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Web Matters, But Will It Deliver Votes? February 10, 2008

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Advertising, Essays, Social Media, Trends, Web Video, YouTube.
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The heartbeat of electoral politics in the US has moved online, and Barak Obama is leading the charge. In bringing about new levels of civic engagement, the participatory culture of the Web is changing not just the face of politics, but the way presidential candidates are marketed.

DREAM TEAM?
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Obama campaign managers say their focus online is to drive supporters to the Web site so that people can participate in the process by hosting house parties, writing their own campaign blogs and starting grass-roots groups in their communities.

Techpresident.com, a nonpartisan “group blog,” tracks the effect presidential candidates are having online. For example, in terms of MySpace friends, Obama is leading Democratic rival Clinton, with more than 268,400 friends linked to his MySpace page while Clinton has more than 179,300 friends.

Not since the fireside chats of Franklin Roosevelt has a communication medium played such a pivotal role in electoral politics. With the presidential election shaping up to be truly the first of the digital age, hearts and minds are being shaped online.

Can Web 2.0 technologies bring about a sea change in politics, much like TV swayed political behavior in the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960?. They were the first major presidential debates on television, a venue in which a youthful John Kennedy outshone Richard Nixon, who was less telegenic on camera.

PEW Research Center found that the Web is living up to its potential as a major source for news about the 2008 presidential campaign. Online is the key place to get news about the elections, with almost a quarter of Americans now learning about the campaigns online on a regular basis.

Partnering between old and new media adds even more legitimacy to emerging technologies. Like MTV and MySpace, teaming up to feature real time, dialogues between candidates and voters.

Certainly the rules of the game have changed and the politics much more distributed. There are many aspects of Web social marketing in this race. Campaigns are happening on people’s screens and no longer run from headquarters or driven by centralized purchases of TV advertising time.

What YouTube and other Internet sites seem to have done is they enable people to talk to one another. Allow voters to talk to one another without necessarily going to the campaigns. And so you see people making their own ads for candidates and that might be part of what is getting people so excited and what’s leading to this record turnout as well.

Much has changed since Democrat Howard Dean tapped into an online community for support and money in his 2004 campaign. Today top Web experts are hired to outfit candidates’ sites with fundraising tools, blogs and videos and post profiles on social networking sites.

Republican candidates are using the web to grab donations and build communities. McCainSpace allows users to build their own sites hosted on the John McCain site. Other Web features used by campaigns mimic those of YouTube, Google and Amazon.com. But instead of generating a sale or linking to an advertisement, candidates pitch supporters, pick up fundraising leads and potentially land votes.

Well the Internet has certainly been a big target of campaigns for two reasons. One, fundraising. It has made fundraising a lot easier. You can go out and find people to make donations. I think Internet has played a strong role in this record amount of campaign contributions that are flowing to the campaigns. The Internet also enables you to target voters and to target advertising. So it’s brought a lot of change to how campaigns operate in terms of fundraising and in terms of targeting

As people turn to the Web for shopping, banking and news, will getting and being influenced by political information be any different? Certainly, the ‘pull’ type of media on the Web may not get to the masses who are still unwired, and who need political information pushed to them by TV or newspapers.

What remains to be seen is how web-marketing techniques change as the electoral field is narrowed to two primary candidates. While the Web will matter in this election, will it also determine outcomes? Will these tools make or break a candidate?

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