Pushing and pulling to the polls

The movers and shakers in so-called revolutionary uses of digital media are campaigns—Jesse Ventura’s email lists, the 2000/2004 GOP fundraising and database technologies, Dean’s use of Meetup, Obama’s MyBO platform. Campaigns, so the story goes, are pushed  to innovate in order to get a leg up on the competition. But this recent Politico article takes a different perspective—rather than talking to campaigns about how they’re using the tools at their disposal, Kim Hart’s talking to execs at Twitter, Google, Youtube, etc. (Skypeoogletubeapedia is clearly the best catchall for that) about how they want to get a piece of the action. Although the article doesn’t actually speak to a whole lot of legitimately new tactics or strategies (it cites microtargeting on Facebook, the new Youtube feature “trueview” which is not campaign-specific but could be helpful to all advertising, and routine ad buy strategy), the idea that major digital media tools would be trying to pull campaigns to use their products is a pretty new one. Sure it was perhaps bound to happen once campaigns started to devote more money to digital strategy (especially when there are so many un- and under-used tools out there).

So what does it mean?  

Google’s hiring of consultants likely means that campaign-related needs will be an immediate source of innovation for the company. Traditionally, campaign advertising in tv, radio, and even print has largely followed suit of consumer marketing. Ads for stuff à ads for people. But now, what if the needs/goals of campaigns drive some of this technology? Without really having the time or energy to look into the exact history, it seems like this is the origin story behind something like MyBO—a campaign needs something, so it makes it. And MyBO was (and still is, quite frankly) special and different than other media technologies campaigns are using. It primarily seeks mobilization over persuasion, and harnesses existing energy and enthusiasm, rather than trying to create it. If more digital firms are catering to the needs of campaigns, it seems likely that this drive toward mobilization will become even more prevalent.

That was the optimistic side. Now the cynic in me wants to come out to play.

While innovations like promoted tweets—basically the equivalent of sponsored Google hits—are not new (they were around in 2010 even), they will likely become more prevalent. Even if most of Twitter’s multiple goals are not exactly to break through with the general audience (like the goals of advertising more generally),* this seems likely to be a heavily used tactic, even if  it might not be the most successful use of the medium as we know it. And if it is widely used, it could change the medium as we know it (at least as we know it as a specifically political tool). First, it could seems to encourage what is currently a so-called leveling platform to operate much more like the rest of the advertising world—from the top, down. Money=promotion=eyeballs=power, and all of the sudden, Twitter looks a lot more like a print ad. Second, with articles like this, about how to use these technologies to your advantage, the goals of using Twitter may very well shift. Maybe in addition to being a tool of engagement, other uses such as message testing (#6 here in the first how-to) will rise to the top. Not so leveling, not so revolutionary. Perhaps equally plausible?

**What are these multiple, often countervailing goals of campaigns using Twitter, you ask? And how would campaigns deal with countervailing goals? Hopefully, you can hear about it at Netroots Nation in June, when our panel idea (same people, new ideas!) comes to fruition and you come see it.

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