Monday, March 06, 2006

Politics on the Web: Good Advice Bears Repeating

This weekend I attended the Democratic Campaign Institute in Worcester, put on by the state party. I thought it was really a great event, and not just because I spend most of the time causing trouble with Susan from Beyond 495 and Andy from Mass Revolution Now. Presentations varied from advice on how to get people to Democratic Town Meetings to messaging, to canvassing. I was actually most impressed by the presentations from the DNC, which they gave us on a CD, and may try to see if I can put up without violating any sort of terms of service. If not, I'll try to summarize them later for those that couldn't attend.

The last presentation I attended, though, was hosted in part by David from Blue Mass. Group, and was billed as a "Politics and the Web" session. It turned into mostly a primer on the state party's website and on BMG. Susan, who brought her laptop even liveblogged it.

One thing that I wish we had more time to talk about, however, was how campaigns can leverage the Internet in general and the still-emerging progressive Massachusetts blogosphere in particular. Last August, I wrote a post about a report on the Emergence of the Progressive Blogosphere which was put together by Chris Bowers of MyDD and Matt Stoller, then of Blogging of the President, but who is now also at MyDD.

For the benefit of those who were not reading my blog at the time, I'm going to compound the Internet faux pas I made in August by again reproducing the entire Appendix I from the full report. If the number of people who crowded themselves into a conference room of a Worcester hotel is any indication, there are a lot of people who are interested in this subject. I'm sure that Bowers and Stoller won't mind if I highlight their excellent work once again. Here, again, is the advice that they have for local campaigns on how to encourage participation with local blogs:

The power of a single blog is relatively small -- it is the interlinking of blogs into a larger 'blogosphere' that is meaningful. To harness this power and use it to drive message, money and activism, you must invest in organizing this constituency. One cannot e-mail large national bloggers and expect their attention on local candidates or issues. Instead, you need to create your own blogosphere out of existing small and locally focused blogs, and invest time interacting with local online communities. This structure will in the end be of much more use to you. It is important to remember at all times that bloggers are both campaign activists, and a sort of journalist. They can be your friends, but are also third-party observers of your campaign. Here are some tips on interacting with these unique communities:

  1. Hire a 'Netroots Coordinator' and be prepared to work with him or her on money, messaging and organizing. Most organizations hire one and relegate them to a position where they are asked simply to raise money. If you follow this model it is not worth engaging the blogs. A good Netroots Coordinator can deliver messaging, media, and money.
  2. Put up a link on your web site that says 'Got a blog?' Ask for bloggers to give you their name, email, IM, and blog address. This list is valuable -- it is the list of bloggers who are interested in your issue.
  3. Take your list of bloggers and add them to your press release list. Call through to introduce yourself, and invite them to cover events, and if possible give them press passes and access.
  4. Read the blogs who sign up. If you use an 'aggregator' such as, you can read many more blogs much more quickly. Get a sense of who is on your side and who is not. Go into the comment section of various blogs and add comments when relevant.
  5. Hold conference calls with your strategists/candidate. Treat bloggers like friends and allies, but also realize you are on the record.
  6. Periodically do a 'blog round-up' where you email interesting blog posts on your issue to all the bloggers as well as internally.
  7. Link to interesting blog posts from your web site/blog; make sure you link to a few posts that disagree with you. This will lend your online presence more credibility.
  8. Listen and respond to criticism. These are your friends and often not that experienced in politics -- treat them like they are here to learn, not like they are cynical, hard-boiled reporters.
Like I said at the time, as more and more people get access to the Internet, it will be more important for candidates and advocacy groups to get involved. Local bloggers are going to be important for spreading messages that large national blogs, and sometimes even the local mainstream media, aren't going to be interested in. Thanks to Google, people are searching for this information that they can't seem to get elsewhere and finding it on the blogs. If campaigns are smart, they will engage bloggers to make sure that their side of the story is being presented in as many venues as possible.