viral ad, you have to do something may in fact impinge upon what we’ve historically
that people love to talk about. That described as rights restrictions, many people know
that when they post media content online, some-
usually means sex, political or social one else will reuse it. However, this does not mean
humor, or evil and violence – or, of that your organization should sweep the Web for
course, gross-out jokes.” cool media content and post it as your own. Give
- Dave Balter and John Butman, Grapevine them credit – a policy that works well with content
that supporters produce on your behalf as well. If
you just “have to have it,” try tracking down its pro-
ducers. You never know: they might be flattered
9 Clay Shirky, “Social Software and the Politics of Groups,” Clay that you reached out to them. In any event, make
Shirky’s Writings About the Internet (http://www.shirky.com/
writings/group_politics.html), March 9, 2003. sure you observe copyright restrictions. For a good
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20. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
Greg Linden wrote, you may have to work to un-
cover good content: “The experience of the World
Wide Web as a whole should serve as a lesson to
those building the next generation of community-
powered Web sites. At scale, it is no longer about
aggregating knowledge, it is about filtering crap.”11
“Homogenous groups are great at
Have you visited YouTube lately? For ev-
ery fantastic video there are dozens of doing what they do well, but they
boring clips that someone made by re- become progressively less able to
cording a funny part of last night’s Daily investigate alternatives.”
Show on her mobile phone. - James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds
summary of these laws, see http://www.copyright. Can I get away with passing off professionally-pro-
gov/. duced content, like campaign ads, on our community
Will my message get lost in a swirl of crappy handi- Well, that depends on what you’re trying to
work: videos with poor production quality, humor that accomplish. The standard 30-second, profession-
doesn’t work well, poorly written blog entries, etc.? ally-produced campaign ad often comes across like
“brochure-ware,” and just doesn’t seem to work
Have you visited YouTube lately? For every fan- well online. People tend to like footage that shows
tastic video there are dozens of boring clips that real emotion, unscripted action, interaction, and
someone made by recording a funny part of last humor.
night’s Daily Show on her mobile phone. Have you
seen the Flckr pages of some non-profit organiza- On the other hand, one Washington firm, DCI
tions? Even the most heart-wrenching trip to dig Group, was recently “outed” as having passed off
wells in Africa can be reduced to insignificance as user-generated content a deliberately amateur-
with out-of-focus shots of a latrine or a group hug ish parody they had produced of Al Gore’s movie,
at the airport. As blogger Chris Pirillo wrote during An Inconvenient Truth. The Wall Street Journal called
a fill-in-the-caption contest, “I’m going on the re- it “Propaganda 101.” A useful, cautionary tale for a
cord by stating that user-generated content is often brave new media world.
Some of your supporters may be professional What can I do when other people make fun of me?
designers, videographers, or writers. Others may The short answer: nothing. We live in an era of
produce professional-quality work as a hobby. Val- video phones and easily updatable blogs. The re-
ue them and encourage them. But don’t intention- ality is that many people who create online media
ally leave anyone behind. If you want consumer- – everything from Web videos to mashups to blogs
generated media to be a substantial part of your – feel that any public action, mistake, gaffe, speech,
marketing, fundraising, or political strategy, then or piece of writing is up for grabs.
consider sharing some of your expertise with your The good news is that this environment is
supporters. Teach them how to conduct citizen good at holding public figures accountable. The
journalism, what types of images are most appeal- bad news is that somewhere out there, somebody
ing for a fundraising campaign, and how to simply doesn’t like you, your candidate, or your organiza-
edit and post a video. Ask some of your volunteer tion. He knows how to create really funny mashups
“experts” to share their advice, and create a mini- of you looking foolish. And making a big deal about
community around message training. Equip your it will only fuel more publicity.
supporters to create better content for you.
Finally, consider devoting some of your human
resources to monitoring (and removing) inade-
quate or offensive content and spam. As Blogger
11 Greg Linden, “Community, content, and the lessons of
10 Chris Pirillo, “The Great Political Cartoon Experiment,” Chris. the Web,” Geeking with Greg (http:/ /glinden.blogspot.
Pirillo.com (http://chris.pirillo.com/2006/08/11/the-great- com/2006/07/community-content-and-lessons-of-web.
political-cartoon-experiemnt/), August 11, 2006. html), July 11, 2006.
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21. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
Who else is doing it?
Several authors in this publication tackle the
topic of user-generated media, and many more po-
litical practitioners have been incorporating it into
their strategies for a number of years.
Both Michael Krempasky and Chuck DeFeo
discuss community blog networks as a form of
user-generated media and suggest ways to cre-
ate media coverage around an issue or campaign.
DeFeo produced an application that allows users to
create their own e-mail newsletters about current
events, politics, and opinion. Krempasky said that
a community blog, like RedState, sometimes func-
tions better than the professional press. “If written
by enough people,” he writes, a blog “can cover an
issue more intensely and more in-depth than any
Eric Alterman writes that by asking supporters
to create media content, political groups physically
and virtually extend their reach. Each media cre-
ation provides a new entry point into your organiza-
tion – particularly when individuals post their work
on other sites. Eric recommends making sure that
each piece of supporter-made media links to your
site in order to drive people back to you.
Their stories are just a few of the many good ex-
amples. And keep your eyes peeled the next time
you visit YouTube. What you see might inspire
“Letting Go” Isn’t Enough
Incorporating UGM into your political strategy
is not the easy way out. In fact, it may be more
time-consuming than writing your own copy. Us-
ing other people’s content takes time and vigilance,
but more importantly, it requires that you engage
directly with individual supporters. People need a
motivation to create, and they need to feel that you
appreciate their creative contributions.
But the upside is a site that incorporates other
voices and other perspectives. If you want your
supporters to be active participants in your organi-
zation, then make your organization an active par-
ticipant in its supporters.
“Once we’re part of a group, we’re all
susceptible to peer pressure and so-
cial norms and any number of other
kinds of influence that can play a
critical role in sweeping us up in the
beginnings of an epidemic.”
- Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point
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22. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
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23. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
REACHING THE UNDER-30
Social Networking in the 2006 Campaigns
by Riki Parikh
Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet
“Social networking is probably the next big thing for campaigns
because it’s the next big thing within our culture.”
- Phil Noble, PoliticsOnline
In the 2006 mid-term election, campaigns are What Makes It Work
pulling out the stops to look fresh in the eyes of Using these social networking sites, a campaign
voters who are tired of the status quo. And for the can create a personal profile for its candidate, dis-
more adventurous that includes being hip with the seminating biographical and professional informa-
MySpace Revolution. tion to an entire network and acquainting users with
Social networking has already been used by the candidate. Campaigns can then add media and
commercial marketers to target certain demo- messages to share within their network and create
graphics and decipher their interests and desires. groups for feedback and discussion. In return, so-
As the social networking phenomenon begins to cial networks give campaigns instant information:
permeate politics, some of the more innovative social, geographic, and (in some cases) ideological
campaigns are starting to log-on and create pro- connections. A user’s profile lists a person’s so-
files for their candidates. cial connections (who they are friends with, which
Embracing social networking sites is seen by groups they associate with), regional location, and
many as the next natural step in campaigning be- political leanings.
cause of the sites’ ability to directly inform and en- “Politics is essentially about the sharing of po-
gage the electorate. Just like a political campaign, sitions and values and the ideas that a politician
social networking Web sites allow for the prolifera- wants to implement and gaining support of that
tion of the four Ms: message, momentum, media, through conversation and persuasion,” said Chris
and mobilization: “Social networking can be used Kelly, vice president and chief privacy officer for
in the same way it is for everything: to build an au- Facebook, the online social networking site for col-
dience, to create activists, to raise money, and to lege students. “So, in many ways social networking
create buzz,” said Phil Noble, president of Politic- sites… are a great platform for building support for
sOnline. a candidate or the particular positions of a candi-
Several candidates running in 2006 are seizing
Social networks give campaigns instant the opportunity to attract and interact with young
information: social, geographic and voters to build that support. They’ve turned to the
social networking sites, particularly MySpace and
(in some cases) ideological connec- Facebook, which are the two most popular commu-
tions. nity-based sites on the Web, to target and engage
with that demographic. “Young people under 30,
who are the social networking constituency, care
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24. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
passionately about issues and what’s happening cess to a person’s group of friends and an easy and
in society. They just don’t give a damn about poli- effective way to target a certain demographic with a
ticians,” said Noble. “If social networking can be specific campaign or message. “With a traditional
used to structure that commitment to channel it in political site, you’ve got to create your own audi-
a different way, then I think it has a lot of poten- ence and gather your own crowd,” said Noble. “But
tial.” with a social networking site, the crowd is already
By generating interest and enthusiasm among there and they’re already gathered. You’ve just got
the younger demographic, politicians and candi- to attract their attention.”
dates can generate a base for both recruitment
and organizing. By registering on a site as a “vir- Who’s Using It
tual person,” a campaign or issue group can tap
into an online community and gain direct access The candidates who use these sites are more
to a supporter’s connections. They can also boost likely to be challengers, and more often than not
their database by including a user’s demographical seem to be Democrats. Jack Carter, the son of for-
information. This gives them a tool for spreading mer President Jimmy Carter and Democratic candi-
word-of-mouth buzz to the younger generation of date for U.S. Senate in Nevada, created a MySpace
online voters and the potential to mobilize their account after his daughter, who helped run Carter’s
connections to act on their behalf. “It creates the Internet campaign, suggested it. Carter joins can-
crowd that a politician can have access to online. didates such as Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-IA); Bill
That’s the new big thing. If I can get some 18 year-
old interested, then that works out from there: he’s
already got his people, he already knows where
they are,” said Noble.
The other advantage of social networking Web What’s on Jack’s Profile?
sites is for those candidates who cannot afford Jack Carter’s MySpace profile adapts
traditional media, such as television and print ad- standard MySpace features in a new way.
vertisements. Social networks force everyone on Here’s what Jack includes on his profile:
an open playing field, giving everyone the same ad- • Pictures from the campaign
vantage and opportunity to mobilize a base of sup-
porters from the same pool. These sites can also • Blog entries
be a gauge of a candidate’s popularity and effec- • Campaign ads
tiveness. In the non-political world, the number of • Special message from Jimmy Carter
“friends” a user has on a social networking site acts
• Quote of the day
as a validation for the user. Similarly, the number of
connections a candidate or organization maintains • Biography
also serves as one metric for gauging how well the • List of activities supporters can do on
message is getting out. MySpace
• Links to his bus tour
• A virtual “bumper sticker” that sup-
Social networks force everyone on an porters can put on their own profiles
open playing field, giving everyone
the same advantage and opportunity
to mobilize a base of supporters from
the same pool.
Social networks take advantage of the “social
voter” model of the electorate, which hypothesizes
that “who we know influences what we know and
how we feel about it.” In the offline world, these
include our family, friends, neighbors, co-workers,
co-religionists, and acquaintances. In the online
world, those connections translate to “friends” or
“buddies” on the various social networking sites.
Thus, social networking Web sites offer instant ac-
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25. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
Ritter, candidate for governor of Colorado; and Phil alter ego of somebody who has six profiles,” said
Angelides, candidate for California governor. Kelly. “They’re rooted in the community and that
The campaign chose MySpace “as one of sev- allows the political types to get volunteers, dona-
eral innovative ways in which to reach potential tions, and voters.”
voters – many of them young people – who don’t
necessarily connect to mainstream media,” said Jay
Jones, Carter’s press secretary. “This medium is
enabling us to reach out to potential voters who we “When you reach a person on Face-
otherwise might overlook. The interactivity allows book, you’re reaching that person.
people to share their perspectives both with fellow You’re not reaching a profile or some
visitors and campaign leaders.” alter ego of somebody who has six
The MySpace profile is accessible at www. profiles.”
MySpace.com/jackcarter2006. The account is - Chris Kelly, Facebook
registered under the username “Jack Carter for Sen-
ate, 2006.” In the biographical portion of the site,
the campaign lists that Carter is a 59 year-old male
from Las Vegas, Nevada and includes the quote Both Facebook and MySpace are planning to
“I’m a Democrat running for US Senate in Nevada capitalize on their popularity this election cycle
and I sure would appreciate your vote.” (Carter won by offering candidates attractive advertising rates.
his primary bid in August 2006 with 73 percent of Facebook created their own program for candi-
the vote.) dates to use their site for their political gains. They
The Carter campaign can communicate out will begin offering global profiles to candidates so
through their blog and blurbs section, which gives all Facebook users can see their profiles.
the campaign a chance to inform visitors about Also, on the advertising end, they will reserve a
the candidates and keep visitors updated about billion advertising impressions for political purpos-
the campaign. Visitors of the profile also par- es and sell them at the lowest unit rate, much like
ticipate by adding “Jack Carter for Senate, 2006” television commercials. Facebook said they are do-
as a friend, messaging the account, forwarding it ing this out of their own desire to see young people
to friends, and posting comments on the public more engaged in the democratic process. Through
message board. The campaign has even provided that offer, campaigns can micro-target their adver-
source code so users can put a personalized online tising based on location, gender, political views and
bumper sticker in their own profiles. interests.
However, candidates will not be able to get user
The Younger Demographic information on these Web sites, which would be a
There are about 100 million profiles on MySpace, violation of privacy policies. “We don’t share data,”
a fact that accounts for it popularity in reaching the said Kelly. “We will let our users share data if they
that Facebook users may be more likely to vote than strictly prohibits taking contact information from a
MySpace users, given its connection to colleges user’s profile…. They (a campaign) can see it, but
and the fact that college-educated Americans are they can’t use it.” Ultimately, of course the key to
more likely to vote than those with less education. a successful social networking campaign is to pro-
Thus, while MySpace will give a candidate visibility, vide a forum that allows users to connect with one
Facebook may be more likely to generate the kinds another and with the campaign itself. That way
of volunteers that campaigns are seeking. “When they can easily distribute the content or message
you reach a person on Facebook, you’re reaching to people outside the group, converting the online
that person. You’re not reaching a profile or some organization into offline action.
Did you know?
In September 2006, Facebook
will open its site to politicians.
Now, political candidates can buy pro-
files and attempt to reach out to the sites
more than 8 million members – many of
them college students or alumni.
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26. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
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27. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
HOW HOWARD DEAN
TURNED ONLINE SOCIAL
NETWORKS INTO AN
by Michael Silberman
Certain segments of the political world remain skeptical about the power
of online social networks to encourage real-world offline action, such as
voting, donating, or showing up for a rally or protest. Yet, Howard Dean
and Meetup managed to achieve offline success thanks to their
Let’s be clear: The Net is not about technology, it’s
about people – a fact that is obvious to everyone
except to we programmers. The most important
The Internet and new technologies
things we, as humans, need to do – commercially or enabled us to dramatically expand the
socially – is to connect with others. An online com- size, reach, and strength of what oth-
munity is no substitute for real-world interactions. erwise would have been a convention-
In fact, the most successful online communities are al national volunteer program — all
the ones that throw parties, sponsor events, host for a fraction of the time and cost.
get-togethers – help members meet one another
face-to-face in the real world. 12
—Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist
In a matter of months, the Dean campaign
coupled an online event-planning tool with the In- EchoDitto (www.echoditto.com) is an
ternet’s word-of-mouth potential to grow its online Internet strategy firm that specializes in
volunteer network exponentially and build its active interactive community building.
and engaged community of supporters. The Inter-
net and new technologies enabled us to dramati-
cally expand the size, reach, and strength of what
otherwise would have been a conventional national
volunteer program — all for a fraction of the time
12 Katharine Mieszkowski, “Are You on Craig’s List?” Fast Com-
html), November 2000.
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28. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
work that we did (and invented) to build the larg-
est online/offline organizing program possible. The
Meetup team really had only one job in the Burling-
ton, Vermont headquarters: doing whatever it took
to support the self-organizing efforts taking place
in thousands of communities as best as we could.
Building an Online Network
The Dean Meetup program represented the ide-
al intersection of the online and offline organizing
Meetup (www.meetup.com) is an online worlds, as well as the convergence of our support-
tool that allows people or groups to plan ers’ online and offline social networks.
monthly meetings around an issue, hob- As we started building the Meetup program, we
by, belief, interest, or pet. Over 200,000 benefited from the hundreds and thousands of peo-
people signed up to attend Meetups for ple who were looking for ways to get involved in the
the presidential candidates in 2004. To- campaign every day. Every campaign Web site, e-
day, Meetup has over 2.5 million mem- mail reply, and phone response funneled support-
bers worldwide who participate in 4,500 ers to their local Meetup group. Not only was it the
Meetup topics each month. most scalable solution to the ever-increasing (and
unmanageable) number of inquiries, but it was also
among the most effective ways of engaging volun-
Can Meetups help with teers and supporters in meaningful activity.
IPDI’s study of donors to the 2004 presi-
dential candidates, titled Small Donors
and Online Giving, found that 24% of all Meetup.com was the most scalable
respondents who attended a Meetup or solution to the ever-increasing (and
house party said it prompted them unmanageable) number of inquiries,
to make their first donation. For but it was also among the most effec-
more information, visit www. tive ways of engaging volunteers and
ipdi.org/publications. supporters in meaningful activity.
If a Dean Meetup didn’t exist in or near a sup-
The very first Dean “Meetups” took place with- porter’s community, the program and associated
out the campaign ever knowing. Between January 1 Web tools encouraged people to start their own.
and February 5, 2003 (the first Dean Meetup day), Volunteer Meetup leaders continued to emerge in
473 intrepid, independently-motivated “netizens” places where none previously existed. These local
used the site Meetup.com to join a group or vol- grassroots leaders almost instinctively tapped their
unteer to host one of 11 self-organized Dean gath- own local networks to grow their events and in-
erings across the country – outside the umbrella crease the local Dean presence. They reached out to
of the official campaign. Within a year, this small other people they knew, forwarded the campaign’s
cadre grew into a powerful force of 189,000 people e-mails to them, and ultimately invited them to join
who had signed up online to get together locally in their local Dean Meetup group.
1,200 cities and towns worldwide. Local Meetup groups flourished and grew as a
The too-often untold stories of the Dean cam- result of our volunteers’ built-in social networks. Al-
paign came from a powerful network of 2,000 most every e-mail message encouraged supporters
grassroots leaders — everyday citizens — who vol- to pass the message along to five friends, and every
unteered to run these independent Dean events. Meetup agenda encouraged leaders to remind at-
In most locations, these became just one of many tendees to bring one or two new friends with them
activities being organized by unofficial volunteer to the next Meetup. Increasing media attention and
Dean chapters that emerged from the Meetups. press stories only facilitated this process by provid-
My recounting of the Dean Meetup story focuses ing third-party validation for their friends’ personal
on the part I know best: the behind-the-scenes requests.
logistics, communications, and online organizing Our ability to funnel supporters into this self-
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29. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
We targeted people who did more
generating and self-organized Meetup program than just sign up on an e-mail list.
allowed us to rapidly circumvent more traditional These were supporters who took
campaign practices of going out into the field to actions online, donated money, or
recruit volunteer organizers by hand. The Internet
also enabled us to provide a direct link and con-
showed an indication that they were
nection to the official campaign, which provided a more than just e-mail activists.
good balance to the more local, decentralized en-
gagement that they had via the Meetups. We were
also wary of the Internet’s shortcomings in replac-
ing these high-quality face-to-face interactions, so Keeping the Network Alive
we made a concerted effort to maintain constant Once we assembled this core group of grass-
dialogue with our grassroots leaders using every roots leaders, which included over 2,000 people
available technology (i.e. phone, conference call, volunteering to build and host Meetup events every
mail, instant message, and digital video). single month, we had to figure out how to organize
As the campaign took off and our Meetup pro- and support them. How do we keep these leaders
gram really started growing, we started seeing gaps engaged with campaign goals while continuing to
in some geographical areas. We saw, for example, organize them to take further action? And how do
that the state of Florida lacked substantial cover- we balance our national campaign needs and pri-
age. The campaign needed to grow, so we asked orities with their local autonomy?
ourselves what we knew about traditional organiz- Many people assume that online organizing
ing and traditional social networks that we could only involves building an e-mail group and making
apply to the online world. PDF downloads. This is just one layer of building
As field organizers, we could ask a supporter, a successful grassroots network. As experienced
“Who do you know in your circle of friends who field and community organizers will attest, not ev-
might be willing to join us?” As a national online erything can be done over the Web. Here are some
campaign, we could ask a similar question, “Who lessons learned from managing the grassroots
in our supporter database might be likely to orga- leader network that powered the Dean Meetup
nize a Meetup in their area, given their previous program, as well as from other successful online/
engagement with the campaign?” We called and offline grassroots programs that we’ve managed:
e-mailed those very specific subsets of people, and
many agreed to help (and were happy to have been • Build a support desk. – We tried to
asked!). make up for being physically absent
We used the example of the local Rotary Club from each community by creating a vir-
to pinpoint other influencers and grassroots lead- tual field desk with a fulltime staff of 3-
ers. We knew that we needed to find the online 4 people who responded personally to
equivalent to Rotary Club membership. These are e-mails and calls from Meetup leaders
the types of group members who know everybody and followed up with leaders when nec-
and everything in town and are respected for that. essary. We divided the country up into
We targeted people who did more than just sign regions, so that we could become more
up on an e-mail list. These were supporters who familiar with the volunteers we were
took actions online, donated money, or showed working to assist. More than half of our
an indication that they were more than just e-mail grassroots leaders were new to politics
activists. Once we found them, we called or sent or local organizing and were eager for
them an e-mail about Meetups and invited them to tips and organizing assistance.
build a Dean community in their towns and coun- • Use the next best thing: phone calls.
ties. Our strategy worked: Dean had more Meetup – In the absence of regular face-to-
groups across the country than almost all of the face meetings, we launched a series of
other Democratic presidential candidates com- monthly conference calls just for our
bined.13 Many of them still meet today as chapters grassroots leaders. These calls built
of Dean’s new organization, Democracy for Ameri- accountability and trust. The ability for
ca. us all to hear each other’s voices made
the program so much more real for ev-
eryone involved, and it deepened the
relationships we had established via
e-mail. We hosted the maximum 100
-125 people per call, usually at four dif-
13 Christine B. Williams and Jesse Gordon, The Role of Meetup in ferent times each month to accommo-
the 2004 Presidential Nomination Contest, April 8, 2004.
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30. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
date work schedules and time zones.
Who attends a political
After providing an inside look at the Meetup?
campaign’s progress and reviewing the They look like the average political activ-
suggested national Meetup agenda for ist: mostly white, middle income, middle-
the upcoming month, our leaders were aged, and professional. They’re also high-
encouraged to share best practices with ly wired. For more information, read
each other. Meetup Study 2004 by Christine
• Don’t forget about the spokes. — There Williams and Jesse Gordon at
are lots of ways for a campaign head- http://meetupsurvey.com.
quarters, or hub, to stay in touch with
its grassroots leaders, or the spokes.
But spoke-to-spoke communication is
just as critical to the viability of a net- ter-writing parties at Meetups. (We later expanded
work. One of the first and most suc- the program to include voters in New Hampshire
cessful things we did to facilitate this and other states, and we encouraged letter-writing
communication between and among parties to take place between Meetups.)
leaders was to create a Yahoo! Group
discussion list for Meetup hosts, where We combined online and offline tools to build
leaders asked questions of one other, successful levels of activity. First, we made it easy
swapped success (and horror) stories, for the leaders to organize. We knew that the
and shared resources or best practices. burnout rate could be high. After all, these people
weren’t full-time organizers: they were volunteers.
• Make an effort to visit. – We tried to be We sent each group every item they would possi-
physically present at some of the Meet- bly need – sample letters, stamps, envelopes, pa-
ups. While it was impossible to be at per, pens, and even information about the county
every single meeting, Howard Dean and in Iowa to which they were writing and a DVD mes-
the campaign staff rotated attending sage from Howard Dean about the program.
the monthly events, and we tried to visit
as many as possible. Most importantly, Secondly, we stayed in contact before, during
we ensured that Dean could be virtu- and after the events. We asked people to call us
ally present at each Meetup by sending right after or even from their Meetups and at any
a special DVD message to each group time of night. We wanted to hear how it went. This
every month that they could play at the gave us an extra level of personal contact. And al-
Meetup. most everyone called in.
• Give them the credit they deserve. In retrospect, the effect of this “reverse phone
– Phone calls and personal e-mail gave bank” was far greater than we initially intended. We
our grassroots leaders access that set it up to get an early survey of the data, for our-
other people didn’t have. We sent selves and for the rest of the campaign staff, who
them immediate updates, even in hard would be asking for it next morning. We also real-
times. For example, when Joe Trippi ized how powerful that connection to headquarters
left the campaign, we delivered the was for these leaders. It showed that they weren’t
news immediately, so that they could alone on this campaign. When you can pick up the
be prepared to discuss it with their local phone and hear a familiar name or voice on the
networks after it broke on the evening other end of the line, interested in you and your last
news. We treated them like high-dollar three stressful volunteer hours, that means a lot.
donors. As far as we were concerned,
they were the most important people in How to Run Your Own Online Grassroots
the campaign because they were doing Network
all of the heavy lifting – without getting
paid. We also sent our grassroots lead- On our Web site (www.EchoDitto.com), we list
ers surprise thank-you packages during several ways to make it easy for your online volun-
the holidays. teers and leaders to host offline events fueled by
their personal or social networks:
Taking the Network Offline
1. Communicate with your online leaders
The first big test of our online grassroots net- regularly. – Assume that the personal
work occurred on July 2, 2003, when we launched investment of time and energy that
a major letter writing campaign to voters in Iowa. these organizers make is equivalent to
We asked our grassroots volunteers to organize let-
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31. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
the financial contributions of a high- swers to frequently asked questions as
dollar donor. Acknowledge this invest- soon as possible to demonstrate your
ment through regular “insider” updates responsiveness and attentiveness. Fi-
and frequent expressions of apprecia- nally, when you launch new Web tools,
tion. set up a help desk or special e-mail ad-
dress where people can send questions
and get help from a real person.
2. Respect local autonomy while pro-
viding leadership and direction. – Re-
member that your grassroots leaders 5. Create a dynamic, two-way communi-
signed-up to organize an event because cation system. – Keep your network of
they support your cause or campaign. online leaders engaged and interested
So provide them with clear goals and by communicating regularly with them,
direction that they need to make the not at them. Find ways to foster dia-
program a success, while respecting logue between and among leaders so
the autonomy of the local organizer. that you’re not doing all of the talking.
Publicly acknowledge that your role is Listen for trends and re-communicate
simply to provide the volunteer orga- best practices back out to the larger
nizers with the support and resources group.
they need to make the local events a a. Watch your tone, and avoid speak-
success. ing to “the masses.” Your tone
3. Provide step-by-step organizing and should reflect the intimate, special
planning guides. – Outline specific nature of your online leadership
program goals and simplify the steps core.
required for organizing a local event, b. Vary communication mediums
meeting or party. Think through ev- to maintain interest, and over-
ery detail of the event as if you are the communicate to ensure that your
grassroots organizer, and include these message points are conveyed ef-
items with any additional materials you fectively.
may send to event hosts, such as:
c. Assume your leaders are only
paying half as much attention as
a. The action that you want everyone you’d like them to be, and publicly
to take. acknowledge that they have busy
b. Goals (fundraising, action, etc.). lives outside their volunteer work.
Repeat the most important infor-
c. Talking points, special announce-
ments or facts to use when com-
municating with the group. d. Remind yourself of the difference
between leaders and participants,
d. Dial-in numbers for a conference
as each have different communi-
cation needs and expectations.
e. Encourage collaboration.
f. Contribution forms.
f. Solicit feedback and let your lead-
g. Promotional items, like stickers or ers know how you’ve incorporated
buttons. their ideas.
Keep in mind that many of your leaders, 6. Listen and create a feedback loop.
especially the newer ones, will follow – Survey your leaders and your partici-
your guide closely through every step pants to find out what worked and what
of the planning process and even dur- didn’t both during the event preparation
ing the actual event. and the actual event. You might be sur-
prised by what you discover. Remem-
4. Provide ongoing support. – Hearing ber to communicate with them within
from your volunteer organizers is a 24 hours after the events take place,
good sign that they are active and en- when people are still buzzing about
gaged. Keep a tally of the questions what happened and are still eager to
you receive from them or the problems share information and stories.
they encounter. Communicate the an-
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32. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
7. Let your program goals drive your
technology strategy, not vice-versa.
– Experienced community or field orga-
nizers will likely be dissatisfied with the
reporting and data collection systems
included in most of the existing Web
tools that are available for decentral-
ized or self-organized event programs.
Be wary of letting your technology in-
frastructure drive your program. For
example, Meetup.com was a great tool
for local group organizing on the Dean
campaign, but it was not designed to
support communication or informa-
tion flow that we needed between local
organizers and our national campaign
organization. To overcome this obsta-
cle, we rapidly built a Web tool called
Meetup Central that enabled us to get
up-the-minute information from the
network as leaders signed up to host
the next month’s Meetup, entered ex-
pected attendance numbers and their
mailing address, identified secondary
hosts, and reported back after their
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33. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
CALL IN NOW!
How Townhall.com Turned Talk Radio Fans
into a Community of Bloggers
by Chuck DeFeo
How do you merge an existing online community with a national fan
base of radio listeners? How do you grow a community and ensure that a
platform exists for different voices to be heard?
In May 2006, Salem Communications, a con- many of them became activists based on what they
servative talk radio company, purchased Townhall. heard each day.
com, and on July 4, 2006, it launched a new Web If this concept of finding a voice sounds familiar,
presence that combines the grassroots mediums of consider the parallels between talk radio and the
talk radio and the Internet. Their metamorphosis Internet. Talk radio rose to prominence in the late
illustrates how an online community can become a 1980s. At the height of the broadcast era, the abil-
multi-platform political movement. ity to pick up a phone and address an audience of
millions was revolutionary and powerful. Talk radio
Townhall.com has been America’s conservative
opinion editorial page for a decade, carrying over
100 different conservative columnists. Because of
the wide array of conservative opinion leaders car- Townhall.com was launched in 1995 by
ried by Townhall.com, it is home to an active, online the Heritage Foundation as the first con-
community that covers the spectrum of conserva- servative Web community. It now exists
tives. under the umbrella of Salem Communi-
Salem’s five nationally syndicated talk show cations, and it amalgamates the online
hosts – Bill Bennett, Hugh Hewitt, Michael Medved, information and content of 120 different
Dennis Prager, and Mike Gallagher – reach about partner organizations. For more informa-
six or seven million people a week each on the ra- tion, visit www.townhall.com.
dio. Like all the Townhall.com columnists, these
personalities enjoy a strong affinity with their lis-
teners and readers.
Talk radio is a personal medium for its listeners,
many of whom feel as though they have developed
relationships with their favorite talk show hosts.
Further, radio listeners are accustomed to partici-
pating in dialogue as it happens. They can pick up
the phone and have their voices broadcast to mil-
lions of people, which is very empowering. And
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34. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
influenced politics in a major way, particularly dur- Step 3: Make It Easy to Have a Voice
ing the 1994 election. Next, you want to get your community talking,
As the Internet grew to become a truly broad- and you want to make it easy for them to join the
based medium, it opened opportunities for self- dialogue and buy into the community.
publishers – bloggers – to build an audience. In fact, Townhall.com does not require an advanced de-
the blogosphere comprises the next big wave of gree in technology. Supporters can create their own
grassroots opinions media. blog in three easy steps, and they can individualize
Our goal was to take these millions of grass- it. We currently offer eight blog templates and plan
roots listeners, who were accustomed to voicing to expand that and expand features as we continue
their opinions on the radio, and move them online to grow. They can create their own blogroll. They
for activism, blogging, and commentary. We ac- can set up their own mailing lists, so when they
complished that feat in several ways. post to their blogs, their friends will know about
it – and they will visit the site to post comments
of their own, thereby building the community. We
Step 1: Cross Promote
give people standard blog features, like the ability to
The talk radio hosts played a large role in driv- turn comments on or off. We also offer a Townhall.
ing their audiences to the Web site. For example, com newsfeed and bibliographical information.
rather than just saying, “Call in and talk to me now,”
The results have been phenomenal. In the first
Hugh Hewitt now adds, “If you have something to
few weeks of Townhall.com’s new site release, we
say, go to my blog and post your comments.” Even
gained over 1,000 bloggers.
more powerfully, Hugh has called on his listeners
and other bloggers to create their own Townhall.
com blogs. People started logging on in droves, Step 4: Acknowledge Effort
creating over 1,000 blogs in three weeks, and they We want the individuals in our community to
brought intelligent conversation with them. Hewitt know that we are listening. One of our editors reg-
calls this the “great blog migration.” ularly reads across the blog community and pulls
Now, talk radio listeners have a bigger platform quotes that are then featured on our homepage.
to voice opinion. Instead of just calling in during a Further, when people post to the blog, the most re-
pre-set, three-hour block of time, they can access cent post automatically appears at the top of our
the Web site and comment anytime and any way. main Townhall.com blog. They will also appear in a
The only requirement is having something to say in section of Townhall.com called “Your Opinion.”
the first place.
Step 5: Give Them the Right Information
Step 2: Don’t Forget the Individual We want to know who our community mem-
More importantly, talk radio listeners joined bers are, so we developed a personal tracking ac-
a large, online community of people who shared tion center, similar to GeorgeWBush.com and GOP.
their views. Rather than going to blogspot.com and com. Once you register with the site, we remember
creating a single blog in a sea of other blogs from you, and we feed you specific information, such as
across the spectrum of interests and political views, the names of your federally- and state-elected of-
conservatives can now go to Townhall.com and join ficials and how to contact them.
a like-minded community of people. Our members We also know what media market you’re in,
don’t become anonymous. Each person has his or and we tell you how to contact the right newspaper
her own chair in this big town hall where nobody is editors, similar to what we did on GeorgeWBush.
more important than the individual. You get to sit com and GOP.com. We break the media down by
right next to the celebrities, like Hugh Hewitt and largest circulation and closest geographical loca-
Bill Bennett. tion in order to improve your punch. We want you
to reach the most effective media outlets within
your community, such as the local paper that your
Our members don’t become anony- neighbor reads because it covers your local high
mous. Each person has his or her school sports team. And, we don’t neglect talk ra-
own chair in this big town hall where dio! Not only do we encourage people to call our
nobody is more important than the Salem hosts, but we also provide them with the in-
individual. You get to sit right next to formation of other talk radio shows in their media
the celebrities, like Hugh Hewitt and markets.
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35. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
Grassroots-style media is hitting main-
Step 6: Trust Them to Carry the Message stream marketing in a major way. Thanks
Our audience is influential, and we want them in large part to sites like YouTube, origi-
to produce their own content because we trust nal ads created by fans, product users,
them to know which topics will interest their social and people with a cool new idea, are
networks. Hundreds of thousands of them have re- making their way from the Web to the
ceived e-mails from Townhall.com’s editor-in-chief TV screen. Marketers are paying atten-
Jonathan Garthwaite for over a decade. We asked tion. And they are using the cleverest
our members, “Can you write an e-mail as well as ideas for new ads. Who’s doing it? Sony,
Jonathan Garthwaite? Can you find the best con- L’Oreal, MasterCard, Mentos, Chevrolet,
tent in Townhall.com? What is it that your circle of and Burger have all used ads created by
friends wants to read?” One of the actions we in- everyday people online.
vite people to take is to become the author of their
own “what’s new on Townhall.com” e-mail, and we Why are they catching on? Because
give them the tools to do it. traditional marketing isn’t working any-
We trust our community members to carry the more. Many user-created ads have a
conservative message. They are movement con- strong viral component, and appeal to
servatives first and partisan party people second. people on a more personal level. And
The vast majority of our readers and listeners are don’t ignore the fact that many of the
thoughtful conservatives who seek to put out con- ads become full-fledged online trends!
servative ideas and values in order to persuade and
inform people – not shout over them.
scene aside, if I were to give my one word on the
We invited the community to interact future today it would be “broadband.”
with us on every page. Conversation Broadband will only continue to enable both
is ingrained in the DNA of the Web our opinion leaders and grassroots activists to
site. achieve a new level in voicing their opinion by
allowing video. The Internet has always been
a visual medium. But because of load speed, it
has been primarily a text-driven medium. Up
until now, people have mostly consumed printed
Step 7: Make Conversation a Policy
words, but that is changing. As download speeds
We didn’t create the community around one increase and as the broadband infrastructure gets
“big bang” feature like “Your Blog.” Instead, we bigger, video will be a relevant player, and we will
invited the community to interact with us on every see more and more YouTube-style, grassroots vid-
page. Conversation is ingrained in the DNA of the eo media. The political impact will be powerful.
Everywhere on the site is an opportunity to
post a comment – whether you’re listening to au-
dio or reading a blog post or reading a column. What we are seeing today – the grassroots
And there is an opportunity to forward everything participation in the political debate – is not new by
to somebody else. At every turn, we encourage any means. It is how politics has always operated.
visitors to create their own blogs. For centuries prior to 1960 people knocking on
After all, this is the era of interaction for poli- neighbors’ doors, participating in the local town
tics. That is what our job is: to create a platform, hall meeting was how ideas were communicated.
to create opportunities for people to voice their Candidates literally touched voters with person-
opinions in political debate and participate in the to-person contact efforts. For decades the domi-
arena of ideas. nance of broadcast television has served to push
grassroots participation out of politics. The Inter-
net has brought the grassroots back.
Step 8: Look Ahead
Remember the film The Graduate with Dustin
Hoffman? At a house party early in the movie, a The Internet has brought the grass-
friend of the main character’s parents takes him to
the side and gives him a piece of advice on what roots back.
to pay attention to in the future. That one word
was “plastics.” The social commentary of that
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37. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
by Carl Rosendorf
How do you merge an existing online community with a national fan
base of radio listeners? How do you grow a community and ensure that a
platform exists for different voices to be heard?
The Internet has made one thing incredibly diffi- zations, advocacy groups, and non-profits. Many
cult: you simply can’t stop people from talking. Not of these organizations share a hesitancy to loosen
that we’d want to. In fact, just the opposite is true. the reins on how they control their message. They
The Internet has created a medium for dialogue, typically have a Web site and most now have a
which allows for a broader, deeper discourse than blog. But generally they follow the traditional path
ever before. of one-way communication: centralized content
For some, this has been a hard lesson to learn. distributed to the masses. They want to control the
When it comes to social networks, some political communication and their message. Most of these
groups have a fear of letting go. In my capacity as fears reflect an older paradigm that fears change.
President and COO of Gather.com, an online social We live in a changing world. Political groups
networking and social media site, I talk to the lead- need to look no further than the big media orga-
ers of a lot of political parties, campaigns, organi- nizations, including network television and news-
papers like the Washington Post and the New York
Times, to find examples of how an equally hesitant
industry is learning – slowly and steadily – to adapt.
Gather.com is a network for people who Media companies are just as concerned about let-
want to share their own content online. ting go of their message as you are, but they are
Gather.com members are rewarded for beginning to face reality: people want the ability to
their participation with Gather Points™, have a voice. They want the ability to talk to you,
or even cash for top contributors. and more importantly, they want the ability to talk
to each other.
Media companies are just as con-
cerned about letting go of their mes-
sage as you are, but they are beginning
to face reality: people want the ability
to have a voice.
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38. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
Social networking sites offer just that — a voice. be incorporated into your overall Web strategy. Us-
Think about one of the most visible phenomena of ing a social media platform provides an additional
the 2004 presidential campaign: political Meetups. opportunity to extend your reach, generate dona-
People used the Internet to meet each other in the tions and sign-up volunteers. Think about social
real world and act on behalf of their favorite can- media as an integrated part of your strategy, both
didates. That physical component was incredibly as a part of Internet efforts and as a link to build of-
significant, and it provides a metaphor for what so- fline support.
cial networks do in the virtual world.
Building Online Communities Think about social media as an inte-
MySpace is one of the biggest media trends grated part of your strategy, both as a
of the year. At the time of this writing, it was an- part of Internet efforts and as a link to
nounced that MySpace was the most visited site on build offline support.
the Internet, above all the major media outlets and
portals. Granted, MySpace tends to skew toward
teenagers, but those teenagers are speaking to each
other. My company, Gather.com, as well as other Take the example of Alex Sink. Alex Sink, a busi-
sites like LinkedIn and Eons.com, offers a grown-up nesswoman and former President of Bank of Amer-
alternative, providing the 30-year-old-plus demo- ica in Florida, is running for Chief Financial Officer
graphic with that same capability to interact on- in Florida. Her campaign incorporated a social net-
line. work, Gather.com, into its campaign strategy, and
Social networks like ours provide organizations the campaign promoted both the social networking
with a multi-directional communications platform. group and the Web site simultaneously.
Not only can a political group communicate with Alex Sink created six different groups on Gather,
its constituents and the constituents communicate targeted towards different constituencies, such as
back to the political group, but the platform also businesspeople and geographical groups. This way,
allows the constituents to communicate with each the individual constituencies can hear messages
other. Most importantly, the conversation happens from Alex Sink that address their unique concerns
within the construct of the organization itself. Thus, and communicate amongst themselves on issues
the organization can shape the dialogue, respond of importance to that specific group of people. She
to any concerns, and be exposed first-hand to the is building her online groups through promotions
issues on people’s minds.
And, while enabling this flow of ideas, thoughts
and discussion, you actually maintain a great deal
of control. Companies like Gather.com provide or-
ganizations the ability to create their own group – a
customized, branded area within the broader on- What’s on Alex
line community. Group owners can tailor the group Sink’s Gather group?
experience through a series of easy-to-use tools. Alex Sink uses her gather group, Florid-
The group owner has the ability to decide who can ians for Alex (http:/ /floridaforalex.gather.
join the group or post content. A group can be open com), as a way to encourage her support-
to anyone, allowing everyone the ability to post ar- ers to write articles on her behalf. During
ticles, or be more restricted as determined by the August 2006, this included everything
group owner. Private groups, for example, can en- from articles on hurricanes and the insur-
able a political field organization to restrict access ance industry to tips on increasing atten-
to those invited by the campaign itself. They can dance at a grassroots house party event.
use their online profile to share their field notes col-
laboratively and confidentially. On the other hand,
a public group, such as a group involved in the issue
of immigration, can provide access to the public yet
still moderate the content. In this case, the group
owner decides which content appears on the group
Web Site & Social Media Convergence
As you develop a social media strategy, it should
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39. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
from her campaign Web site. The online groups
were promoted prominently on her campaign site’s It is already evident how the Internet is chang-
home page, and supporters could fill out a form to ing politics. Now, with social media, that change
sign up for one of her online groups on the cam- continues. People want a voice, and they are using
paign site. Likewise, she used the online groups to online tools to do it. They want their voice to be
draw people back to the campaign site. heard wherever it makes a difference. People are
This example illustrates a very important com- engaging in state and local politics beyond state
ponent of politically-motivated social networks. and local lines. Geography isn’t holding back politi-
The way to build traffic to your group is to cross- cal donors or political activists, for that matter.
promote across all mediums: on your Web site, in People are beginning to recognize the impact of
your e-mail, and in your printed material. The goal legislation and elections outside their states. Peo-
is to drive traffic to each and every one of you on- ple in Missouri are starting to care about elections
line outlets, including your campaign site and your in Indiana or Florida or Texas or Massachusetts.
social networking groups. And you want them to And, they are willing to donate to political candi-
support each other. dates outside of their state who share their views
on a particular issue. This trend gives your cam-
paign or issue a national platform, and that is where
the fundraising component of social networking
The goal is to drive traffic to each and sites comes alive. Your voice can be greater than
every one of you online outlets, in- your typical reach or the content on your Web site,
cluding your campaign site, and your which usually just speaks to people who seek you
social networking groups. And you out in the first place.
want them to support each other.
People want a voice, and they are us-
ing online tools to do it.
Remember: This Isn’t (Only) Kansas
Online social networking communities are high-
ly viral. People connecting to people connecting To maximize your media strategy, leverage each
to people. This growth enables you to extend your of the component parts. All of your media assets
reach beyond your core constituencies. You will should promote each other. Your e-mail should
have access to people from around the globe that promote your Web site, your Web site should pro-
may share your concerns on the issues facing all of mote your online social networking group, and your
us. For example, if you are running a local political online social networking group should drive traffic
race or a geographically-specific issue campaign, back to your Web site. This type of cross promotion
then the fact that you are engaging people in an on- further enables you to reach an audience wherever
line social network means that a lot of people out- they may be.
side your region will become exposed to your or-
ganization or campaign. This opens new markets,
new opportunities, and a broader audience for your Don’t Fear User-Generated Content
message. Web sites distribute a fairly universal message
Think about it this way: online social networks across a mass medium, but it doesn’t always speak
provide a way for you to reach out beyond just the directly to the individual. On social networking
people who might visit your Web site. You might sites, you can target specific groups, just like Alex
say that social networks are a no-cost marketing Sink is doing in Florida, and tailor your message to
vehicle, with a high-impact potential amongst sup- individuals who are interested in a specific area or
porters and voters. issue.
More than that, individuals can become active
participants by writing articles on the issues that
matter to them most. They can blog about it, or go
You might say that social networks are on a social networking site, and they can write and
a no-cost marketing vehicle, with a publish articles. When other people share their
high-impact potential amongst sup- comments on an article, an online conversation en-
porters and voters. sues. Suddenly, activism is more than just reading
a position paper or a pamphlet. Social media con-
verts readers into advocates. They become your
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40. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
cheerleaders, voicing support for your position, and • Identify the influencers in every com-
they can have conversations amongst themselves munity. – What is interesting about
– all under the umbrella of your organization or can- social networking sites is how quickly
didate. That is very empowering. you can identify the influencers and
More importantly, those voices are heard out- their capacity to shape the discussion
side the choir that is already preaching to itself. and the dialogue. Find the people that
Your participation in a social media site enables you lead the dialogue and engage them in
to extend your reach to those that have not heard your group. Read the articles and espe-
your perspective. As you know, victory comes from cially the readers’ comments that drive
engaging those people outside your normal base. the conversation. It’s that on-going
The viral nature of a social networking site makes conversation that makes social media
that happen. so special. It fosters communication.
Find the influencers as they can play a
significant role in driving traffic to your
Tips for Leveraging the Power of Online group.
Remember, people have always sat in cafés or
• Know who you want to reach. – It is bars or around the dinner table, talking politics and
very important to participate in a social debating issues. Now, through social networking
media site for the demographic that and social media, they continue the conversation
you want to speak to. If you are look- on politics online.
ing to speak to 15 to 25 year-olds, you
go to MySpace or Friendster. If you
are looking to speak to 30 to 60 year- The Time Is Now
olds, you come to sites like Gather. You Today, the path is clear. People are now engaged.
want to reach as many people as you The dialogue has already begun. The only question
can, so target the broadest community that remains is whether you will be part of it. The
that best represents your target demo- key is finding the right balance and developing a
graphic. communications strategy that enables you to ac-
• Define your expectations. – Create a complish your goals.
group experience for your members
that enables you to meet your strate-
gic goals while encouraging those who
join your group to participate as you Remember, people have always sat
hope they will. Whether your goal is to in cafés or bars or around the dinner
inform others of a platform, spark de- table, talking politics and debating is-
bate, get out the vote, or raise money, sues. Now, through social networking
be clear about those goals and you will and social media, they continue the
increase your social media success.
conversation on politics online.
• Get them talking by initiating conver-
sation. – Post content twice weekly to
spark dialogue and to act as a catalyst
for conversation. Conversation engages
readers and writers within Gather and
that leads to a vibrant community for
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41. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
THE SOCIAL CONTEXT
by Eric D. Alterman
Context will drive the next phase of social networking and
The two teachers who influenced me the most reign over the social networking space was short-
were both professors at American University’s lived. A new player named MySpace emerged on
Washington College of Law. Although they had the scene, and by the summer of 2006, it became
been tasked to teach us mundane subjects like civil the most visited site on the Web (that is, until You-
procedure and contract law, both spent an inordi- Tube surpassed it a few weeks later).
nate amount of time during the first weeks (if not While technology and design may have played a
months) of law school lecturing on linguistics and role in MySpace’s ascendancy, it’s clear to me that
other esoteric subjects, often evoking the bewilder- its focus on building audience within a specific con-
ing writings of philosophers like Ludwig Wittgen- text – music – was the key driver of its early suc-
stein and Jacques Derrida. cess. Wherever there are guitars and poet-singers
While most of us initially would have preferred there will be girls, and where there are girls, there
that they cut to the chase and tell us “the law,” we
soon figured out that “the law” was a much more
amorphous concept than we previously imagined.
In short, we learned that the language of law only
had meaning within specific contexts and that the KickApps (www.kickapps.com) is a host-
art of persuasion had everything to do with the par- ed platform that allows webmasters to
ties defining that context. Today, outside the law quickly and easily deploy user-generated
school lecture hall, context remains a key part of content and social networking functional-
my role as an entrepreneur who develops social ity directly on their Web sites.
What does all this talk of context have to do
with the social networks that have come to domi-
nate the Internet experience for many people? The
answer is that context will drive the next phase of
social networking and user participation.
Over the past few years, online social network-
ing sites have emerged, skyrocketed to the peak of
popularity, and fallen into irrelevance. Early innova-
tors like Friendster provided basic social networking
tools, quickly stealing attention away from tradi-
tional portals like Yahoo! and AOL. But Friendster’s
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42. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
will be guys. Things snowballed accordingly. content and media management tools.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, of From a user’s perspective, uploading photos
course, and MySpace soon found a spate of imi- and videos to new, niche-oriented communities
tators, all claiming superior technology and more is not a significant barrier to entry: anyone under
user-friendly interfaces (e.g., Tagworld). As of the age of 35 can handle that task in a matter of
writing, though, none have made serious inroads minutes. However from a webmaster’s perspec-
into MySpace’s dominant market share. tive, the harder barrier to entry is having the tools
The cool kids will continue to hang-out at the to manage all of this new technology. Resource-
most popular social networking Web sites. But rich, major media properties require sophisticated
social networking sites aren’t just for kids, or teen- media management, administration, and reporting
agers for that matter. Granted, a teenage conver- functionality.
sation riddled with references to bands, girls, and Why? Well, for one thing, it protects their
“my parents don’t get me” on a MySpace profile is brands (and advertisers) from people uploading
not particularly compelling to slightly older adults. pornography and other potentially offensive mate-
Twenty-something, thirty-something and an in- rial on their Web pages. In other words, building
creasing number of forty-something web-savvy a simple application that accepts video uploads
surfers fully appreciate the excitement of sharing and displays them on a page is relatively easy, but
their ideas and media with friends and interested building all the tools necessary to moderate and
strangers. Many will turn to Web sites that provide customize a community experience is quite a dif-
niche contexts more relevant to their specific inter- ferent engineering challenge.
ests and lifestyle.
However, that’s not where the story ends. The
promise of the Internet has always been about pro-
viding a platform through which individuals partici- Building a simple application that ac-
pate in conversation, covering every conceivable cepts video uploads and displays them
subject, moderated by webmasters with a full range on a page is relatively easy, but build-
of political and social points of view – on a never- ing all the tools necessary to moderate
ending stream of Web sites. The idea of a single
venue like MySpace moderating 99 percent of our
and customize a community experi-
online social experience is a not a viable long-term ence is quite a different engineering
reality. Context will again be the driver for what challenge.
Blogs and message boards already exist on mil-
lions of content-specific Web sites. But this is just
the beginning. Web sites are starting to incorpo- With access to hosted platforms that provide
rate easier access to other technologies that allow turnkey community technology, it’s easy to imagine
richer participation, including user-generated video why active communities will form overnight around
specific television networks, reality shows, talk
shows, radio stations, newspapers, political cam-
paigns, universities, religious groups, expatriate
organizations, gaming enthusiasts, celebrities, ex-
treme sports, etc. Any online community should be
able to invite its members to participate in a media
What’s a widget? rich way. And it’s easy to see why advertisers will
For the purposes of this essay, be willing to pay a meaningful cost per thousand
a widget refers to an interactive, for advertising within communities with knowable
graphical interface. Think about the re- demographics and closely moderated content.
cent success of YouTube, which allows
Nowhere is this discussion more relevant than
users to place someone else’s videos di-
within the context of politics, where discursive par-
rectly on their Web sites, social network-
ticipation is its actual purpose. While contextual
ing profiles, and blogs. Those are wid-
participation may be the promise of the Internet,
gets! According to Eric Alterman, allowing
participation is an actual requirement of democracy.
people to steal your video- and audio-rich
Despite the proliferation of blogs and cable net-
widgets provides a wormhole that fun-
works, the process of American democracy is still
nels people back to your Web site. Why?
dominated by too few VERY LOUD voices. In most
Because all of your widgets link back to
other parts of the world the social context is, of
you – whether they are premium content
course, even more limited. But I think there’s hope
developed by your organization or user
that technology may soon play an important role
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43. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
in facilitating unprecedented participation at the
Web sites of political parties, candidates, interests
groups, and individual communities.
“Distance on the Web is measured by
links, so the way to make your site
‘close’ to where your customers are
is to get lots of places to point to
it. How? By being interesting or
– David Weinberger, Small Pieces Loosely Joined
Think about it this way: when you combine
user-generated media content within the context of
a social networking community, you allow people
to touch and feel your cause, candidate, or issue.
They become part of the action as it happens. And How Big is YouTube?
the media they create extends the reach of your YouTube is perhaps the biggest consumer
Web site. In a way, they (and their creations) be- media company on the Web. Several oth-
come entry points into your organization for people ers, including Google Video, Revver, and
who might not otherwise know your organization Metacafe, also serve video content to
or candidate’s name. large audiences and allow users to watch,
upload, and share video content. What
makes YouTube special is its audience
size. In summer 2006, YouTube sur-
If power and meaning are defined by passed MySpace as the most trafficked
context, contextual diversity in social site on the Web. Users view 100 million
networking may be more disruptive videos a day, and the site attracts 20 mil-
lion people a month.
and interesting than most of us now
The most popular video content remains
stunts, song parodies, TV clips, and video
content paid for by sponsors. But, You-
So in a very real way the philosophical musings Tube is quickly becoming a political me-
of my two favorite law professors are finding rel- dium. John McCain, Ned Lamont, Joe
evance outside their classrooms. And the issues Lieberman, Hillary Clinton, Tony Blair and
go beyond the score-keeping and Internet strate- Al Gore have all been captured in hun-
gies of venture capital firms and major media con- dreds of TV clips, parodies, animations,
glomerates. If power and meaning are defined by and campaign ads. But by far, George
context, contextual diversity in social networking W. Bush is one of the most visible
may be more disruptive and interesting than most political figures on YouTube with
of us now imagine. almost 3,000 video posts by the
time of writing.
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45. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
PODCAST SWING VOTE
by Chris MacDonald
Liberated Syndication – IndieFeed Networks
Podcasting isn’t just for geeks anymore. Politi- through this system, and several other podcast di-
cians are joining the world of the subscribed me- rectories, including Yahoo, exist outside of iTunes
dia file – albeit cautiously – and their messages are that provide even more access to podcast feeds.
meeting with success and new challenges. This This is not to say that all the programming pos-
chapter looks at how the podcasting medium can sesses outstanding quality and production value.
drive social networks – and vice versa. As with blogs, the natural consequence of provid-
ing everyone with the means to produce a broad-
Background cast is a wide mix of releases, some of which is by
most measures uninspiring. The output by politi-
Podcasting – the delivery of scheduled audio cians who have rushed to the medium are no dif-
and video digital media, consumable on the com-
puter or a portable media device like an iPod – is a
natural environment for political discourse. Apple,
credited with bringing mainstream media to pod-
casting through its release of a podcast-enabled Indiefeed Network is a community-ori-
iTunes in mid 2005 (the dominant media delivery ented micro-media broadcast network.
service is available in both Windows and Mac op- Its blog offers tips for people who want to
erating systems), currently provides a rich platform record and post their own podcasts:
for issues-oriented audio and video programming • Your content is unique, high im-
that is free to users and rich in content. pact, high energy, and compelling.
While Apple’s support brought mainstream • Your art pushes the envelope and
media to podcasting and helped to establish pod- resonates, stimulates and perhaps
casting as a popular, legitimate media distribution even challenges the audience.
platform, it also – and perhaps more importantly
• Your work is of a high production
– helped bolster independent and alternative pro-
and recording quality.
• Pieces no longer than six minutes
Approximately 50,000 free shows are available
What’s a Podcast?
A podcast is a publishing tool.
It uses online syndication to de-
liver multimedia content, such as the
audio file of a speech or interview. It’s a
relatively new tool. In fact, it’s only been
around since 2000.
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46. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
ferent. Some have great shows (Wes Clark), some
have good to passable shows (Pete Domenici, John The TiVo sensibility is no longer a fad
Edwards, Barack Obama), and some have been but has become an imbedded practice.
simply terrible (Bill Frist, Russ Feingold).
The Political Factor
Does this spell the end of television? Of course
Why do we care? Research has yet to demon- not. The myth of a mass audience is simply erod-
strate that user-generated content such as blogs ing to provide a much richer, more diverse environ-
and podcasts will help turn out voters to the polls. ment of choice, and, most importantly, participa-
Nonetheless, those of us who work in this field can- tion. Tom Webster of Edison Media Research in a
not deny our positive bias toward Internet-enabled recent presentation aptly predicted that the days of
media, and we might over-accentuate the impact Thursday night NBC “Must See TV” are a golden
of this new phenomenon. One thing does ring true: era that we are unlikely to see again. It was not a
the user generated content echo chamber is cer- matter of mass audiences electing a Thursday night
tainly alive and reverberating. lineup; it was simply the best we had available at
We care because all indications point to the fact the time. To then make extrapolations about the
that media distribution in general and podcasting in mass media viewing population was also errone-
particular, in their evolving states, are undergoing ous (“which Friends character are you?” The real
rapid change on the fringes and increasingly mov- answer is none).
ing inward. An analogy with global climate change If certain portions of the population, then, want
is appropriate in that mounting evidence and intui- to hear more about the fine details of health care
tive judgment simply cannot be denied: we are fac- reform, politicians should be using these niche
ing massive upheavals in the way we interact and vehicles to expound on their subject matter po-
consume as a global community. sition. Boring to some? Sure. But to the group
The TiVo sensibility is no longer a fad but has where the discussion is primary, it may be the dif-
become an imbedded practice. Adopting personal ference between a vote or a pass. Niche content
schedules to accommodate the prime time televi- by design is not consumable by everyone, just by
sion lineup has given way to getting it when you the right person. Leaving these fine categorical
want it and how you want it. Recent polls indicate messages within a static webpage is shortsighted
a precipitous drop in television viewership. Televi- because chances are most people will fail to dig
sion is still powerful, but we are beginning to see in and find the information. Multimedia presenta-
the stress fractures on the walls of the terrestrial tions that appear fresh and relevant (and therefore
and cable television infrastructure. subscribed) are much more likely to penetrate the
clutter. And if you are not participating, be assured
that someone in the podesphere is talking about
you, probably negatively. Podcasters ignored are a
Who’s Using It?
WesPAC, the Political Action
Committee of retired General If you are not participating, be assured
Wesley Clark, offers ClarkCasts, a that someone in the podesphere is
weekly podcast series in which Wesley talking about you, probably negatively.
Clark discusses political issues and inter- Podcasters ignored are a scornful
views political figures. For more informa-
tion, visit http://securingamerica.com. bunch.
From a political standpoint, depending on
where you sit in the political spectrum, the diver-
sity of content choice with podcasting is a welcome
movement that gets us closer to a truly democratic
system. By blurring the lines between content cre-
ator and consumer, we collectively take on a higher
burden of accountability of accessing what’s avail-
able to hear and read. Listeners become partici-
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47. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
pants and many become contributors and content
creators themselves. More often new social net-
working tools, like call-back features, audio com-
ments and tagging, lend to the necessary debates Internet savvy consumers who may
that help formulate policy and public discourse. very well become the most important
swing population over the next decade
Podcast Demographics due to their habits and influence.
We also care because we are learning through
research and practice that this new emerging cre-
ation class is an extremely influential segment Ask any politician if he or she is interested in ig-
of the population. Woe be the politician that dis- noring 10 percent of his or her constituency, and I
misses this group as being simply nerdy and out of doubt you will be surprised with the response. Yet
touch with the mainstream. Arbitron and Edison this is precisely what is happening in today’s politi-
Research recently released some interesting data cal campaigns that have chosen to ignore this co-
on the audio podcast consumer: hort of voters. Television ads are less likely to pene-
trate this group. Sound bites are less likely to make
• 11 percent of the population listens to a significant dent in their voting impulses. These
podcasts. are bright, accomplished, culturally invested, Inter-
net savvy consumers who may very well become
• Listeners include 52 percent men and the most important swing population over the next
48 percent women. decade due to their habits and influence.
• Ages are more spread than you might Podcast creators, in turn, tend to be highly net-
first imagine: worked and leveraged influencers. The average
12 to 17 – 12 percent audience per podcaster is around 100, and super-
18 to 24 – 12 percent stars are able to touch as many as a half million per
25 to 34 – 20 percent download. Simple math argues that savvy politi-
cians should adjust their communications mix,
35 to 44 – 22 percent even slightly, to make an impact within this envi-
45 to 54 – 17 percent ronment. Whether it’s creating one’s own feed, or
55 and up – 8 percent being available to provide content for other shows,
• They are more likely to be students and/ they could reach those who are tuning out of tradi-
or full-time employees than the average tional media.
• They are more likely to live in higher in-
come households. Today, the average audience per pod-
• They spend less time watching TV and caster is around 100. Superstars are
more time on the Internet, consuming able to touch as many as a half million
alternative forms of media. per download.
• They purchase significantly more mu-
sic, movies and video games than the
• They spend more both online and of- Building a Relevant Podcast Presence
fline, and they spend a tremendous My non-scientific, low-sample research sug-
share of their income locally. gests that some common elements make for great
• Podcasters are above average consum- political podcasting:
ers of news and get their news via Inter-
• Don’t be uptight. – Podcasting is an
• Given the choice of having to give up intimate medium. Podcasts are expe-
TV or the Internet, 62 percent voted to rienced by listeners in very personal
drop their TV.14 places, such as your computer at home
or work, or during a work out or a stroll
14 Tom Webster, “The Podcast Consumer Revealed: An Exclusive
or on a commute. As such, audiences
Early Look at the Growing Podcast Audience,” Arbitron/Edison are receptive to a casual, up-front en-
Media Research Internet and Multimedia (http://www.edison- vironment where candor and getting to
research.com/home/archives/2006/07/the_podcast_con. the point score highly.
PERSON-TO-PERSON-TO-PERSON | cHaPter eigHt | Page 43
48. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
• Meet acceptable levels of production
value. – High fidelity sound acts as
proxy for personal presence. You don’t
have to win a production award, just
edit with an ear toward listening enjoy-
ment. Appropriately tag the metadata
of the podcast so that searching your
content is easy in directories.
• Stop selling. Be yourself. – The force of
personality plays heavily in podcasting,
and politicians who respect the medi-
um can create a special bond with their
constituents, which is very hard to repli-
cate in other communication mediums.
If you come off like a press release, then
you’re dead to the listener.
Podcasts are one of the newest and most inno-
vative ways to deliver niche content, and they will
change communication habits just as surely as fax
machines and e-mail did. Politicians who get out
ahead of the curve will find a receptive audience of
educated, influential and intellectually curious peo-
ple – just the kind of voters that a savvy politician
“The party’s already started. You
can join or not. If you don’t your
silence will be taken as arrogance,
stupidity, meanness, or all three.”
– Doc Searls, The Cluetrain Manifesto
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49. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
by Michael Krempasky
“We saw the emergence of super activists – the precinct captains of the
online world. Some individuals began to take more of a leadership role
within the site by moderating content and keeping it fairly organized.”
RedState was the brainchild of Josh Treviño, a publican National Convention in New York City. We
war blogger who wrote at a site called Tacitus.org blogged at the convention and covered it with a dif-
throughout 2002 and 2003. While Tacitus stayed ferent perspective, including a lot of interviews and
focused on a particular topic, other sites like Daily original content. However, unlike many of the other
Kos took a much broader view of politics and com- new media folks at the convention, we wanted our
munity building. We felt this sense of a broader site to be more than just an information source. We
community was absent on the right side of the aisle wanted people to use the site to encourage people
and saw the potential advantage of developing a to take action – not just read something and agree
community culture akin to what the left was doing, with it, but take the next step of donating, volun-
but adapted for a Republican audience. teering, or otherwise supporting a candidate.
We wanted to build our network from scratch,
so we started identifying other people who blogged
on their own and invited them to be a part of a new
site: RedState. The goal was to avoid making this a We wanted people to use the site to
top down effort. Instead, we wanted to bring on as
many of the best bloggers on our side as we could, encourage people to take action – not
particularly people who were good writers and who just read something and agree with
(we felt) deserved more traffic. We knew that the it, but take the next step of donating,
site had to be far more community-focused than volunteering, or otherwise supporting
right-of-center blog efforts were historically. a candidate.
We launched RedState with an understanding
that each of the founders had been primarily in-
volved in significant offline political activities – me
in grassroots politics, Treviño and Ben Domenech
as speechwriters and policy staffers – which was
something that set RedState apart. At the time,
blogs generally – but Democrat and liberal blogs in
particular – lacked this type of background experi-
We launched right before the August 2004 Re-
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50. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
We picked three Senate campaigns in 2004 to trum focused on one issue: the Federal Election
raise money for: Tom Coburn in Oklahoma, John Commission’s proposed regulations on online po-
Thune in South Dakota, and Jim DeMint in South litical activity – regulations that could have signifi-
Carolina. We raised $10,000 to $12,000 for each of cantly threatened what many political blogs were
them, which, at the time, was a big achievement for doing. On March 4, FEC commissioner Bradley
us because we were a new brand. All three of them Smith gave an interview to Declan McCullagh voic-
won their elections. ing his concern about the proposed regulations.
By March 12, we had assembled a coalition of left,
right, and libertarian bloggers, and we had already
Online Activism and the Courts reached an agreement about a list of principles that
Almost immediately after the 2004 election we wanted the FEC to recognize.
cycle, we started taking the next steps in build- Along with a Democratic colleague, Michael
ing the RedState community. Traffic was up. The Bassik, we handed a letter to the FEC chairman in
number of registered users was up. We started to person at IPDI’s Politics Online Conference. When
see the site develop into a community akin to any we handed him that letter, we opened a Web page
offline political network of the users and activists. for other bloggers to sign on and make their own
We saw the emergence of super activists – the pre- comments. We enlisted 3,600 bloggers within
cinct captains of the online world. Some individu- 72 hours, all of them from very broad and diverse
als began to take more of a leadership role within political backgrounds. This coalition was unusual
the site by moderating content and keeping it fairly because it did not consist of the same boogie men
organized, and unlike some other social networks, who consistently fight in the online political world.
we retained a significant level of editorial control. This was a new issue and a new coalition.
We set fairly specific rules about content – what
goes on the site and what doesn’t – and we relied The FEC is a very inside-baseball game. Its his-
on the community to police the site, which they did tory is one of dealing with the elite, the smallest
remarkably well. number of people with the most money to affect
politics. But our coalition had the perfect conflu-
Our next step was to get involved in policy is- ence of timing and events. For the first time in its
sues. The first one that engaged the site in 2005 history, the FEC had an audience of hundreds of
was the Supreme Court nominations fight – one of thousands of people, not just political insiders.
the biggest issues of the year. One of the things
that we noticed during 2004 was that the most in- That summer, we submitted one of the largest
teresting media coverage about particular nomina- collections of public comments to the FEC. These
tions wasn’t from the Washington Post or Roll Call: were substantive letters with enormous reach
it was from blogs and bloggers who had personal — bloggers who were lawyers weighed in, and
connections to individual nominees or who worked bloggers who weren’t hired lawyers to help them
in the legal field. We wanted to take media cover- navigate the process. A number of us ended up
age one step further by assembling a community of testifying before the FEC.
bloggers from all over the place with the intention This was one of the first times that the govern-
of actually changing something. Simply writing ment recognized a real constituency in the blogo-
about the nominations and drawing traffic to the sphere, and in a way, they reached out more to the
site was not enough. everyday public. Bloggers, by definition, act as a
That’s one of the reasons we started a blog proj- proxy for their readers. They may not always be
ect of RedState, called ConfirmThem, focused on completely representative, but they certainly rep-
these judicial nominees, and featuring writing from resent a new constituency – a constituency willing
some of the best lawyers and court-watchers on to work together on important single issues even
our site. We were able to aggregate enough writ- when they disagree over other political issues. Re-
ten material that people started to turn to RedState member, the broad-reaching FEC coalition we as-
as their first source about what conservatives said sembled occurred simultaneously with RedState’s
about the issue, a place to see reaction, in real time, heated campaign over the Supreme Court nomina-
and to the fight over the direction of the courts. In tions. That the online coalition didn’t crack under
the end, the RedState community produced more the pressure of the broader political fight says a lot
written content about the Supreme Court nomina- about the maturation of folks who engaged in poli-
tions than any single publication in the country. tics online.
Since 2004, RedState has grown by leaps and
bounds. We’ve taken on new talent, new bloggers,
Looking Outside the Community and new leadership – in our CEO Erick Erickson,
In spring 2005, RedState launched a national a political consultant, and CFO Clayton Wagar,
coalition of bloggers from across the political spec- a technology executive – in order to become the
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51. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
most vibrant and active Republican community site can sign up and write an article about
on the web. a campaign that they care about, an is-
sue in their town, or their opinions on
• Don’t underestimate your constitu-
Bloggers, by definition, act as a proxy ents. A blog, if written by enough peo-
for their readers. They may not always ple, can cover an issue more intensely
be completely representative, but they and more in-depth than any single pub-
certainly represent a new constitu- lication. There is no way Washington
Post can assign someone to write an
ency – a constituency willing to work article about the FEC every day for 200
together on important single issues days. They would go broke, because
even when they disagree over other there are not enough people to buy that
political issues. many papers. However, RedState was
able to do just that.
• Let your message be one of many.
Be willing to lose a little control over
Today, RedState is a for-profit media company your message in order to gain a more
that looks and feels a lot like an opinion journal. engaged community of supporters.
We drive opinion, and we’re focused on changing Remember that bloggers are not disin-
the country. We have launched a network of sites, terested parties, but at the same time,
each focusing on key issues and appealing to spe- they are not wholly owned subsidiaries
cific activist audiences. This will allow us to be both of your campaign or organization.
more flexible and more strategic as we continue to
build a place for conservative activists to make a
difference both online and off.
The forward-looking nature of the medium pro-
vides a way for a small media company to combine
the advantages that Republicans and conservatives At IPDI’s 2006 Politics Online Confer-
have had for 40 years: small donors, grass-roots ence, Idil Cakim, director of knowledge
activism, and volunteers. This is an opportunity for development at Burson-Marsteller, spoke
us to connect directly with the voters, donors, and about tech-fluentials, online influencers
people who care about the future of American poli- who filter news and communicate their
tics. decisions on social and political issues
with others. In Cakim’s words, “social
influence and peer networks have to be
Lessons from RedState taken into consideration when addressing
political constituencies.” She shared the
• Lead by example. We discovered that following guidelines for communicating
if the leaders of an online community with political tech-fluentials who blog:
lead by example, then they can encour-
age the community to rally around a • Check for consistency and credibility.
particular political campaign. They will • Learn about bloggers’ backgrounds by
also give their time and money to it. reading their biographies.
• Give the community some responsi- • Disclose your affiliation.
bility. Shortly after launching RedState, • Do not send them
we discovered that if you invited the canned messages.
community to help control the site, they
were willing and able to take the reins.
For more information,
People need to feel a sense of owner-
check out IPDI’s 2006
ship in any community (online or off)
Politics Online Confer-
that they join. They need to have a real
ence Magazine at www.
measure of freedom to make your site
their own. One of the ways that Red-
State accomplishes this is by allowing,
encouraging, and soliciting anyone to
produce content for the site. Anyone
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52. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
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53. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
GO WITH THE FLOW...
BUT NOT JUST ANY FLOW
by Valdis Krebs
“The easier it is for you to send a message,
the harder it is for you to get my attention.”
Are You Receiving Me? realize that I am ignoring you! Again, the easier it is
Online organizing is the new buzz word in poli- for you to send it the easier it is for me to ignore it.
tics. It gives us ways to connect to people whom we Old fashioned media – face-to-face (F2F) chats
normally wouldn’t reach. Online tools for tracking – are difficult to organize and arrange, but easy to
connections and finding others keep getting better. communicate a rich message that will influence
However, there is a cloud in this silver lining – when
it comes to politics, the Internet doesn’t solve every
problem. In fact, it sometimes causes new ones.
Social networks are popular online. They are
also gaining interest among political organizers and Did you know?
activists. A major piece of the political puzzle is Common wisdom in networks is
how we influence those around us. In other words, “the more connections, the better.”
how does influence “flow” in our social networks This is not always true. What is always
– in our connections among neighbors, colleagues, true is “the better connections, the better.”
friends, and family? What to read more? Check out Orgnet’s
Practically speaking, how do I get you to vote? white paper on Managing the Connected
And how do I get you to vote for my candidates? Organization at www.orgnet.com.
How do we engage people who normally stay away
from the polls on Election Day?
The particular communications medium we use
affects how influence flows. Face-to-face, e-mail,
chat, and VoIP, are all different media with different
abilities to transmit influence. Unfortunately there
is an inverse law of media transmission that keeps the
Internet from being the ideal political tool everyone
thinks it is. The inverse law goes something like
this: the easier it is for you to send a message, the
harder it is for you to get my attention. We even
have automatic methods on the net – spam filters –
to help us bypass messages. I probably don’t even
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54. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
others. The richer the media, the richer the mes- tant part of the persuasion process: face-to-face.
sage; the richer the message, the more it grabs my The campaign really didn’t understand the dy-
attention. It is difficult for me to ignore you when namics of elections as well as they thought they
we are sitting by side. did, or as well as people gave them credit for. They
So what about chatting online? The best of both thought everything and everyone was online, that
worlds? Nope. Again, it is easy for me to ignore that was all you needed.
you and side step your attempts to engage me. You One of the big mistakes the Dean campaign
are typing away in the chat window, I am opening made was that they didn’t understand that friends
e-mails, listening to a conference call on Skype, influence friends, family members influence family
reading a blog, and watching a clip from last night’s members, and strangers don’t influence anybody.
Daily Show. What was that you wanted to say? The campaign did a tremendous job of signing
On the other hand, if you and I sit and talk in a people up and getting them to take action, but they
café, on a front porch, or at the supermarket, it’s seemed to forget what they started. When it came
much easier for me to get and maintain your at- time for the Iowa caucuses, rather than organiz-
tention. First, I am physically present with you. I ing locally with local people, they flew in a bunch
am looking at you, and you are looking at me, and of people from out of state. They gave them these
I can tell immediately whether or not my message crazy orange caps that basically screamed to the lo-
is getting across. Non-verbals count for much of cals, “We are strangers and we don’t belong there!”
the feedback and much of the influence we have Then they tried to get people to vote for Dean,
with each other. Again, the richer the message the and slowly discovered that strangers, especially
greater the opportunity for me to have an affect on weirdly dressed strangers, don’t influence anyone!
you. The Dean story is the story of how the Deaniacs
I receive a lot of feedback from our face-to-face screwed up. They had some great ideas, but they
meeting that cannot be duplicated online. For ex- didn’t realize how those ideas all fit together.
ample, if I send you an e-mail and don’t hear back
from you right away, then I assume that you are
uninterested, when in fact your non-response may Strangers, especially weirdly dressed
be a result of the fact that you are out of town at a
conference for three days. So, what do I do? I don’t
strangers, don’t influence anyone!
have enough feedback to act. Do I follow up with
another e-mail, or do I wait for your response. On-
line I don’t know. F2F I know immediately whether
Contrast this with how the Republicans orga-
I am coming across well or whether my message
nized in 2004. They used the Internet. But they
is not registering with you. The Internet leaves us
also used naturally-formed social clusters, such as
guessing about whether our messages resonate
church groups. They assembled people face-to-
because we cannot accumulate physical cues.
face to talk about the issues and the candidates
There are no cues – not even smiley faces and LOLs.
they were supporting. These volunteers tried to
When it comes to getting people to listen to your
get their fellow parishioners and citizens to listen
message and share it with others, nuance and in-
to them and hopefully agree with what they had
tensity count. How can I get you excited about my
to say. They created networks of people who saw
message when I don’t even know you are there?
each other on a regular basis, and they got them
talking to each other about what was important to
them. The way the Republicans leveraged offline
networks allowed them to spread their message,
Non-verbals count for much of the and their message enabled people to take action.
feedback and much of the influence They combined the best of F2F and online. They
we have with each other. The richer used the right media in the right place for the right
the message the greater the opportu- reason.
nity for me to have an affect on you. When push came to shove the Democrats for-
got about the sociology of how people function.
They walked off the cliff to the tune of the tech-
nology piper. They forgot that technology without
Meet Me in Iowa sociology is absolutely worthless. If you combine
F2F also has problems. Unless they are famous, those two effectively, then you can accomplish a
strangers do not influence. The Howard Dean cam- lot – including becoming president. By using the
paign in 2004 was extremely successful at online technology when it fits and sociology when it is ap-
organizing, but they screwed up the most impor- propriate, the Dean campaign could have organized
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55. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
themselves to a much better outcome. They were
blinded by the bright gleam of technology and ig-
nored everything else. Don’t substitute one for the other, use
them as complements to each other,
Lesson 1: Don’t Forget What You Know About and end up with 1+ 1 > 2!
The important thing is to not get enamored of
technology and forget everything else you know
about human behavior. Mix them together. The In- The computer network is great for administra-
ternet crowd may be enamored of technology and tion and organizing. Influence requires a people
think that electronic connectivity trumps all, but network. Influence requires emotion, intensity,
the best use of technology comes when it recog- opinion, evaluation – best accomplished through
nizes and supports human behavior. a rich media such as F2F or V2V communication.
Take Google as the perfect example. Google Use the Internet to assist and organize your face-
utilizes what people normally do – choose between to-face activities, not as a replacement for it.
alternatives based on some factors of evaluation Use the Internet to create networks of people
– and amplifies it using technology. Many people based on location. Match people up online. If
think that Google’s very effective Page Rank algo- someone from Westlake, Ohio, signs up to be an
rithm was a discovery of the 1990s. Actually, the activist for your issue or candidate, then link them
link analysis portion of Page Rank is an evolution of with 15 other people from the same zip code who
social network metrics that sociologists were using have also signed up. Give them online tools to meet
in the 1960s to gauge who were the most influen- each other and do something for your organization.
tial people in a community. Maybe the Google guys Find a “network weaver” – a person skilled at con-
were not aware of this well-known work in sociol- necting others and building community – to be a
ogy, but it is basically the same algorithm – look- catalyst for creating clusters for your cause. Use
ing at both direct and indirect choices [incoming computer networks to discover possible clusters,
links] and adjusting the chooser’s power by looking then use your human networks to build the clus-
at who chooses the chooser. Given the computer ters. This process can be repeated in a fractal-like
power of today such algorithms are much easier manner by joining local clusters into more global
to calculate and can be refined and improved from groups.
Lesson 3: Strangers Don’t Make Good Messen-
The important thing is to not get Unless the stranger is someone famous, people
enamored of technology and forget do not extend their trust. Imagine how you feel
everything else you know about hu- when a stranger shows up on your doorstep. Who
is this person? What do they really want? What
man behavior. Mix them together. are they really after? People don’t usually react well
to strangers. Our first inclination is that maybe this
stranger isn’t a good person. With something as
personal as “our vote” we will never listen to those
Lesson 2: Use the Right Tool for the Job
we don’t trust.
When I was learning computer science one of
The most effective skill a political activist or
the memes we heard was that “computers are high
campaign staffer can have is the ability to not be
speed idiots.” That is still true today. Of course,
a stranger. The best way to do that is to reach out
the Artificial Intelligence crowd disagreed, but
to people who you already know – your neighbors,
they could not build an alternative to prove that
friends, colleagues and congregation. If you’re the
rule wrong. The evolution of computers has been
only person on the block that has a big snow blow-
to complement the human mind effectively. Com-
er and you do everybody’s sidewalk, then you’ve
puters are good at storage, retrieval, hierarchy, and
gained a lot of positive points that you could utilize
calculation – things the human mind sometimes
later on. The same is true if you are the family that
struggles with. On the other hand, the human mind
lets others swim in your pool, or use your extension
is great at pattern matching, meaning, serendipity,
ladder: people will grow to respect you and listen
and creativity – things that computers have not yet
to you. During campaign season, you will be more
begun to do. Don’t substitute one for the other, use
effective than the guy down the street who only
them as complements to each other, and end up
talks to his neighbors every two years during politi-
with 1+ 1 > 2!
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56. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
cal season. When the helpful neighbor rings some-
Trying to extend the reach
one’s doorbell, they are invited in and the channels of your organization?
for the flow of information and influence are wide Close your triangles! An open triangle
open. exists when there is an opportunity to
introduce two people by the third person
who knows them both. Often, closing
those triangles can lead to benefits, like
With human beings, birds of a feather productive new relationships or a more
flock together. Even though the In- expansive geographical reach. What’s
ternet allows us to access and talk to a more, anyone can do it. Close triangles
diverse population of people all over around you wherever and whenever you
the world, we still look for people see an opportunity. You and your com-
munity will benefit. To read more, see
with similar backgrounds. my Networking Weaving blog at
With human beings, birds of a feather flock to-
gether. Even though the Internet allows us to ac-
cess and talk to a diverse population of people all
over the world, we still look for people with simi-
lar backgrounds. We feel comfortable with people
who are somehow similar to us. They don’t have
to be exactly like us, but there has to be enough
similarity to allow us to open up to them. People
we have shared experiences with, who have helped
us, who have taken an interest in us, are those we
consider “one of us.” It is these folks, who we have
included in our social circle, that have the great-
est influence on us – on the things we do and the
choices we make.
The new mantra for political activism – be a
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57. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
IN ONLINE SOCIAL
NETWORKING WEB SITES
by Mara Johanna Veraar
Democracy in Action
“The difference between spam and constituent communication
rests on one’s ability to confirm the identity behind the online
persona taking action.”
Introduction: Identity Formation on The importance of truthfulness is also evident
Online Dating Web Sites when individuals participate in social networks
based on their online identity. Individuals can use
Ten years ago, the idea of online dating conjured
these networks not only to date, but also to learn
up images of pedophiles, pathetic old men and
about advocacy issues that are important to them,
lonely housewives looking for love. That specter
align themselves with a political party, and subse-
has given way to a more realistic landscape. “No
quently take action, while at the same time rallying
longer the icky, desperate realm of those who are
like-minded peers to effect social change.
looking for love and can’t find it elsewhere, today’s
over-friendly sites feature postings from young ur- Without a network of supporters to validate
ban professionals all over the continent,” a recent the individual’s call to action, his or her advocacy
scholar noted. 15 attempts can become lost or overlooked. For that
Similarly, until recently, online political activ-
ists were depicted as a mob of basement-dwelling,
pimply-faced social misfits – which does not reflect
the results of academic research from groups like
the Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet. Democracy in Action (www.democracy-
The world of online dating, however, provides an inaction.org) develops online advocacy
instructive look at building trust online and offers tools for nonprofits.
important lessons for political groups.
The task of truthfully creating an identity within
cyberspace is increasingly becoming an important
aspect of a person’s online interactions. When in-
dividuals create profiles on dating Web sites, for
example, they are in effect constructing online ver-
sions of themselves. Dating sites that have come
to the forefront are those that have succeeded in
creating believable profiles of their members.
15 Jonathan Durbin, “Internet Sex Unzipped” Maclean’s Mag-
jsp?content=20031006_66602_66602), October 6, 2003.
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PERSON-TO-PERSON-TO-PERSON | cHaPter ten | Page 53
58. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
What is Web 2.0? phenomenon not squarely but exponentially. The
The term was coined by O’Reilly Media best example of this, called Reed’s law, is seen in
and MediaLive International. In short, the huge success of eBay, an early adopter of this
Web 2.0 refers to second-generation In- idea.16 On eBay, the social capital of receiving posi-
ternet services that will provide users with tive feedback from other users makes a seller more
more interactive social networking tools. trustworthy and desirable, thereby allowing him or
So, for example, while online publishing is her to sell more items. Sellers who do not partici-
Web 1.0, participation is Web 2.0. For pate in the rating system, are new to eBay, or have
more information, visit the many negative feedback do not ‘belong’ according to
resources of O’Reilly Media at Reed’s law and are therefore not able to sell many
Online Identity and Accountability
Offline, people are able to display their social
reason, the difference between spam and constitu- connections in various ways. Parties are places
ent communication rests on one’s ability to confirm where they introduce their friends to potential em-
the identity behind the online persona taking action ployers, attempt to climb socially by chatting up
through online advocacy tools. Therefore, increased a high status guest and arrange friends who they
ability to confirm the validity of and strengthen on- think would be a good match. Meeting new people
line networks increases the effect that such online within a social setting where mutual friends are
political and social action has. present provides a context and information about
This chapter explains identity formation and the new individual. Online, accountability is lost and
how this process changes in online spaces, draw- therefore, different mechanisms have been created
ing examples from Match.com and Friendster. How out of a desire to mimic offline social connections.
does lack of physical embodiment change the abil- By displaying their social network, an individual is
ity to truthfully participate in identity construction? verifying their identity through their social and po-
What is online identity anyway? Answers to these litical connections. This is useful in combating the
questions become increasingly important as much identity deception, which is rampant among online
of politics, non-profit space, popular culture, and users. The ease with which users can create false
postmodern identity as a whole continues to be de- accounts and pseudonyms makes identity verifica-
fined by computer mediated communication. tion problematic.
Identity Construction and Social Networks
Each time individuals interact, the potential ex- Meeting new people within a social
ists for them to exchange information about people setting where mutual friends are
whom they both know. The way in which each indi- present provides a context and infor-
vidual is linked to his or her friends, acquaintances, mation about the new individual. In
co-workers, and family is a Web of social networks political action, the validity of advo-
that can be charted. Individuals find community and
reinforce their identity through these networks. So-
cacy groups and their supporters can
cial networks function as sources of emotional sup- be questioned without evidence of
port, information about jobs, avenues for advocacy, validity.
and allegiance with politically like-minded friends.
Currently, we are experiencing the explosion of
social networks in cyberspace due to the increase
of user-driven, or Web 2.0 sites. Through these In political action, the validity of advocacy
sites, the users help create the content of the Web groups and their supporters is open to question,
site. The individual’s ability to use these sites as absent evidence of their trustworthiness. For this
an outlet for their creativity, political leanings, and reason, displaying connections helps to ensure the
search for people who share their interests is what cooperation of the individual creating the profile.
drives the success of the Web 2.0 movement. By linking a profile to their friends, individuals are
risking their reputation. They are much less likely to
The ubiquity of communications technology act unacceptably if socially sanctioned by their per-
and the growth of social networking sites are on a sonal network. Lastly, displaying social networks
positive feedback loop. The ability for individuals
in the network to form groups and gain the social 16 Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution
capital of belonging drives growth of the Web 2.0 (Cambridge: Basic Books, 2002).
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59. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
Friendster (www.friendster.com) is an
online social network with more than 30 is a risky proposition. With Friendster, you meet
million members. But it’s not all dating. people through people that you already know and
The site also has more than 150 govern- trust. So it’s like having an infinite social network”
ment and politics groups. (www.friendster.com).
Users build trust through a combination of fac-
helps to create common ground among users of
the site. Individuals can find clues about the user’s • Demographic information – The bulk
social position, political interests, schooling, and of the Friendster’s profile. This includes
economic standing from the social network being the member’s screen name, gender and
displayed. status (which asks the user to select
whether they are single/divorced/sep-
arated/in a relationship/married/in an
Friendster and Identity Construction open marriage). Members then choose
Online, identity cues are sparse but they do ex- who they would like to meet out of men,
ist. People become attuned to the nuances of e- women, or men and women. Age, oc-
mail addresses and signature styles. New phrases cupation, location and hometown com-
evolve that mark their users as members of a cho- plete the demographic information.
sen subculture. Virtual reputations are established Besides creating the foundation of their
and impugned. By looking closely at these cues, at identity, this information allows users
how they work and when they fail, we can learn a to search throughout the Web site for
great deal about how to build vibrant online envi- other members who fit their criteria.
ronments.17 • Descriptive prose – This includes a
The Evolution of Online Dating Sites person’s interests, and who they want
to meet on Friendster.
Ten years ago, online dating, which began as an
alternative to the personal ads found in newspaper • Friends and testimonials –The Friend-
and magazine columns, revolutionized matchmak- ster Web site identifies the benefits of
ing because it allows the individual to supply vol- publicly articulating one’s social net-
umes more information than the standard four line work as being able to “stay in touch
print personal. Online dating services require their with your friends, find and reconnect
members to create profiles which showcase their with old friends, see how your friends
personality by including their favorite movie, their are connected, be reminded about
most embarrassing moment, sexual preference friends’ birthdays, meet new people
and occupation. When individuals create profiles through your friends, have fun brows-
on dating Web sites, they are constructing their ing people who share similar interests”
identity by utilizing the tools provided by the online (www.friendster.com).
Friendster.com started out as a dating site and
has evolved into a phenomenon somewhere be-
tween the social networking game The Six Degrees
of Kevin Bacon and an extremely lucrative social ar-
chitecture system that has investors panting. The
site was built to compete with Match.com (the eco-
nomic giant of the online dating world) and various It could happen to you. If you, your can-
other dating sites. didate, or your organization has been in
the public eye for anything longer than
While it is no longer accurate to say that users a split second, you could be a victim of
log on to Friendster simply to find romance, how- unauthorized profiles. People may have
ever, the site still operates under the same profile logged onto a site and created a profile
software and users often still use the site as a dat- without either your knowledge or your
ing service. Friendster was created on the assump- permission. It’s not a rare occurrence. In
tion that friends-of-friends are most likely to be August 2005, the Minneapolis-St. Paul
safer, more accountable dates than total strangers. Star Tribune reported that at least 14 gov-
“We all know that meeting people out in the wild ernors have fake profiles.1
17 Danah Boyd and Judith Donath, “Public Displays of Connec- 1 Brady Averill, “Fake MySpace profiles pose a di-
tion,” BT Technology Journal, 2004, 22(4), pg. 1. lemma for politicians,” StarTribune.com (http://
August 14, 2006.
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60. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
Match.com is one of 30 online dating
sites worldwide. It claims to have more the personality test is a set of questions designed
than 20 million members. In a 2004 sur- to assess the personality of individuals. “The test.
vey of 1,001 American singles, Match.com . . is the most scientifically grounded and cus-
found that single voters favored Kerry and tomized personality assessment on the Internet”
opposed both same-sex marriage and the (www.match.com). The test takes approximately
war in Iraq. For more information, visit 10 minutes and asks questions ranging from how
http://corp.match.com/index/newscen- you act when you are stressed to how friends per-
ter_main.asp. ceive you. Once the test is complete, it is included
on the profile and users are able to search for other
profiles that match their personality according to
the tests results. By supplying witty answers for
Often users attempt to collect as many testimo- users to choose from, Match.com makes it more
nials as possible as a form of social capital, a pro- difficult for one’s true personality to come through.
cess which, like Ebay, demonstrates Reed’s Law. The Subsequently, the profile created is considerably
actual usability of the testimonials as solid charac- less personal than face-to-face encounters.
ter assessments is minimal, and most users view
them as a fun addition to the Web site. However,
when asked about the importance of friends and A Winning Strategy: Building
testimonials, one interviewee stated that testimo- Accountability
nials gave “insight into the person,” and she “would On Match.com, the accountability of the profiles
trust someone more if they had some friends and that individuals create remains questionable and the
testimonials as opposed to just having a profile. It blurred line between canned responses and original
shows involvement and that they want to be a part comments is still problematic on Match.com. How
of the system (Anonymous).” can a Match.com user have any assurance that the
Thus, an articulated social network is very im- profiles he or she is contacting for potential dates
portant to identity creation for Friendster users. En- are not to some degree fraudulent? The subtleties
compassed in this are links to friends, the search- of face-to-face interaction that Goffman attributes
able aspect of the network and friend testimonials. to identity formation are not being accommodated
The social network allows users to verify their iden- in online form through Match.com. There is no real
tity, ensures cooperation and helps create a com- solution, and more specifically there are no articu-
mon ground among users. Without the inclusion lated social networks.
of the social network, Friendster’s profile creation Friendster, on the other hand, which is a much
system would lack depth. The system more ac- less comprehensive site in terms of profile con-
curately mimics offline social relations and public struction, has achieved the ability to checkpoint the
performance discussed by Goffman. profiles that are created within the system publicly
through the social network. It has achieved this by
using these factors:
Match.com: The Static Giant
The second Web site highlighted for this article
is at the head of countless competitor sites. The • Profiles resemble real-life identity.
Web site is bright and inviting, filled with various – Users are able to use their social
quizzes to assess your personality, Match.com networks to help create their identity,
trips to go on and special features for contacting which more closely matches real life
other users. Match.com claims to have more than identity construction.
910,000 subscribers and more than 20 million • Friends and testimonials help verify
members. identity. – They also combat identity
Online dating has profoundly changed since deception, the hallmark problem of
Match began in 1995. Early on there was a clear online dating. Furthermore, they en-
stigma, and people would lie about meeting online. sure the cooperation of individuals who
Now the company is seeing people order Match. participate on the Web site. Individu-
com T-shirts and even put its logo on wedding als who are linked to friends through
cakes.18 their social network are less likely to
abuse other users through spam and
Instead of relying on friends and testimonials, inappropriate e-mail messages, thereby
Match.com has three identity construction services helping to ensure online safety. Also, if
that help make it so successful in its matches. First, two users decide to meet, they are less
likely to behave badly for fear of social
18 Scarlet Pruit, “It’s Valentine’s Day Every Day,” PC World, sanctioning.
Febrauary 14, 2003.
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61. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
• The social network builds common ate identity on online dating Web sites helps to
ground. – Users feel a sense of com- make Internet software more functional, as with
munity, and this allows them to search articulated social networks that have transcended
through the network for allies, shared online dating and are being used in all facets of on-
friends and common hangouts. line communication.
• Users develop accountability. – Being
accountable for one’s Internet actions
empowers the individual and allows The landscape of e-activism is chang-
them to better comprehend the effects ing, and its forefront is the social net-
that their online actions bring. They are work. More than ever before, the lines
able to use the system more effectively between social action and political
to meet their own needs. Furthermore, action are disappearing as online pro-
they remain in control of their personal
space and identity within the largely
files become centers of identity that
unregulated territory of cyberspace. encompass more and more aspects of
an individual’s daily life.
Ultimately, the two Web sites display differing
approaches to identity formation and are both suc-
cessful in their niche. What sets Friendster apart is
the unprecedented ways that its users have altered
the original intentions of the system to make it more
usable. Through this, Friendster and the social net- Further Reading
working system have become better avenues for
identity construction than on a profile that, while
detailed, lacks the accountability and public perfor- Boyd, Danah. 2002 Faceted Iden-
mance this concept allows. tity: managing Representation in a
Digital World. Masters Thesis, Program
Friendster and similar articulated social net- in Media Arts and Sciences, Brown
working Web sites set the bar for the future of com- University
puter mediated communication. Simply mimicking
offline environments when presenting social inter- Boyd, Danah. 2004 Friendster and Pub-
action spaces online is not enough and often fall licly Articulated Social Networking. Paper
short because, as we have seen, interactions online presented at The Conference on Human
are vastly different. Friendster is an example of how Factors and Computing Systems, Vienna,
an online space provides users with a platform for April 2004.
creating usable interactive social software that is
built on the foundation of offline identity formation Donath, Judith. 1998 Identity and Decep-
theory but encompasses the boundless, indescrib- tion in the Virtual Community. In Com-
able aspects of the Internet. munities in Cyberspace. Kollock P., Smith
M., eds. London: Routledge
Donath, Judith and Danah Boyd. 2004
What sets Friendster apart is the Public Displays of Connection. BT Tech-
unprecedented ways that its users nology Journal 22(4): 71-82
have altered the original intentions
Lawley, Elizabeth. 1993 Computers and
of the system to make it more usable. the Communication of Gender. (http://
Through this, Friendster and the social www.itcs.com/elawley/gender.html)
networking system have become bet-
ter avenues for identity construction. Miller, Hugh. 1995 The Presentation of
Self in Electronic life: Goffman on the
Internet. Paper presented at Embodied
Knowledge and Virtual Space Confer-
From Online Dating to E-activism ence, University of London, 1995.
Online dating Web sites act as a beneficial cul- Rheingold, Howard. 2002 Smart Mobs:
tural checkpoint for the changing popular concep- The Next Social Revolution. Cambridge:
tions of self in an increasingly computer mediated Basic Books
world, a checkpoint that political activists would do
well to take into consideration. An understanding Turkle, Sherry. 1995 Life on the Screen.
of the interrelated aspects of how individuals cre- New York: Simon & Schuster
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62. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
Conclusion tivists, seeing whom they associate with and what
The repurposing of Web 2.0 sites for political motivates them.
action and advocacy is possible through the social Indeed, many non-profits have created their own
networks they help create. Just as with Fakesters nodes on social networks by participating in Web
on Friendster, these networks are building links be- sites traditionally geared for online dating such as
tween like-minded individuals while verifying their Friendster and more recently, MySpace. The land-
identity. With the influx of online political action, scape of e-activism is changing, and its forefront
having avenues for this type of user-verification is is the social network. More than ever before, the
crucial to differentiating between constituent com- lines between social action and political action are
munication and spam. Knowing who your activists disappearing as online profiles become centers of
are and what they like, for non-profits, is invaluable. identity that encompass more and more aspects of
Through the online network, they’re able to list- an individual’s daily life.
build while reading about the interests of their ac-
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63. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
Using the Power of Love to Drive Activism
by John Hlinko
For most of the period from 1995 to 2002, my place? Why not try to engage activists – using the
work consisted of trying to get people to take ac- world’s oldest form of engagement?
tion using the Internet. As time went on, I couldn’t
help but notice that for every one person online in
search of activism, there were literally hundreds “Activists of the World, Unite! Literally.”
online in search of dates. It’s understandable, of Thus was born ActForLove.org, an online dating
course. Let’s face it: animal attraction is a power- community geared specifically towards progressive
ful force. And no matter how far we’ve advanced in activists. The recipe was simple:
the fields of science, philosophy, and the arts, when 1. Use an online matchmaking component
it comes down to it – human beings are basically as the heart of the site, and gear it spe-
just well-dressed monkeys. Animal attraction still cifically towards progressive activists.
reigns supreme. 2. Feature progressive actions on the site.
Finally, in early 2003, I had an epiphany: why 3. Use the site infrastructure and revenues
fight the tide? Why not combine the attraction of to generate support for worthy causes
an online dating site with the power of an online and organizations, and even to set up
activist network? Why not give people the oppor- new cause-oriented efforts altogether.
tunity to “take action” and “get action” in the same
4. Use incredibly cheesy (but viral) puns
to make up for the lack of a marketing
Since ActForLove’s founding, nearly We weren’t naïve – we knew full well that num-
40,000 people have registered, taken the ber one would be the biggest draw by far. But we
plunge, and gone looking for love. The also knew that if we could use that draw to bring in
site regularly receives over 100,000 page legions of potential activists, some of them would
views a week – and often several times stay for a while longer, look through the causes
that. – and become actual activists.
Welcome to the Era of the “Dot-Orgasm”
Since its founding, nearly 40,000 people have
registered, taken the plunge, and gone looking for
love. The site regularly receives over 100,000 page
views a week – and often several times that.
On the romantic side, there have indeed been
a number of matches. And the common thread of
shared activism has proven a nice ice breaker for
otherwise awkward first dates. Equally interesting,
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64. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
however, have been the non-romantic connections. The most notable of these thus far was Draft-
On a number of occasions, couples who had no ro- WesleyClark.com. Launched in the spring of
mantic spark whatsoever still found shared passion 2003 – just as ActForLove.org was getting started
on the activism front. What otherwise would’ve – DraftWesleyClark.com was initially supported
been a bad first (and last) date instead morphed on the same back-end system – and virally spread
into an activism inspired friendship. via the initial pool of ActForLove.org members. Six
Of course, connecting activists is but one of the months later, this “spin-off” effort had grown into a
ways that ActForLove.org has spurred the “take national campaign, with 50,000 volunteers, $2 mil-
action” part of the equation. The site has also fea- lion raised in pledges, and an unbelievable amount
tured actions from a range of progressive groups, of media coverage.
from the National Breast Cancer Coalition to the Another example is StemPAC, launched in
ACLU to the Sierra Club to a slew of other, much 2005 to fight back against elected officials holding
smaller grassroots groups. up the promise of stem cell research. By that time,
ActForLove.org has also provided direct finan- ActForLove.org was receiving far more traffic, and a
cial support to a range of worthy entities. Initially, few prominent links on the site were able to jump
we directed this support towards much larger orga- start StemPAC almost immediately. Within just
nizations, such as Oxfam and Disabled American the first few weeks, StemPAC had grown to one of
Veterans. For the most part, however, we have tar- the most heavily trafficked sites in support of stem
geted support towards much smaller organizations, cell research.
and in particular – progressive blogs.
Why progressive blogs? Very simple – we don’t Oh Yes – the Puns
have a lot of money to spend, and we want it to go Throughout all of our work, we have tried to
as far as possible. Giving a few hundred dollars or keep the same spirit of fun and lightheartedness,
even a few thousand to a huge organization might even when the issue was quite serious.
be a drop in the bucket. However, giving that same
money to a progressive blogger might be the dif- For example, in 2004, when a liberal Canadian
ference between “rent” and “no rent.” Accordingly, magazine joked that Canadians should offer to
we’ve been proud to sponsor (generally via Blog marry Americans to rescue them from a second
ads) close to 100 progressive blogs, ranging from Bush administration, we joined together to form
mega-blogs such Daily Kos and America Blog, to just such an effort – the “Oh, oh, OH, CANADA!”
ones that are far smaller (at least for now). campaign.
On another occasion, when we offered grants
to small, start-up progressive organizations, they
were known as “SHAGG” awards (i.e., “Spectacu-
Giving a few hundred dollars or even larly Helpful ActForLove.org Grassroots Grants”).
a few thousand to a huge organiza- And of course, there’s the ActForLove.org blog
tion might be a drop in the bucket. – “Bloggie Style.”
However, giving that same money to a Yes, they’ve been painful, but they’ve been pain-
progressive blogger might be the dif- ful for a reason – they work. They’re what our tar-
ference between “rent” and “no rent.” get audience was clamoring for. After years of be-
ing beaten over the head with political messages,
many progressive activists are simply suffering
from “outrage fatigue.” There’s nothing like humor
Further, sponsoring these blogs via blog ads has – even painful humor – to overcome that, pierce the
been a fantastic way to grow the ActForLove.org veneer of cynicism, and yes – spur some real nice
community at the same time. Consistently, we are viral spreading.
told that our blog ads have received click through It’s been a wild ride, it’s been a fun ride, and it’s
rates that are far above average. (See? We told you a ride that’s just getting started. But ActForLove.
animal attraction was a powerful thing.) org has already taught us one key lesson – if you
want to reach someone’s brain, you might want to
The “Act for Love Child” – Home Grown try aiming for the heart.
Campaigns Or maybe even a few feet lower.
Through the ActForLove.org backend infrastruc-
ture, and through the revenue generated by the site,
we have been able to launch new activist efforts al-
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65. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
HOW AN E-MAIL
CAMPAIGN CAN TAP INTO
by William Greene, Ph.D.
Founder and President, Rightmarch.com
“E-mail is a more immediate medium than paper.”
– Rick Levine, The Cluetrain Manifesto
Over the past few years, the political left has we sent our members over five million e-mails.
been extremely successful at using online tools to Hundreds of thousands of those e-mails were for-
create virtual communities, and these online social warded to friends, and over 250,000 recipients
networks have garnered an enormous amount of took an action on the Web site, www.RescueTerri.
media attention. com, such as downloading flyers to print and dis-
Conservatives on the political right have begun tribute at church or in the neighborhood, or con-
to catch up. Rightmarch.com, for example, has tacting the Florida governor’s office or the state leg-
learned to use e-mail to cultivate influencers, who islature. These figures do not begin to measure the
share our messages with others by forwarding our viral impact our network had on media coverage or
e-mail or talking to people in their communities on the public.
This was particularly true of one of the most Why E-mail?
galvanizing issues of 2005: the Terri Schiavo case. First, we found that we have higher response
You may recall that after several years of legal wran- rates when we engage people through e-mail, and
gling, Terri’s husband, Michael, won the right to re-
move a feeding tube from his wife, who had spent
more than 15 years in what the media described as
a “persistent vegetative state.”
Rightmarch.com worked on behalf of Terri’s Rightmarch.com was founded in 2003
family and the Terri Schindler Schiavo Founda- as the conservative response to Moveon.
tion to raise money to cover lawyer bills and travel org.
costs. Then, when events took a political turn, we
transitioned from online fundraising to a large scale,
around the clock battle in order to create a network
of supporters, win public opinion, and change legis-
lation. Terri died on March 31, 2005, but not before
our combination of online fundraising and grass-
roots activism ensured that hundreds of thousands
of conservatives and pro-life Americans were able
to come together with a single, very loud voice in
support of saving Terri’s life.
Over the course of the months-long campaign,
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66. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
e-mail has such a strong viral effect. When people 2. Quick response to news and current
receive our e-mails, they often forward them on to events. – Influencers pride themselves
their entire contact lists. We even see those e-mails on being the first to hear about news.
coming back to our personal e-mail inbox after they We used e-mail to respond to events in
have made the rounds online. the Florida legislature and governor’s
Second, we know our audience, and we know office quickly, with an element of ur-
how to use written communications that appeal gency that drove people to take action.
to their backgrounds and ideologies. Most of our This had a strong viral affect because
members are older with more work experience. the entire country was tapped into the
They are politically conservative, and they are opin- Terri Schiavo case every night on the
ion makers in their communities. In fact, a large news.
concentration of conservative influencers is online.
When these conservative influencers share e- 3. Easy online actions. – Each of our e-
mails, very quickly name recognition of a candi- mails drove recipients to our Web site
date – or an issue, as in the case of Terri Schiavo to take actions:
– shoots up. Our Terri Schiavo campaign spread to a. Contact the Governor, Speaker of
hundreds of thousands of people quickly, building the Florida House, and the Presi-
like a snowball. dent of the Florida Senate.
b. For Florida residents, contact your
How We Built Our Network: state senator and state represen-
1. A larger-than-life cause that touched c. Travel to Florida to protest the mo-
our constituents. – In the case of Terri ment Terri’s feeding tube was re-
Schiavo, the cause was greater than the moved.
moment, and it tied into the greater d. Donate now.
culture of life. We built a community
around these shared values, and we 4. Shareable information. – We gave our
used our e-mail communications to supporters talking points and shareable
reiterate these common beliefs. In our information, including an e-mail tool on
e-mails, we called our actions an “im- the Web site to invite others to join the
portant battle plan.” Thus, the death of network and information about hotel
Terri Schiavo was more than just one reservations in Florida.
event: it was an attack on the values of
the pro-life community. We used lan-
guage that our supporters found com- By using our Web site and e-mail to engage our
pelling, including an impending dark- audience, placing the situation in the larger context
ness, an emphasis on pro-life values, of the culture of life, creating a sense of urgency
and battle imagery. We also had a vis- with language that spoke to the values of our sup-
ible pro-life spokesman, Randall Terry. porters, and making it easy for them to take direct
and meaningful actions, we helped keep the na-
tional spotlight – and public attention – focused on
a tragic situation that might otherwise have been a
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67. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
TAKE IT OFFLINE
How One Person Can Reach One Thousand
by Brad Fay
The Keller Fay Group, LLC
“Consumers today are less responsive to traditional media. They are
embracing new technologies that empower them with more control over
how and when they are marketed to. They are making purchase decisions
in environments where marketers have less direct influence (in store,
word-of-mouth, professional recommendations, etc.)….
We need new channels to reach consumers. Brands that rely too heavily
on mainstream media, or are not exploring new technologies and
connections, will lose touch.”
- Jim Stengel, CMO, Procter & Gamble
Companies are trying to connect with you. They that those 30-second television spots they’ve been
know you probably work at a computer terminal all pushing on you for the past few decades just are
day. They know that when you watch television, not working as well as they used to.
you probably tune in to cable or perhaps even Instead of talking at you through the television,
watch your favorite shows online. They also know major advertisers are trying to connect with you in
a new way: by engaging with your friends and fam-
ily, and by talking with rather than at you. This tac-
tic is called word-of-mouth marketing, and it based
on personal relationships, one of the most valuable
The Keller Fay Group (www.kellerfay. currencies in the market today.
com) is a marketing research and con-
sulting company dedicated to word of Yes, advertisers are turning to the oldest form
mouth marketing. of marketing known to humans: personal recom-
Word-of-mouth marketing is based on
the concept that personal recommenda-
tions are a form of advertising because it
gives a brand, company, or in this case, a
candidate’s credibility. The point is to get
other people to generate as much buzz as
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68. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
Did you know? sites, such as MeetUp and LinkedIn.
Relationship capital, or the ability to influ- • The overuse of intrusive advertising
ence people in your social network, is the techniques, such as television and radio
result of emotional bonding over time.1 commercials, pop-up Internet ads, and
1 Constance Porter, “Commercializing Social Net- • Competition for consumers’ time and
works of Consumers via Paid Word-of-Mouth
Marketing Programs: Opportunities for attention.
Value Creation or Value Destruction,” • Fragmentation of audiences and con-
Centrality Journal (http://www.
centralityjournal.com), May 29, 2006. stituencies.
• Distrust of traditional advertising and
mendations from one trusted friend or associate In addition to these factors, the political world
to another. Word-of-mouth marketing is all about has undergone a number of other changes. These
sharing messages within a social network. It’s a include voter backlash against negative campaigns,
method that political organizers and grassroots declining trust in politics and elected officials, the
door-to-door volunteers have been using for ages, cost of television advertising and the rise of single
perhaps without even knowing it. And it’s effective: issue voters, who require extra attention and culti-
about a half-century ago, Columbia University pro- vation through microtargeting.
fessors Elihu Katz & Paul Lazarsfeld discovered that
word-of-mouth is seven times more powerful at
convincing people to switch brands than advertis-
ing in newspapers and magazines. Roper Reports found the average num-
That’s why you don’t want to leave your word-
ber of people citing word-of-mouth
of-mouth marketing campaign, political or other- as an important source of ideas and
wise, to chance. In fact, word-of-mouth marketing information has grown tremendously
has become a manageable, measurable tool. It from 67% in 1977 to 92% today.
ranks second only to e-mail as the most popular
online marketing technique, and it packs a powerful
marketing punch. As recently as February 2006,
Procter and Gamble reported that when one moth- In order to meet your goals – from fundraising
er recommends a product to another mother, that and volunteer drives to get-out-the-vote efforts
advice reaches up to 1,000 other moms19 through – you need to adapt to the new marketplace. Think
other conversations in their social networks. about the marketing activities that your organiza-
tion runs on a regular basis. If you’re a political
Roper Reports has been following these trends
campaign, then you probably focus on grassroots
and surveying consumers for the past three de-
marketing. If you run an advocacy group or locally-
cades. They have found the average number of
based non-profit, then you might focus on market-
people citing word-of-mouth as an important
ing within your local community. You might even
source of ideas and information has grown tremen-
have a plan to reach the influencers in your com-
dously from 67 percent in 1977 to 92 today. That’s
munity – people who share their opinions about a
right – 92 percent!
brand, political candidate or idea with their vast so-
cial networks. Political word-of-mouth marketing
The Marketplace of Ideas Has Changed targets and cultivates these influencers as messen-
In an article I recently wrote for New Politics gers, mouthpieces and even evangelists for your
Institute, titled “Word-of-Mouth Politics 2.0: Now campaign, organization or issue.
Powered by the Internet,” I highlighted some ma- Note, however, this word of caution: you can-
jor trends in social society and business that are not buy word-of-mouth support. Shill marketing
changing the way that ideas spread. Many of these or stealth tactics will cause backlash against your
trends have profound implications for politics: organization. The only true way to build a sustained
word-of-mouth campaign is by engaging people
• The power of the Internet to efficiently with true affinity for your candidate or cause. Being
transmit opinions from one person to authentic and transparent is not just the right thing
many another people. to do – it’s also the most effective strategy.20
• The rise of “social networking” Internet
20 The Word of Mouth Marketing Association has published a
code of ethics that strongly condemns both stealth and shill
19 Financial Times, February 18, 2006. marketing, among other unethical tactics.
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69. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
Word-of-mouth marketing can also be a
good fundraising tool. IPDI’s latest study,
Small Donors and Online Giving, found that
You cannot buy word-of-mouth sup- 90 percent of large donors (people who
port. Shill marketing or stealth tactics gave more than $500) to the 2004 presi-
will cause backlash against your orga- dential candidates were asked to give by
nization. The only true way to build a an e-mail, phone, or in person. For more
sustained word-of-mouth campaign is information, visit www.ipdi.org/publica-
by engaging people with true affinity
for your candidate or cause.
ate messages that will cascade out to their social
The Secrets to Successful Social Networks networks.
Fast forward a few months from now, when you Finally, the third key to successful word-of-
have taken the advice of many of the authors in this mouth politics is to use your online efforts to en-
primer and are developing a strategy to leveraging courage offline activity. Offer your supporters a tool
online social networks. One of the most important box of other ways to advocate on your candidate’s
lessons to remember is to target influencers online behalf: tips for writing letters to the editor, talking
and then put them to work in the offline world. points, events to bring their friends to, links to other
groups supporting the campaign, and conference
Political campaigns all look for the same kinds calls they can attend as individuals or in groups.
of people: the influencers, the leaders, the network-
ers. However, people with true influence aren’t
necessarily the ones who have big jobs or reputa- Take Online Word-of-Mouth Offline
tions. They are the everyday people who build sets The Keller Fay Group recently found that Ameri-
for the elementary school play, coach tennis, orga- cans talk with each other about politics and public
nize the annual church carnival, or help the local affairs eight times a week, per average – and this
arm of the Red Cross. Your target is anyone with a is outside the campaign season. Among the group
network of people friends and colleagues, the kind of influencers we call Conversation Catalysts™ that
of influencer who changes minds or keeps people number goes up to 25 times per week. Believe it
informed about public affairs. or not, most of those conversations happen face to
You can find at least one influencer on every face, not online. We found that more than 70 per-
street, in every town across the country. cent of word-of-mouth marketing occurs the “old
That’s the first big lesson: you don’t have to fashioned” way: face-to-face.
search far and wide for influencers. They will come The most powerful method for utilizing word-
to you. In fact, chances are good that every visitor of-mouth techniques over the Internet comes in
to your Web site is an influencer. If you want to en- the form of e-mails written between friends and
gage influencers and tap into their vast social net- even includes commercial or political content that
works, then make it easy for them to sign up with is forwarded by one friend to another, particularly
your organization. And, make it easy for them to when it is accompanied by a personal endorsement
share your message with others – from e-mail to or comment. In other words, the Internet has the
Web videos to content on your Web site. ability to accelerate peer-to-peer communications,
Another key lesson is to look beyond the tradi- both in terms of speed and reach. But power to in-
tional political world for influencers. Many of your fluence is decidedly old fashioned – a message to
most effective potential influencers are leaders in you, from a person you know and trust.
fields such as youth sports, fraternal organizations,
hobby clubs, school, work associations, and neigh-
borhood programs. These social networks have a
profound implication for your campaign: once you The Internet has the ability to accel-
engage influencers in your campaign, you can de- erate peer-to-peer communications,
pend on them to share your message and a per- both in terms of speed and reach.
sonal endorsement with the many people in their
To leverage these networks, make sure that your
online (and offline) communications with influenc- Thus, it follows that the best word-of-mouth
ers are not overtly partisan or offensive to people strategy integrates public and private Internet tools
from another political ideology. Your goal is to cre- with offline communication. The best strategy is
simply to listen and pay attention, then make it
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70. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
no-brainer easy for influencers to do what they do Further Reading
Ed Keller and John Berry. The Influentials.
• Know what makes influencers tick.
– Listen to their conversations. Moni- The Institute for Politics, Democracy &
tor “public spaces online, such as blogs the Internet. Political Influentials
and discussion boards. Online in the 2004 Campaign.
• Talk to them. – Every time you commu- (www.ipdi.org/publications)
nicate with your influencers – whether
online or offline – ask them to share the
message, and make it easy for them to
do so. Finally, create a two-way conver-
sation with them by having volunteers
or staff respond to their e-mails.
• Know what they do. – Most of the con-
versations that influencers have with
their friends and family take place of-
fline. Give them online tools, such as e-
mail or Web site content, that they can
Remember, word-of-mouth does not begin and
end on the Internet. A good word-of-mouth cam-
paign harnesses the power of an influencer’s offline
relationships and behavior. Savvy campaigners
know how to use the Internet as a tool to initiate
offline, face-to-face activity and conversations.
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71. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
A Higher Order Social Network
by Alan Rosenblatt, Ph.D.
Internet Advocacy Center and MovingIdeas.org
While most examples of social networks involve Networking Online and Offline
communities of individuals networking with each Moving Ideas also organizes offline events for
other, the Moving Ideas Network (www.Movin- members to meet each other face to face. Every
gIdeas.org) is a social network of progressive non- other month, members are invited to gather for
profit organizations, many of which are themselves offline events, ranging from brown bag discussion
social networks of activists. Like individual-level lunches to networking happy hours. Events with
social networks, Moving Ideas provides a platform speakers will occasionally be Webcasted, so mem-
for its members to share their ideas with other bers outside the DC metro area can participate.
members through a variety of channels. The dif-
ference is that the ideas and resources shared are Giving Moving Ideas members online and of-
the collective products of an organization, and they fline opportunities to connect with each other is an
are shared with other organizations, as well as indi- essential part of our community. Ideas exchanged
viduals visiting the Web site. And like some social online lead to deeper conversations and connec-
networks, Moving Ideas provides opportunities for tions when members meet offline. And offline
its members to connect online and offline. meetings spur a frenzy of online follow up. These
Think of the Moving Ideas Network as a pro-
gressive hub of networks. To some degree, each
member organization is its own social network,
albeit with varying social networking opportunities
and tools for their individual members. Moving Did you know?
Ideas is the hub that connects these networks to The Moving Ideas Network has
each other. This allows member organizations to over 180 member organizations
share intellectual capital – policy research and ad- that participate in discussion boards,
vocacy campaigns – with other members, as well as post issue papers, attend events, and take
with the activists who want to stay connected the actions that will help other member orga-
progressive, non-profit community. nizations.
Moving Ideas members can post research pa-
pers, policy briefs, and action alerts. Members can
contribute guest blog articles. As the community
grows, members will get more opportunities to cre-
ate profiles, contribute more content, and make
connections with each other and with individual
activists who visit the site and subscribe to the
site’s newsletter and RSS feeds. Members can also
participate in special discussion forums featuring
guest discussants from member organizations.
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72. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
connections are bound to increase coordination more intellectual capital with each other.
and collaboration between and among members in A network hub allows any organization’s activ-
future campaigns. ists, as well as its staff, to connect with many other
organizations and activists with related and rein-
Why a Hub of Networks? forcing agendas. Out of this multi-layered network
comes a deeper sense of connection among the
In the long run, a hub of networks like Mov- broader advocacy community and more opportuni-
ing Ideas has the potential to create greater social ties to generate local, as well as national actions.
capital among progressive non-profit organizations Further, the deeper our cross-organizational con-
and their leaders, as well as linking the activists and nections, the more likely a collective of organiza-
the leaders to each other. Social capital may be the tions and activists will transform into a social move-
most powerful resource for the people to use in the ment, which must occur if progressive officials who
pursuit of public interests. Because the free market implement progressive policies that can effect real
inevitably under-produces public goods, like clean social change are to be elected.
air, and to some extent affordable housing, these
policy interests must be championed by the people
and executed by the government. Rather than try to
outspend the opposing private interests, the people A network hub allows any organi-
can mobilize to act for change: in other words, to zation’s activists, as well as staff, to
use their social capital. This can take many forms.
The people can spend their social capital by dem- connect with many organizations and
onstrating, writing letters to policymakers and edi- activists with related and reinforcing
tors, signing petitions, spreading the word to their agendas.
friends and family, participating in boycotts and
boycotts, and recruiting more activists.
In the 1960s, E. E. Schattschneider wrote that
the masses will always be underrepresented be- From a Hub of Networks to a Movement
cause they lack organization and financial capital. A quick look at the recent political history on the
Network technologies now place organizing tools right shows that a conservative movement emerged
in the hands of the masses, even if not every single in the 1980s and steadily took over the Republican
person, addressing his concern about organization Party. Using direct mail, talk radio, and now the In-
and finances in one swoop. Where Putnam would ternet, according to Richard Viguerie in America’s
say we were bowling alone, we are now virtually Right Turn, conservative advocacy groups captured
bowling together in the ether with our friends and the hearts of a large chunk of the American people
fellow activists. Then we play soccer offline. Then and turned them into a movement. These move-
we organize e-mail campaigns. Then we e-mail our ment conservatives captured the Republican Party,
friends and tell them they should do it, too. Thus, first electing Ronald Reagan to the presidency and
social capital is converted to political capital. then gaining a majority in the House and Senate.
In this way, the hub can increase the synergy of In order to compete, progressives must transi-
progressive communities to transition from being tion from a collection of separate and occasionally
a collection of separate organizations to a progres- cooperative issue advocacy networks into a syn-
sive movement; a movement that can more effec- ergistic community of communities, a hub of net-
tively affect social change than single issue com- works that can match the conservative movement
munities acting alone. with a progressive movement. The Moving Ideas
A hub of networks devoted to public interest is- Network has the potential to help achieve this type
sues can create interlocking memberships of activ- of collaboration across organizational boundaries.
ists that provide the vast amounts of social capital Moving Ideas was adopted recently by Care2.
necessary to counteract the interlocking director- com, a Web community of about 6 million grass-
ates and vast amounts of financial capital often roots activists, Cultural Creatives (individuals who
used by private interest groups. Regardless of how care about sustainable lifestyles and social justice),
much progressive organizations collaborate, their non-profits, and socially responsible businesses.
members will share interests with many advocacy As Care2 and Moving Ideas integrate in the coming
groups and are likely to belong to many of them. By years, the potential for solidifying the connection
exposing these activists to many organizations pur- between non-profits and constituencies with social
suing progressive policy goals, Moving Ideas helps networking tools Care2 offers is strong.
organizations recruit more activists, while sharing
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73. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
BUILDING A NETWORK
OF POLITICAL ALLIES
How the Environmental Movement is Learning to
Leverage its Network of Allies
by Gideon Rosenblatt
“By working in harmony, a network raises the effectiveness of each
individual node while raising the collective effectiveness and value of the
The environmental movement is at a critical three primary organizational types. The essay then
juncture in its history. While it can lay claim to nu- examined new possibilities for cooperation and col-
merous and important achievements over the last laboration between these different organizational
four decades, recent setbacks in the United States types.
show that its hard-fought accomplishments are still The concepts outlined in that essay have a wide
all too vulnerable to changes in the political winds applicability to other kinds of social and political
caused by pressures from special interests. networks. In particular, the connected-yet-inde-
Immunizing society for the long-term against pendent actions of individual parts of any move-
such harmful influences means integrating a new ment can accomplish extraordinarily complex and
set of values into our social fabric on a scale not wonderful actions, just as a beautiful symphony
seen since the shifts that accompanied universal emerges from the synchronous playing of violins,
suffrage and the broadening of civil rights. Environ- flutes, horns, and percussion. And by working in
mental security requires a similar shift in society’s harmony, a network raises the effectiveness of
behavioral patterns by harnessing the broad-based each individual node while raising the collective ef-
social and political forces capable of applying both
political and economic pressure. This is the task
facing the environmental movement at the outset
of the new century and it is likely to require a very
different environmental movement from what ex- ONE/Northwest is a non-profit support-
ists today. ing the environment and grass roots orga-
In 2004, I wrote an essay called “Movement as nizations through the use of technology.
Network: Connecting People and Organizations in
the Environmental Movement” that outlined a new
framework for thinking about the environmental
movement. It envisioned the environmental move-
ment not as a vague concept but as an actual en-
tity – a vast network made up of interconnections
between people and organizations whose whole is
greater than the sum of its parts. To reduce com-
petition and improve coordination between orga-
nizations within the network, the model proposed
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74. institUte for Politics, deMocracY & tHe internet
fectiveness and value of the entire network. In this cess for these organizations are carefully defining
sense, the Movement as Network model reminds audiences and listening closely to their needs. Be-
all of us working on individual issues that we belong cause these groups define themselves by constitu-
to something greater and far more powerful than ents whose interests are rarely one dimensional,
we could ever amount to by ourselves. they tend to span issue areas and occasionally ex-
With this goal in mind, let me describe the three pand beyond a strict focus on the environmental.
distinct organizational archetypes within the Move- Solution Organizations define themselves not
ment as Network model. only by the issue they focus on, but also by their
particular approach to solving it. Some may solve
problems with hands-on field research; some by
Three Organizational Roles playing watchdog to a particular government agen-
The 1990s were a time of economic upheaval cy. The range of issues and solutions is extremely
as U.S. financial markets pressured industry after varied, which goes a long way toward explaining
industry to restructure itself to become more effi- the incredible diversity of the environmental move-
cient. Specialization is one of evolution’s key tricks ment. Collectively, these organizations define the
for eking out efficiencies and profitability is the pri- mission of the network by identifying the problems
vate sector’s natural selector. Over the last decade th