This report aims to provide recommendations for a multi-threaded online political campaign within the Australian political climate. These recommendations will take into account the current state of online technology, the proliferation of this technology within the Australian online community and the implementation of guerilla marketing strategies.
We will begin by examining the phenomenon of online campaigning in the 2004 United States Presidential election which have redefined political campaigning forever. Most notably through the use of weblogs (commonly known as blogs), Meetups, social software, and online fundraising.
Howard Dean a Democrat from the state of Vermont was an early front-runner in the 2004 Democratic Presidential nomination. Dean denounced the 2003 invasion of Iraq along with Democrats who he felt should have more strongly opposed the Bush Administration. Dean pioneered the use of the Internet in campaigning and showed strong fundraising ability; however, he eventually lost the nomination to Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who in turn lost the presidential election to incumbent Republican George W. Bush.
Dean’s presidential campaign was remarkable at the time for its extensive use of the Internet to reach out to its supporters. The candidate’s staff, and occasionally even the candidate, frequently “blogged” while on the campaign trail and even sought advice on important campaign-related decisions — in at least two instances even making decisions through online polls of supporters. By soliciting contributions online, the campaign shattered previous fundraising records for the Democratic presidential primary. The Dean campaign also encouraged its supporters to join monthly Meetups (through the use of http://www.meetup.com), which would lay the groundwork for volunteers at the local level. Dean has been credited with being the first national candidate to play to the strengths of the Internet, in particular by engaging the American public directly in the political process. His Internet success is often attributed to campaign manager Joe Trippi.“Most people thought we were out of our minds,” said Joe Trippi, who midwifed the first online presidential campaign diary as a part of Howard Dean’s 2004 race. “Now I can’t think of a single congressional campaign that doesn’t have one.”
Dean’s Internet-ization campaign approach proved that the Internet could be utilized as an effective organizing tool. The Dean campaign was open to new strategies and forming an “untraditional” campaign, including creating a campaign blog, developing a massive e-mail list of supporters, using online forums and tools such as Meetup.com and his own DeanLink to organize events, rallies, and allowing volunteers to take a key role in the campaign by developing technology tools and organizing events. These strategies helped Dean collect more money than any other Democratic presidential hopeful, recruit more than 500,000 campaign supporters, and propel him to frontrunner status. Because the Dean campaign looked at previous Internet success and then incorporated new and emerging technologies (especially blogs and social software tools), the campaign created a new model to reach out to supporters, fundraise, and communicate. Additionally, the media noticed Dean’s Internet success and wrote extensively about his use of technology, creating even a bigger buzz and generating plenty of earned media that none of the other Democratic candidates were receiving. With all of the publicity, the Dean campaign attracted even more individuals to visit his website, participate in the campaign blog, and attend Meetups.
While blogging in one form or another became a staple of all of the election candidates, few ventured into the realm of podcasting. Podcasting is still fairly new but at the time was barely popularized by the mainstream media. While originally pertaining to audio only, podcasting has now been known to incorporate the posting of video podcasts or vidcasts. Some of the candidates realised the potential of this technology to provide website visitors with audio and video of their campaign trail. For instance, the Republican Conference, the party’s message center on Capitol Hill, now videotapes news conferences and other appearances by GOP leaders, making them available for downloading. With little publicity, nearly 50,000 people have subscribed to the free podcasts, most from outside Washington.
The idea — and the breakthrough achieved by Dean’s campaign — is using the Internet to turn supporters into stakeholders, as well as proselytizers. To that end, both major parties now use their websites as organizing tools, recruiting volunteers and enlisting them to spread what is, literally, the party line. The Republican National Committee (http://www.gop.org) allowed supporters to type in their ZIP code and glean a listing of local talk radio shows to call as well as talking points for them to use during talk back. This concept not only stirred interest in supporters to contact media about these political issues but also to comment on them with a unified, candidate supportive opinion.
“It’s about building … an ongoing community,” Karen Finney, a Democratic Party spokeswoman, said of the dialogue promoted on her party’s website — http://www.dnc.org — which, naturally, includes a blog. “We hope to accomplish buzz,” added Josh McConaha, the party’s Internet director (a job that didn’t exist two years ago). As opposed to television and radio, the Internet is not a tool for narrative but rather for conversation, Boyd said, adding that MoveOn.org selects the issues it get involved in by listening to its participants and looking “to where the energy is.”
Dean also reinvented campaign financing by developing a successful formula for Internet fundraising: a complete Internet strategy of utilizing his online grassroots network, blogs, e-mail, and web-based donations system. Dean, taking McCain’s fundraising success to the next level, counterbalanced the power of big money in politics with an army of small money donors empowered by the Internet. Dean maximized his online fundraising strategies with much success. In the third quarter of 2003, Dean raised nearly $15 million — more than any Democratic presidential candidate ever has in a single quarter. Close to 50 percent of Dean’s donations came through the Internet as did the previous quarter when he raised $7.6 million.117 In the third quarter the campaign received 110,786 online contributions from 84,713 supporters, with the average amount of $61.14. By comparison, the Bush campaign raised $50 million in the third quarter with about $1.5 million coming from Internet donations — just three percent of his total.
Creativity is a big element of online fundraising. In August 2003, when it became known that Bush was interrupting his summer vacation for a Portland, Oregon fundraising dinner with a goal of raising $1 million, the Dean campaign created the “Raise a Million against Bush challenge,” urging Dean supporters to send their donations as part of a virtual fundraiser to equal the amount Bush was expected to raise. Within a week, Dean collected more than $1 million from nearly 18,000 Internet donors, averaging a donation of $50.135 After the challenge, a Dean blog posting completed by Teachout declared victory: “You made the million dollar challenge, you got your friends to give, you brought the rallies their power, you are recreating American politics every minute. This week, you proved that the Dean grassroots can win this election and take back the White House.”
The Clark campaign in November 2003 launched the “Clark04 ZIP(code) Drive” challenge. This fundraising challenge was described on Clark’s website as follows: Do you want to meet with Wesley Clark in your community? Get started today by making a contribution to Clark for President! Then, recruit and challenge other supporters in your community to contribute to Clark04.com as well. The ZIP code that generates the largest number of online donors will earn huge bragging rights AND a visit from Wesley Clark during the upcoming primary season! Symbols are also popular in fundraising challenges. The Kerry campaign brings a hammer down when a goal is reached, while the Dean campaign uses baseball bats for certain fundraising challenges, and the Lieberman campaign has the “JoeMobile” asking supporters to “help fill up the tank”
The Internet has proven to be a breakthrough in tool in presidential campaigning. Citizens are embracing the Internet to connect to the political process. But like any technology, the Internet cannot replace a person’s motivation to become more politically active; it can, however, help educate, inform, and activate citizens. As the Internet grows in importance, campaigns must adapt to this new technological environment. Candidates who fail to recognize the power of the Internet will be left behind. The LA Times predicts that the 2008 election will feature the rise of Podcasting Politicians, as strategists from both parties try to ride the latest trends to secure a victory in 2008. ‘You’ll not only be able to text people with messages, you’ll be able to raise money, deliver video, audio, create viral organizing — where one person sees something really interesting and it gets passed on and on,’ says Donnie Fowler, a Democratic strategist.
Existing Australian Political Websites
The first thing to look at in assessing Australia’s online political landscape is to visit the websites of the major online parties and parliamentary individuals.
I visited a long list of websites for various parties and their affiliated groups and concluded that while some of the larger parties were using some modern technology many had not adopted anywhere near the amount of technology available to help promote their content; and some had websites which seemed to belong to the internet of ten years ago. One thing the major party websites did catch onto was the concept of taking online contributions via credit card, and many offered secure payment facilities.
I visited the Australian Democrats (democrats.org.au), their website was fairly nice in comparison with many others and easy to use. A call to action drew my attention which read:
“Sick of goverment abuse of power? Want more accountablilty? Concerned about human rights? 4 things you can do today: 1. Join 2. Donate 3. Subscribe 4. Volunteer”
The Australian Greens (greens.org.au) also sported a decent design which and media pages which contained links to video and radio multimedia files as well as RSS feeds.
The PM’s website (pm.gov.au) was well designed, and provided media files and press releases like some of the other sites.
How They Stand Up
The majority of the websites seemed to lack call to actions and seemed to simply serve as online repositories for press releases. Voters aren’t interested in press releases, they want to contribute, to interact with websites.
A huge factor in the Dean success was the fact that he let his contributors create the content. Through the ability to comment, vote using online polls, speak their mind in forums. While there are issues regarding spam and the posting of offensive material onto forums and blogs, these things can be dealt with. Promote discussion by allowing people to publish their own ideas on human rights and other important issues on your forums and Yahoo Groups.
For example take a look at the action list on the United States, Republican National Committee (gop.com) website:
|- Host a House Party or Event - Secure Our Borders - Make a Monthly Contribution - Take Our Survey - Create Your Own MyGOP Website||- Join the GOP Team / Log In - Register & Vote - Call Your Elected Officials - Write Letters to the Editor - Call Talk Radio|
In short, I found the majority of Australian political groups’ websites to be fairly uninteresting and difficult to navigate and use. This should provide an advantage in constructing a superior online presence.
A View Towards Future Success
The first step is to build an online presence which not only compares with the opposition but surpasses them is to identify the audience and ensure that communication online meets their needs and expectations.
The web presence should piggyback on other campaign activities such as literature, canvassing and real world advertising to provide a multi-threaded attack.
The ease of RSS has allowed information to spread between websites and users quicker and more efficiently. RSS subscriptions are becoming an alternative to visiting a website and so are becoming an online obligation.
Similarly many of these other technologies allowing easy access to content and user contribution are becoming the norm in the way people use the internet. They facilitate quicker communication and creation of ideas as well as stimulate much more thought and participation in users.
Features of Benefit
A successful political website should contain features such as:
|- Biography - Adequate contact information - Ability to make donations online - Allow voters to run their own fund raising events - Volunteer signup forms - Team tools for volunteers to track activity - Information to help volunteers run house parties - Downloads, fliers, web stickers, or other campaign materials||- Blogs with archives - Forums - Email Newsletters - Podcasts - Online polls regarding issues - Multimedia, audio or video files - RSS feeds|
Another key element in any campaign let alone a successful one is advertising. As mentioned earlier the online strategies should mirror the offline ones and work together to provide a stronger overall campaign.
In fact being the first to offer certain key technologies might allow you to garnish some Australian media coverage along the lines of: “Politicians go Web 2.0” or “The New Face of Online Politics”.
Another aspect of building traffic to your site and interest in your cause is syndication. Human Rights for instance is a global human issue and doing a podcast covering that kind of topic could bring you listeners and supports from around the world and particularly countries with larger online user bases than Australia’s entire population.
You can syndicate your content to websites such as: - Apple iTunes Podcasts - odeo.com - Yahoo Groups (and other eGroups)
Viral Marketing is defined as “Any marketing technique that induces Web sites or users to pass on a marketing message to other sites or users, creating a potentially exponential growth in the message’s visibility and effect.”
Utilizing this growing phenomenon to your own advantage is a great idea. The application however requires some fairly well thought out ideas.
An example might be to draw attention to important or controversial issues targeted at specific voter demographics.
For instance, the fact that in the United States, innocence panels adopting DNA technology have freed 133 people so far, including some on death row.
Voters should know that if someone is wrongfully imprisoned in Australia they might not receive the same fair chance to appeal as those 133 innocent American’s did.
Getting this information out to the public, on the web, in the form of fashionable concern should work to improve the adoption of these opinions and in turn lead to more sponsorship and votes for ones campaign.
Demographics need to be addressed separately. What’s good for tech savvy youth doesn’t always work for their grandparents.
Young adults frequently use the internet so you might be one of the only political forces actively gaining their limited political attention. Additionally youth unable to vote might bring up these controversial issues at the dinner table and further educate their families about your issues.
With the right slogans and spin you could build a series of viral marketing elements to spread around the internet educating Australian citizens about human rights issues as well as encouraging them to vote for you in the upcoming election.
Banners can be used by users to show support for your cause on their blogs, myspace profiles and other online profiles which not only advertise your viral campaign but link back to your website increasing traffic.
One could run competitions encouraging internet users to spread their campaign awareness to reach certain goals. (e.g. for each 1000 signups you will donate $1000 dollars to overseas aid).
Doing these kinds of things could attract some media awareness (or alternatively it could be seeded intentionally to the mainstream media) which could in turn drive additional traffic to your websites.
Glossary of Terms
Blog (Web Log, Online Journal)
Blog is short for weblog. A weblog is a journal (or newsletter) that is frequently updated and intended for general public consumption. Blogs generally represent the personality of the author or the Web site.
Podcast (non-linear online radio),p>Podcasting, a portmanteau of Apple’s “iPod” and “broadcasting”, is a method of publishing files to the Internet, allowing users to subscribe to a feed and receive new files automatically by subscription, usually at no cost. It first became popular in late 2004, used largely for audio files.
Vodcast (non-linear online TV)
Video podcast (sometimes shortened to vodcast) is a term used for the online delivery of video on demand video clip content via Atom or RSS enclosures. The term is an evolution specialized for video, coming from the generally audio-based podcast and referring to the distribution of video where the RSS feed is used as a non-linear TV channel to which consumers can subscribe using a PC, TV, set-top box, media center or mobile multimedia device).
A free online directory of “Over one million audio files—from podcasts and all over the web. Listen, download, subscribe…”
MySpace.com (or MySpace) is a free service that uses the Internet for online communication through an interactive network of photos, weblogs, user profiles, e-mail, web forums, and groups, as well as other media formats. This all-inclusive service is sometimes called a social networking interface. MySpace is a very active site, and additions and new features are being added constantly.
Yahoo Groups (groups.yahoo.com)
Yahoo! Groups is a service from Yahoo! that provides electronic mailing lists. Over the years, Yahoo! bought several other mailing list providers, including the popular eGroups, and combined them with Yahoo! Clubs into one system. Yahoo! Groups is now the most popular and best-known provider of electronic mailing lists. Its main competitor is Google Groups.
Rich Site Summary / Really Simple Syndication is a method to syndicate a sites content. This is done by creating an XML document which summarizes specific site content such as news, blog posts or comments and forum threads.