Thursday, October 22, 2009

Some New Ideas on Social Networking in Politics (Part 2)

Summary: Pondering the implications for campaigns if social networking replaces email.

Vertical Response, a blast-email company used by many political campaigns, sent an email to clients recently about a new debate in the communications world: will social networking replace email altogether?

It all started when Jessica Vascellaro wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal about why email will soon be a less significant form of communication than Facebook, Twitter, and upcoming Google products.

The argument was simple: social networking services are faster, constantly streaming, and more fun than email.

From the article:

Little wonder that while email continues to grow, other types of communication services are growing far faster. In August 2009, 276.9 million people used email across the U.S., several European countries, Australia and Brazil, according to Nielsen Co., up 21% from 229.2 million in August 2008. But the number of users on social-networking and other community sites jumped 31% to 301.5 million people.

"The whole idea of this email service isn't really quite as significant anymore when you can have many, many different types of messages and files and when you have this all on the same type of networks," says Alex Bochannek, curator at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif.

Nielsen Co., however, took issue with this argument, and put it to the test.

From a post on their company blog:

We decided to churn some quick data to test our hypothesis that “Consumption of social media decreases email use.” First, we broke the online population into four groups. The first three are terciles of social media consumption in minutes. The fourth is a group that doesn’t use social media at all. We then looked at each segment’s time of web based email consumption over the course of a year. Finally, we subtracted the email consumption of those that do not use social media from those that do, basically to show a lift over possible external forces. Clearly, there are more robust approaches that could be taken (controlling for factors other than consumption for example) but for the sake of this simple experiment, we tried to keep it straightforward.

Then they graphed the results:

So if social media is supposed to be replacing email as the dominant form of communication, then why are the individuals who use social networking services the most also increasing their email consumption at a faster rate than non-social networkers?

Then Chris Crum at gave his Ten Reasons Social Media isn’t Replacing Email. Vertical Response CEO Janine Popick read those arguments and added ten more. Some of the twenty reasons were good, some were not so convincing.

Among the good ones:

2. Nearly all sites on the web that require registration require an email address.

9. More social media use means more email use.

13. You can't easily segment your friends and followers to do targeted marketing in Twitter & Facebook for the optimal response.

19. You are limited to 140 characters in Twitter leaving it impossible to put multiple messages in one Tweet.

20. You almost have to have separate social media accounts for your business and your personal life. Some customers might not care about that vacation you took where you...let's just say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

One problem with several of Popick’s ten reasons was that she was focusing on the company that is trying to send emails to clients or potential clients - not the clients themselves. For example, she notes that with social media the sender cannot track the message as easily, seeing who all clicked on what, etc.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that people actually will gradually move from email to Facebook or Twitter. Will they have second thoughts about doing it because then they won’t be able to help companies sending emails to them as easily anymore? Will they take into account the implications of tracking and response optimization on the part of those sending messages to them?

Of course not, those companies would have to adapt.

The same is true in politics. If social networking does end up replacing email as the primary form of communication, campaigns will simply have to start using these tools more aggressively and innovatively.

For example, let’s say your campaign has added a cool new page to its website and you want to let your supporters know. Additionally, you want to know just how many of them actually go to that page. Traditionally you would send out an email hyping it and including a link. With services from firms like Vertical Response, you can see how many supporters open the email and how many click the link.

You can still see how many hits that page is getting from your message on a social networking site so long as you use

But Popnick’s point about how much you can say when using social media is true - you cannot build the same message. This is troubling for prospects of campaign fundraising: currently Facebook and Twitter are not good tools for fundraising because you cannot explain to supporters just how critical it is that they make a contribution.

Luckily everyone recognizes the relevance of emails to this effect - no matter who you are you will keep an email account because occasionally you have a lot to tell someone.

It seems that - to this extent - social networking is not threatening to email. In fact, the Nielsen Co. study suggests that they are actually complimentary.

Sure, some campaigning and business will start being done more with social networking. At HSG, we typically become Facebook friends and Twitter followers with our clients and business associates. It’s quite possible that in the future we’ll be communicating with them about their races more and more using these services.

Some politicians are already beginning to communicate messages to supporters that would traditionally be done with email via social networking. For example, status updates are a great way to let constituents know what recent action just took place on Capitol Hill. But for more in-depth messages, emails will likely always be king.

It is critical that campaigns, politicians, and businesses utilize all forms of New Media appropriately.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Some New Ideas on Social Networking in Politics (Part 1)

Summary: Twitter on the trail again - how to best use Tweets while campaigning.

Lately we’ve been receiving quite a few emails about the growing relevance of New Media in politics - specifically social networking. Some of these ideas, and the debates they create, are quite interesting.

First there is the ever-continuing discussion on the use of Twitter, which we have been covering rigorously over the past several months. In a recent Winning Campaigns article , Christopher Massicotte of NGP Software (an online political finance tool) analyzes the increasing importance of a Twitter presence.

For the most part, Massicotte’s analysis falls along the lines of what we’ve been saying for a while (see our post “How is New Media Changing Politics?” from the 21st Century Campaigning series).

These were his “Do’s and Don’ts” of political Tweeting:


1) Follow as many people as you can on Twitter that are relevant to your campaign and use Twitter Search often;

2) Be interesting and original in what you are tweeting;

3) Talk to people about THEIR interests – by doing that, you are showing that you are human;

4) Make sure that it is the candidate who is tweeting. The campaign can have a Twitter account as well – but people are turned off when they realize that the tweeting has been “staffed out;”

5) Put a link to your Twitter site on your campaign website as you would with all of the other social networking tools that you are using.


1) Don’t Tweet about anything that you wouldn’t want published on the front page of the New York Times. There are a number of news reports of “Tweets gone bad,” please don’t let this happen to you;

2) Don’t lock your tweets. Twitter allows you to lock your tweets so that people have to request to follow you and no one outside your group of followers can see what you are saying. You are not going to bring in new people this way;

3) Don’t tweet just for the sake of tweeting – I stop following people who fill up my Twitter feed with irrelevant and uninteresting things that have no appeal to me;

4) Don’t follow too many people – your feed will get too congested and you might miss something important – you don’t have to read every tweet. Most politicians do not follow anybody, but read their @replies;

5) Don’t fool yourself into thinking Twitter is the next greatest way to raise money. Twitter is a great tool for attracting new supporters and gets your message out virally, but putting links to your contribution page right in a tweet is the fastest way for people to stop following you.

For those of you have been following our input about Twitter, we agree with all but one of those ten points: the Fourth “Do”: “Make sure that it is the candidate who is tweeting.”

As many campaign workers will readily agree, many politicians have some trouble staying on message - especially new politicians. If a campaign follows the Fourth “Do” then there seems to be an increasing chance that the campaign won’t follow the First “Don’t”.

That being said, he has a point. Followers don’t like it when they can tell a Twitter account has been “staffed out.” But there may be a compromise position on this issue: if a campaign manager, consultant, etc. decides the candidate is responsible enough with message to use Twitter themselves (or not responsible enough, for that matter) they can make an individual decision for that specific campaign accordingly. After all, every campaign is unique.

Tomorrow we will analyze another interesting idea that has come up lately: will social networking kill email? And if so, what will be the implications for political campaigns? Come back to find out!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Top 3 Things to Watch for in the Afghanistan Run-Off

Summary: Afghanistan returns to the polls - how will the second round of voting be different?

This morning it was announced that Afghanistan will have a run-off election, following yesterday’s news that a UN-backed election monitor threw out nearly a third of the ballots for President Hamid Karzai.

It is likely to be a fierce battle between Karzai and his run-off opponent, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, over the next two and a half weeks. Here are the top three things to watch for going into Election Day:

1) More Corruption

The fact that Karzai’s overwhelming win - initially - turned out to be fraudulent was no surprise to those of us who watched reports coming out of Afghanistan leading up to the first vote in August. The opium lords of Karzai’s inner-circle - including both his Vice President and his brother - were accused of buying votes prior to the election.

Following the election, several videos (including the one below) of poll workers illegally marking ballots for Karzai surfaced on YouTube.

Luckily, Democracy International - the UN-backed election monitor - was able to thoroughly route out many fraudulent votes from the election. The results of the run-off may very well depend on how involved they are this time around and how much access they will have to the polling stations.

2) An Anti-Karzai Vote?

When we previewed the election back in August, we found that Karzai would probably win regardless of a run-off in part because most non-Karzai voters were unlikely to support a different candidate than their own in a hypothetical run-off. In other words, if you supported one of the dozens of candidates who did not qualify for a run-off, you were not necessarily going to support Dr. Abdullah for the second round of voting.

According to a poll taken in July, over 20% of voters supporting a candidate other than Karzai and Abdullah said they would simply not vote in a run-off election. In order for Abdullah to win - however - he needs to get their support.

After two months of controversy surrounding the August election - and the reports of widespread fraud on behalf of Karzai - perhaps Abdullah is in better position than ever for solidifying a strong anti-Karzai vote from Afghans who were originally non-Karzai/Abdullah supporters. If he can pull off the right campaign strategy to do so in the next two weeks it would go a long way towards winning him the presidency.

3) A Winter Election

The first round of votes happened in August for a reason. During the winter in Afghanistan, movement around the country becomes extremely limited. For the tribal peoples outside of the big cities - namely Kabul - the rapidly approaching winter is more than likely to keep them from going to the polls.

At this point it is unclear exactly who that will help. The amount of fraud by province is not yet accessible and so it is not certain exactly how much Abdullah can depend on Kabul.

According to preliminary results (prior to the fraud reports) Karzai beat Abdullah in Kabul by a 55% - 24.6% margin. Not only does that compare to the preliminary results nationally (about 55% - 28%) but it is far more balanced than results in the northern and southern provinces.

In some of the northern provinces, Abdullah won with as much as 55% of the vote while in some of the southern provinces, Karzai won with as much as 91% of the vote. Many of those provinces are expected to see a sharp decline in turnout for the November 7th run-off.

The results of this run-off election will largely depend on what kind of turnout there is in Kabul compared to turnout in the rural provinces, how much anti-Karzai support Abdullah can drum up, and the extent to how fraud will play a part yet again. We’ll have to wait and see how these things affect the outcome in just a few weeks.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Editorial: Have We All Flip-Flopped on the Healthcare Debate?

Last week, I wrote the following op-ed piece for my newspaper:

In one of last year's presidential debates, then-Senator Barack Obama was asked if health care was a privilege, a right, or a responsibility. He promptly answered "a right." As a liberal, I was glad to see him take that position. My conservative father sitting next to me was disgusted.

One year later, the nation is in the midst of a contentious health-care debate. It hasn't just been an intellectual discussion on how to manage the country's health-care resources, but rather the typical back-and-forth of political rhetoric. I should know, I frequently work on the sort of message development that we've seen in the current health-care debate. Yet, once we scratch the surface of this debate, it appears that both liberals and conservatives have flip-flopped in their principles.

There's no better place to start than with the classic Republican message: "A Washington bureaucrat should not get between you and your doctor." That message implies two things.

First, it suggests that patients would not have a choice of their doctors if a public option were introduced. That's nonsense. I have never heard of a health-care system in which public bureaucrats decide which doctors you can see - including the single-payer system in Canada and the National Health Service - true socialized medicine - in the United Kingdom.

The other implication of the message - which I intend to focus on - is that a bureaucrat can deny a certain health-care procedure or medicine that you and your doctor have decided is right for you. This is especially important because "deny" and "denial" are huge buzzwords in the GOP's rhetoric. The reason is simple enough: Those words scare people.

The idea that you can be denied certain procedures now has the right screaming "rationing!" The left has quickly argued back, saying, "health insurance companies already ration care" so why would a public option be any different?

In fact, rationing only makes economic sense. All resources are limited - including those in health care - and whether you have private or public insurance, it simply cannot cover everything. This may be a hyperbolic example, but even if you're terminally ill, you cannot expect America to spend its entire GDP in order to save your life.

But wait - then aren't we liberals justifying the actions of the dreaded health insurance industry? Are we actually saying we will model a public option the same way? Aren't we putting a price on human life? The answer appears to be "yes." Meanwhile, conservatives - who evidently oppose rationing in general - appear to be arguing that, regardless of costs, health care is a right! Both sides have swapped principles.

All this being said, I believe it is possible for progressive principles to be reconciled with pragmatism. Principles are impossible to implement without pragmatism, but they are still critical when it comes to improving public policy.

In order to achieve health-care reform, we Democrats need to get our principles back on track by reaffirming our basic beliefs and then by adding conditional reasoning.

The principle can be, "You have a right to coverage for basic health services" including doctor visits, pharmaceuticals and certain procedures. The cost-benefit analysis used in all economic decision-making will still be done by patients, doctors and bureaucrats - now both private and public.

How can Republicans reconcile with pragmatism and get their principles back on track? That I don't know - you'll have to ask my father.

Top Stories 10/19/09

Politico reports on the White House's efforts to divide and neutralize the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Huffington Post reports that Sarah Palin has created a LinkedIn page and lists "job inquiries" among her interests.

Nate Silver runs a model to find that Maine will more likely vote down a gay marriage ban than pass one.

E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post writes on the growing concern about young voters staying home in 2010.

And here are the best late night political jokes from the weekend: