Why Dad is Blogging (And Why I’m Helping)

As Lee LeFever has noted, mixing politics and education isn’t a good idea, though someone should break the news to people like Ward Churchill, who rant about their personal political views at taxpayer expense. (Come to think of it, I guess the governor of Colorado has communicated that to Churchill.)

That’s why, although I’ve been transparent about my previous work in politics, I’ve confined SMUG posts to analyzing how social media is being used by campaigns and is affecting this year’s elections. As Chancellor, I can’t be fired, but I also want to keep SMUG true to its educational mission. And frankly, I have a family and a very interesting and challenging day job that keep me fully occupied.

But last week my Dad, who is co-chair of the Mower County Republican Committee, asked me to help him by typing the text for a newspaper ad, I got an idea for something I thought would be much better.

Instead of a single ad that would run once or twice and would be limited in space and content, I suggested that he and his fellow activists start a blog and use a series of smaller ads on radio and in the local newspaper to promote it.

That way they could write in more depth about the issues that mattered to them, instead of settling for slogans that wouldn’t likely convince anyone, especially given their limited budget and the huge amounts being spent by the various candidates.

People who are active politically usually get involved because they have ideas about issues, and have something to say.

Until now, getting their ideas out usually meant sending a letter to the editor of the local newspaper or other traditional forms of political involvement.

Blogs and social media have changed all of that. Now they can publish their ideas to the world, unlimited by the word counts or political dispositions of newspaper editors.

And they can tell their stories through video by getting their own YouTube channel.

All things considered, if they can get on local TV or in the newspaper they still should do it, because the reach will be larger. But at least now they have an alternative.

I’m not sure whether I’ll be writing any posts on Dad’s new blog, but I will be using it to help illustrate and demonstrate some how-to tips that will be useful for all SMUGgles.

For instance, earlier this week I mapped Dad’s blog to a new domain, from sixissues.wordpress.com to sixbigissues.com (sixissues.com was taken.) And in the process I took screen shots that provided the basis for Blogging 305: Domain Mapping, which will help me illustrate how you can point your blog to a domain or subdomain of your choosing.

I plan to host a training session for Dad and his fellow activists on Saturday, when I return from North Carolina. We’ll be conducting it in the Lewis J. and LaVonne A. Aase Retreat Center, part of the SMUG North Annex.

So if you want to follow along as they learn how to blog, hopefully that will be helpful. And if, as this recent news suggests, surfing the Net helps senior citizens stay vital, blogging should be even better for Dad.

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Obama, McCain Both Have “Girls”

In his analysis of Barack Obama’s use of social media in Social Media 302, Associate Professor Scott Meis called attention to a key difference between this campaign cycle and those of the past:

In the past, a campaign team may have overreacted to a video such as Obama Girl or been concerned about not having a say in the messaging behind a video such as Yes We Can. Instead, the Obama team has embraced these videos and recognized the value and power of user-generated content in moving others to action.

That’s a really crucial change in the media landscape, and it’s here to stay. Candidates formerly would try to control the campaign’s message, but that has become extremely difficult if not impossible. As Scott mentioned, Obama Girl had a brief period last summer in which she essentially dominated the campaign news.


But now BarelyPolitical has also added “McCain Girl” to its YouTube lineup:


And just as we will expect to see Obama-McCain and Biden-Palin debates in the next 60 days, there is also a “Candidate Girls Olympics” competition.


Social media are more than just “new media.” I define new media as a way for organizations to bypass the mainstream media and deliver content directly to audiences. Social media means they aren’t “audiences” anymore. They can and will talk back, whether on social networks or through their own blogs.

As Scott said, it’s encouraging that both of the major campaigns have significant involvement in social media. (You can read about the McCain effort in Social Media 301.) But whether the campaigns are participating or not, the reality is that with the widespread availability of these cheap and easy tools, rank-and-file people across the political spectrum will be engaged on-line in this momentous election.

Social Media 302: Barack Obama’s Social Media Strategy

In Social Media 301, we examined the McCain campaign’s use of the Web, and invited an associate professor to provide a similar analysis for the Obama campaign. Scott Meis, a SMUGgle from Chicago, has risen to the challenge with Analyzing Barack Obama’s Social Media Strategy. Here’s an excerpt:

Visit any of Obama’s networking tools and you’ll find a donation widget. He’s engaging target audiences on their own turf and using these tools and platforms to motivate others to donate and help drive others back to his website. All these tools are serving as key extensions of interaction and user involvement but centered around a clear call to action. It really is brilliant. You see a great video on YouTube that inspires you to participate, whamo, the donate button is a simple click away.

One could definitely argue that Obama is just trying to see what sticks, but let’s remember, this is the presidential election. Technically, his audience is everyone. The Washington Post has even gone so far as to title Obama as the “King of Social Networking.”

Check out the rest of Scott’s analysis on his Social Media Snippets blog.

Social Media 301: GOP and McCain Use of Web

No campaign has used the Web as effectively as Barack Obama’s has, as his record-setting fundraising totals testify. He’s the second-most popular person on Facebook, after Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps. I have invited any SMUGgle with first-hand experience of the Obama on-line campaign (and who got the early-morning text message last Saturday about the Biden selection as the VP candidate) to become an Associate Professor and write a post analyzing its strengths (and whatever weaknesses they may see.) A couple of people have expressed interest, although neither has yet submitted a post. Hopefully we’ll have something fairly soon.

Meanwhile, because my political leanings are conservative and because I worked in campaigns and government on the Republican side for 14 years prior to a career change, I’m doing this post examining the McCain campaign and its use of the Web.

As of this writing, Sen. McCain trails Sen. Obama by 1,236,581 “supporters” on Facebook, although I think there has been something of an uptick in support for McCain since he named Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

The GOP candidate recently launched a redesigned McCainSpace, which Erick at TechCrunch reviewed with a jab at the candidate’s superannuation. He also expressed bewilderment at why both McCain and Obama feel it is necessary to create their own social networks given that large social networks like Facebook and MySpace already exist.

While I generally agree with Erick’s perspective for most businesses and organizations, in this case he’s flat wrong. The campaigns of the two major party candidates for President are by definition “big enough” to create a critical mass of interest that can make a standalone social network successful.

Like the Republican “all of the above” energy policy that supports increased drilling, conservation and development of renewable alternatives, the social networking strategy for national campaigns should involve both the general purpose sites like Facebook and a proprietary site. In this way, campaigns own the data and can avoid being in a position where a decision by Mark Zuckerberg or his MySpace counterpart would limit their ability to communicate with supporters. And when you create your own site, you have the freedom to add functionality not available in the general purpose sites.

It’s not “either/or;” it’s “both/and.” I’m a McCain supporter on Facebook, but I haven’t joined McCainSpace. Other people may not want to join Facebook, but are motivated enough by the presidential campaign to want to get involved somehow. If they go to JohnMcCain.com, they may just decide to join his social network as their introduction to social networking.

Although the McCain campaign has been behind in its adoption of Web 2.0 strategies, it’s doing fairly well in more traditional Internet campaigning. For example, when I searched for Joe Biden this evening on Google, here was the result page (click to enlarge).

Note that when you click the sponsored link that has the top position on the right side, it takes you to a place where you can see this ad (embedded from YouTube below):


The McCain campaign has others of its ads (including this one that is 94 seconds long and couldn’t be used on broadcast TV) on its YouTube channel.

On the JohnMcCain.com site, as of this evening I saw this banner at the top of the page, which apparently offers different views of the site based on the user’s indication of voting intent (click the image to enlarge).

His site also has a McCain Nation section to encourage activism, a blog that publishes photos and campaign news (and also has embedded YouTube videos, and also has a Volunteer Action Center.

So, while the McCain campaign hasn’t attracted as big a following in the social networking sites, and hasn’t raised anything near the astronomical amounts Obama’s has through the Web and otherwise, it does appear to be closing the gap somewhat and doing some basic things right.

The polls seem to indicate that this race will be another extremely close one. It’s guaranteed to be historic, with either the first African-American president or the first woman VP.

I renew my call for someone on the other side of the aisle to provide a Social Media 302 course on the Obama campaign’s use of the Web.

Update: Scott Meis, on his Social Media Snippets blog, has provided a helpful overview of the Obama campaign’s web efforts. Thanks, Scott!

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Obama, Biden and a Call for a SMUG Associate Professor

It turns out that mainstream media still got the scoop on Sen. Obama’s choice for VP, despite the campaign promise to break the news to supporters first via SMS and e-mail. Here’s the AP story:

Obama’s decision leaked to the media several hours before his aides planned to send a text message announcing the running mate, negating a promise that people who turned over their phone numbers would be the first to know who Obama had chosen. The campaign scrambled to send the text message after the leak, sending phones buzzing at the inconvenient time of just after 3 a.m. on the East coast.

I guess if you’re a strong enough supporter to give your cell phone number to a political campaign, you’ll probably forgive both the broken promise and the 2 a.m. CDT message disrupting your sleep.

I hardly ever get into politics on this blog, but I was a political science major and worked for 14 years in politics and government. It’s hard for me to fathom that an announcement like this — the most important one of the campaign — would be leaked accidentally to the media after the campaign had made such a big deal about texting the choice to supporters first.

Disclosure: My political background is on the other side of the aisle, and I’ll be voting for the “Wrinkly, White-Haired Guy.” And I’m thinking our Minnesota Governor, Tim Pawlenty, will be his running mate.

I have been interested, though, in how Sen. Obama’s campaign has used social media, but I haven’t wanted to give my e-mail address or cell phone number to the campaign to experience it directly. You can’t even get into his Web site without providing your e-mail.

So this is a call for someone to join the SMUG faculty as Associate Professor and do an analysis of the Obama campaign’s use of social media. I’m sure that among our 150+ SMUGgles we have several who received that early-morning SMS. If you’ve experienced the on-line Obama campaign first-hand and would like to write a post about what strategies and tactics you think have been most effective, you can become an Associate Professor in the SMUG Department of Political Science.

If anyone else wants to write a post about Sen. McCain and the RNC’s use of social media, or any of the other campaigns’ activities (such as Ralph Nader’s or Cynthia McKinney’s), those would be welcome, too.

Ground Rules: This will not be a discussion of the merits of candidates or their policy positions. There is no lack of sites where those debates are already taking place, both on the right and the left. The SMUG discussion will about how the campaigns and their supporters are using social media tools.

Apply for a Associate Professor position via e-mail at the address listed in the “Contact the Chancellor” sidebar item.

If you just want to share your brief impressions of the campaigns’ use of social media, you can put those in the comments below. Same ground rules apply.

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