Sunday, July 29, 2007

Senator Dick Durbin's experiment very impressive so far

I'm way behind on reporting on Senator Dick Durbin's collaboration with Open Left to gather input on broadband legislation from the folks on the internet. Sorry about that; I'll try to make up for tardiness with a detailed discussion.

First off, it's quite clear that the Senator and his staff are taking this self-professed experiment quite seriously. They have devoted staff time and the Senator's time to live blogging, to lining up experts to launch and participate in the discussions and they even recorded videos with the Senator to set context.

It's somewhat difficult to follow the Senator's posts on Open Left, so I'll outline them here:

Sun Jul 22, 2007 What should be America's national broadband strategy?
Tue Jul 24 Senator Durbin Live Thread
Weds Jul 25 Legislation 2.0, Part 2: Open networks, privacy, and beyond
Thurs Jul 26 Legislation 2.0, Part 3: Universal broadband access and the public airwaves
Fri Jul 27 Legislation 2.0, Part 4: Building a universal system

I don't want this post to be about America's broadband strategy--you can read that discussion in much more detail at Open Left. Instead, I want to focus on what the Senator's team is doing right with this series.

They start the series with posts that make it clear they've done their homework--they're not having this online discussion as a substitute for traditional research, they're having it to supplement the research they've already done. This is important because it lets prospective participants know the Senator's serious about the topic and the venue. And it allows the Senator's team to set a framework for the discussion. A+

As the discussion unfolds, the Senator, members of his staff and subject-matter experts actively participate by responding directly to comments and by summarizing previous discussions. Again showing that they're taking the whole process seriously and that they respect the time and expertise of the commenters. A+

I'm not clear what their next steps will be (and this could very well be because of Open Left's organization rather than because the Senator didn't articulate them), but this process was a big win for participatory democracy, for the Senator's reputation among web users and, in the end, for the legislation.

My only recommendation for the Senator's team would be to incorporate (or at least link to) this discussion on Senator Durbin's web site; right now the only mention of this ground-breaking online town hall is a news article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

I look forward to seeing where this conversation goes next.

--Louella Pizzuti

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

John Edwards' team gets most improved award

I've got a lot to say about how the Democratic candidates used the web to amplify their debate performances, but for now I'll point to the John Edwards campaign. If you recall, the day after the last debate, they were still touting the "upcoming" debate on their home page and their blog "coverage" was completely uninfluenced by the campaign.

Compare and contrast their performance this time:

  • link to debate "best moment" from home page
  • rotating link to "hair" video on home page
  • campaign live blogging during the debate which not only summarized what was going on but also linked to additional resources.

    Nicely done.

    --Louella Pizzuti

  • Monday, July 23, 2007

    Dick Durbin uses web to draft policy (maybe)

    A quick glance at Senator Dick Durbin's web site suggests he doesn't quite understand the value of the web as a communications tool--no message apparent on his home page and only one paragraph on the page titled "Working for You". Yikes. But Durbin's recent post on Open Left is much more promising:

    Today I'm writing to invite you to participate in an experiment -- an interactive approach to drafting legislation on one of the most significant public policy questions today: What should be America's national broadband strategy?

    Starting this Tuesday, July 24 at 7pm EST on, I will be engaging in a series of four nightly broadband policy discussions with the online community. During those four nights, I am looking for the best and brightest ideas on what Congress should do to promote and foster broadband.

    I will begin each night's discussion with a conversation about some of the core principles I think are important, and then I'll ask for you to contribute your ideas that will help me craft legislation.
    If this is more than a one-way, let's-look-like-we're-listening publicity stunt, it will be a big win for small-d democracy. And if it's just a stunt or poorly executed? Expect a feeding frenzy.

    --Louella Pizzuti

    Friday, July 20, 2007

    Blogger outreach and the Tom Allen campaign

    The Tom Allen for Senate campaign gets blogger outreach. Almost. [Updated two hours after the original post: Yep, they get it; see below.]

    The part where they get it: they have a "Blogger Connection" on the campaign web site. Click through and you see:

    Thank you for your interest in my campaign for Senate. As a leader in the online community, your voice has power and we want to provide you with the information and resources you need to cover this race. In 2006 we saw the power and influence of the netroots community during the Jim Webb race in Virginia.

    We want to build a relationship with the online community going into 2008 and beyond. Signing up to be a member of the Blogger Connection is easy. Simply fill out the form below and we will get back to you shortly.

    Members of the Connection are an important part of my campaign. As a member of the Connection you will receive press releases from the campaign as well as other information that will to make [sic] your jobs easier.
    Looks good--they understand the influence bloggers can exert on a race (even if they don't proof their copy very well).

    But when I filled out the "Blogger Connection" form to join, I got a file-not-found error. Whoops.

    I'm (sadly) used to political web sites that aren't well tested (see #6 on my top-ten most embarrassing mistakes list), so I shot the campaign an email alerting them to the problem. And I heard back from them within minutes of publishing this post; they're clearly keeping a sharp eye on blog coverage of their candidate.

    [updated to add: Not only is the campaign keeping a sharp eye on blog coverage, they're also moving quickly to address problems. I just received an email from the Allen campaign's Director of Internet Communications alerting me to the fix. If you follow their lead and thank the people who point out problems and then address them right away, the story becomes about your responsiveness rather than your mistake.]

    --Louella Pizzuti

    Wednesday, July 18, 2007

    Should your campaign credential bloggers?

    Sometimes. You wouldn't credential a writer just because she had a pencil and you shouldn't credential a journalist just because she has a blog. And because you're less likely to be familiar with every blog than with other, more established media, you'll need to determine whether to credential blog by blog.

    But it doesn't end there... there was quite a flap when a self-professed blogger was asked to leave a closed-to-the-press Obama event. The blogger wrote long and often about how he was interested in the topic (faith and politics) and how he should have been allowed to stay because being a blogger didn't remove his citizenship.

    Your campaign will need to determine how to deal with these situations as they arise, but hopefully being forwarned will help.

    --Louella Pizzuti

    Saturday, July 14, 2007

    McNerney team uses headlines to tell the story

    The folks who are running Congressman Jerry McNerney's blog understand marketing and writing for the web. Take a look at the picture above and glance at the headlines in the right column (recent posts).

    [Well, until I can get Blogger to display the image properly, I'll repeat the headlines here so you can actually read them. They are: McNerney votes for Responsible Redeployment from Iraq Act, McNerney helps prevent cuts to lab worker retirement benefits, Contra Costa Times: "McNerney comes through...", Did you know Richard Pombo's "longtime friend" is running against me?, What you want: "Give 'em hell, Jerry!", and McNerney on releasing earmark requests: "I came to Washington on a campaign of openness and ethics".]

    Headlines that stand on their own to tell your story are marketing 101, but too many campaign blogs choose cute or clever over compelling. Informative headlines are even more important on the web because people may be subscribing to your feed and only ever seeing the headline. When you can't be sure people are getting the whole article, you better be sure to use the headline to get your top-line message across.

    --Louella Pizzuti

    Related posts

    Congressman Jerry McNerney informs, inspires and raises funds online

    Integrating the web wins elections

    Thursday, July 12, 2007

    Why devote resources to the web?

    If only one third of Americans use the web to research political campaigns, why should campaigns invest in a meaningful web presence? (Put aside the value of small-d democracy for the moment; let's focus on winning.)

    According to a 2004 study done by the Institute for Politics and the Internet (pdf),

    Online Political Citizens are not isolated cyber-geeks, as the media has portrayed them. On the contrary, OPCs are nearly seven times more likely than average citizens to serve as opinion leaders among their friends, relatives and colleagues. [...] Normally, 10% of Americans qualify as Influentials. Our study found that 69% of Online Political Citizens are Influentials.
    You read that right, the folks who are doing their political research online are seven times more likely to influence others.

    If you believe, as I do, that word-of-mouth marketing gets faster/better results, it's pretty clear that influencing the influencers is a strategic investment in success.

    Perhaps even more important than the large sphere of influence these people enjoy, is the fact that people who come to your web site are actively seeking out your candidate's message; 100% of the people who land on your web site meant to go there.

    What percentage do you estimate intend to read your direct mail or listen to your radio ads or watch your tv spots?

    So, if your web presence incorporates and amplifies your campaign message, you can multiply the effectiveness of your online investment by the influence exerted by web visitors and by the willingness of your web visitors to pay attention to your message.

    Invest wisely,

    Wednesday, July 11, 2007

    John Edwards uses technology to determine campaign stop

    If you've read very many posts here, you already know I believe campaigns should use technology to serve/amplify their messages. But, because the strategy for each campaign is different, I haven't written much about using the web to inspire/facilitate offline activity. Until now.

    The John Edwards campaign is using Eventful (a web site that lets users "demand" a visit/performance/whatever) to let supporters demand a visit from John Edwards himself. That's reasonably interesting in a use-of-technology way.

    But whether by design or by great good fortune, the town that's currently in the lead (by a very wide margin) is Columbus Kentucky, population 229. The organizer's pitch for his town:

    Columbus, Kentucky is a small town in Western Kentucky that boasts a population of 229 people and is about a 50 minute drive from the closest McDonalds. Like many rural communities across the south, job loss in the face of rising healthcare costs and education costs have crippled the economy. We want to see John Edwards come to real rural America and address the problems we face and hear his plan for revitalizing small American communities like ours!
    Does this plea fit into the Edwards campaign playbook or what? From the comments:
    Politicians hardly ever get to see how small town and rural Americans actually live. This would be a great experience for not only John Edwards, but for the many Democrats who live in Kentucky and are interested in the future of our country.
    If Columbus wins, the trip to Columbus will provide lasting value to the Edwards campaign. My guess is that this visit will get plenty of media coverage, that the campaign will (quite visibly) hear from oft-ignored voters, that the people who see Edwards in Columbus will enthusiastically report to their friends, and that the event will provide a great deal of fodder for the Edwards web site. Value? Extremely high. Downside? I don't see one.

    --Louella Pizzuti

    Tuesday, July 10, 2007

    Congressman Jerry McNerney informs, inspires and raises funds online

    Jerry McNerney's team exploited the web to pull off an odds-against win in California's 11th CD and they continue to set themselves apart by updating their web presence regularly while the Congressman serves.

    What's unusual about this? Well, most campaigns completely ignore their web presence after the election. Many (if not most) don't even change their site to reflect the fact that the election's over. This is a big mistake. If someone seeks you out in person do you ignore them until you need their endorsement, cash or vote? Of course not. Consider applying the same courtesy to the folks who seek you out online.

    McNerney's campaign does this elegantly and reliably. They focus their updates on their blog, where a quick glance reveals:

    --excerpts from local papers lauding the Congressman
    --fundraising pitches
    --insight into Congressman McNerney's votes or actions
    --invitations to in-district events

    Is McNerney's blog devouring lots of staff resources? Highly unlikely. It looks like most of what they're posting is repurposed content: letters, clips and fundraising requests.

    Is the lack of comments an indication that no one's reading his blog? Hardly. On May 25th, when they posted McNerney's explanation of his vote against giving President Bush another blank check to wage the war in Iraq, there were a whopping 183 comments. In May.

    McNerney himself responded to the comments (at comment 164) and the campaign wisely created a new post to spotlight his comment.

    This, I am happy to report, fits solidly in the "best practices" category: An elected official who invests in communicating with voters throughout the session, who leverages work done elsewhere by posting it on the web, and who publicly responds to constituent concerns. Who wouldn't vote for this guy?

    Jerry McNerney's making sure that any constituent who wants to know what he's doing on his or her behalf has resources galore at their fingertips; are you?

    --Louella Pizzuti

    Related posts

    Integrating the web wins elections

    Why am I doing this?

    As someone who's been working with new media since before it was called new media, I was first surprised by, and then disappointed by the use of the web in political campaigns and elective offices.

    I approached some candidates/campaigns who could really benefit from a meaningful web presence--the type of candidates who could use the web to win an odds-against election much like Jerry McNerney did. The campaigns and candidates listened politely and nodded appropriately, but they didn't change their web approach. And they didn't win.

    So I started looking for a model campaign--something I could use to illustrate web-centric campaign best practices. And, until I found the McNerney site, I came up dry. It looked like most campaigns (from local to national) created a web presence so they could hang donate, volunteer and subscribe buttons off it. These are all very important parts of the web puzzle, but they are far from a strategy. Even now, the 2008 Presidential hopefuls are investing in technology but they don't seem to have any meaningful strategy.

    In a recent segment on political use of the web, someone on the Lehrer News Hour said, "The web is brand new so no one knows how to use it." Similarly, a US News and World Report article (see below) that was published this week is titled "The Internet--It's a potent new tool, but no one's sure how to use it."

    No wonder those campaigns and candidates glazed over when I started talking web-centric campaigns--Howard Dean showed them the power of online fundraising but no one had ever shown them how to effectively use the web as an online campaign office. Or even as much more than an outdated billboard with a few buttons for data/cash collection. I am here to point out that the web is not brand new, and there are some folks who know how to use it.

    I'm collecting web-centric best practices wherever I find them, and I'm pointing out common mistakes to help campaigns avoid them. And I'm hoping that concrete examples that show the (politically) untapped potential of the web will help politicians and their campaigns think twice about their web strategy (or lack of one).

    I'm also hoping that a candidate or campaign that's working for progressive change--preferably in a part of the country where that's an uphill battle--will contact me so I can help them win. Meanwhile I'll continue to post here (to address my need to change the world), and to provide web strategy to Fortune 500 and Fortune 5 billion companies (to address more tangible needs).

    Good luck in your campaigns, and let me know if you want some help.

    --Louella Pizzuti

    Monday, July 9, 2007

    Who needs a web-savvy communicator, anyway?

    In a US News and World Report article titled "The Internet--It's a potent new tool, but no one's sure how to use it," Kenneth T. Walsh writes:

    As Barack Obama made clear last week, candidates have discovered ways to raise millions of dollars in contributions from the Internet. The question is what they do with this potentially powerful tool beyond raking in cash.

    Gone are the days when online politics was the fiefdom of the young. Nearly one third of all Americans now read and share campaign news online, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, and three quarters of them are over 30.

    Online news consumers also are generally well educated, with half having college degrees, and affluent, with 44 percent reporting household incomes of $75,000 or more. They are thus attractive to campaigns not only as potential donors but as likely voters. The advantage in 2008, it appears, will go to the candidates who can best leverage the Internet to introduce themselves, draw media attention, organize supporters, and broaden a campaign's base of volunteers.
    I couldn't agree more with the conclusion Walsh draws--that the candidates who best leverage the web will win, but I question his premise that no one's sure how to use the web. Not to make too fine a point of it, but those of us who've spent the last decade using the web in the business sector understand how to use it and where to focus.

    Candidates and campaigns that consult and engage communications professionals in addition to technology pros will have the edge until having a web-knowledgeable communicator in the political realm is more commonplace.

    --Louella Pizzuti

    Saturday, July 7, 2007

    McCain team uses web for targeting

    There's a lot to like about John McCain's web presence but I'll restrict myself to discussing how they're using the dynamic nature of the web to discern and deliver what visitors want.

    When you hit McCain's home page you can't help but notice his message (excellent), but what's really interesting is how they're using petitions, polls and free offers to deliver info of interest to visitors.

    They've got a petition against pork barrel spending (that nicely conveys McCain's position on pork even if you don't click through). If you click to "sign" the petition, you're thanked and given links to more info on pork spending. They're probably also adding your email address to their list. If they're really clever (and it looks like they are), they'll be targeting messages to these petition signers.

    Same idea, different implementation on their poll asking "What percentage of the world's oil reserves do you think resides here in the United States?" Presumably they took the poll approach because they knew that the results would surprise most Americans (and because people enjoy testing their knowledge this way). When you get the poll results you also get lots more energy info. I'd be curious to see if they customize the info they display depending on whether or not the answer was correct (or close). Whether or not they do, it's something your campaign could do. Again with the email address harvesting along the way.

    Both the petition and the poll are much more respectful ways to get email addresses than an email splash screen before visitors get to the heart of your site.

    And finally, they have a navigation tab called "Undecided?" Brilliant. They've taken info from other parts of the site and packaged it for folks who have not yet declared an allegiance. Most sites end up looking like they're designed exclusively for supporters; the McCain campaign's approach not only acknowledges the existence of the curious, but makes it easy for the searchers to find the info they seek. When designing your site, keep in mind the many different categories of people who will be visiting and figure out how to satisfy them quickly and completely.

    --Louella Pizzuti

    Thursday, July 5, 2007

    Newspaper launches candidate "blog"

    The Boulder Daily Camera has started a new "blog" for the 14 city council candidates who are vying for one open seat. The Camera poses a question, requests responses from candidates, and posts everything on their web site. New questions will appear every Tuesday and Friday until the election concludes July 10.

    This is interesting from a couple of different perspectives. First, it shows that the paper acknowledges the web as an important information venue for their readers. (And remember, the paper isn't just guessing here--no doubt they're tracking how many visitors come to their site, what they're doing, and what keeps them coming back.)

    From the voters' (and small-d democracy) perspective, this is a great service. Debates give the illusion of a side-by-side comparison, but they usually go no deeper than exposing who needs more media training. The Camera's format gives candidates time to formulate a complete response and captures all responses in one place for voters.

    And finally, from a campaign's perspective, it's wonderful exposure if you believe your candidate truly has the ideas and perspectives the voters want. I'd definitely consider having a L2Ed campaign asking local papers to follow the Camera's lead.

    Clearly there's more than one way to use blog technology to amplify your message and expand your audience. More on this later.

    --Louella Pizzuti

    Monday, July 2, 2007

    Integrating the web wins elections

    Just ask (now Congressman) Jerry McNerney's campaign in California's 11th congressional district.

    The numbers were grim, voter registration in the district favored the incumbent who'd already served 14 years in office:

    44.39% Republican
    36.98% Democrat
    1.88% American Indendent
    .42% Green
    16.33% Unaffiliated

    But the McNerney team used the web to take the campaign to the people--and to bring the people to the campaign. Fully integrating the web into their campaign helped every aspect of the race.

    Said Congressman McNerney,

    Winning a Congressional seat is an incredible undertaking. It certainly takes money and lots of it. But anyone who thinks it’s all about money is sadly mistaken. What it really takes is the heart, passion, commitment and dedication of hundreds of supporters.

    In our incredible 2006 victory, these ingredients created the people power that overcame a 2-to-1 disadvantage in fundraising, shocking the pundits and power-brokers. I may have initially stood up and decided "enough was enough," but it was the tidal wave of people -- who decided to make a real difference and step up with time, energy, and love of country -- that created the real change.
    To be sure, McNerney was a compelling candiate with the heart and guts for a tough fight, but we've all seen such candidates lose when confronted with the fundraising power and name recognition of a long-time incumbent.

    McNerney won and the web was a crucial part of his success. Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be analyzing McNerney's web presence as an example of online approaches that work. Check out Jerry McNerney's site for yourself and see what you and your campaign can learn from it.

    --Louella Pizzuti

    Sunday, July 1, 2007

    Make sure to think it through

    While looking around for resources to link to a client's web site, I stumbled over a site that included:

    Click here to view HIPAA Privacy Notice in Spanish.
    Yep. If you really want to make the information available to Spanish speakers, the entire "click here" sentence should be in Spanish. (It would also be nice to warn the reader that they're about to download a file rather than just navigate to a new page.)

    --Louella Pizzuti