Our MySpace Experiment
by Joe Rospars, Wed May 02, 2007 at 03:36:10 PM EDT
I won't have time to post today, but you should read this post from TechPresident. The account written here does not quite accord with what Micah reported--Matt
Hi, I'm Joe Rospars and I'm the New Media Director at Barack Obama's campaign. There have been a lot of questions and comments in this community related to our MySpace profile, and so I wanted to come by and clarify how we got here and answer questions.
Our campaign started quickly. People around here say that this has been like building an airplane in mid-air, having already taken off. This is especially true of the New Media operation. While the campaign in general is going from zero to sixty, our team is at the same time charged with exploring the new ways we can build relationships between Barack and his supporters, and foster relationships among supporters themselves.
When it came to MySpace, we decided to take a leap. We decided to make the attempt to combine the organic support and community-building of a grassroots effort with the official campaign outreach efforts.
In many ways this mirrors what has happened on the campaign's own web site. On February 10th, the day Barack announced his candidacy in Springfield, we launched My.BarackObama.com has an unprecedented public utility for supporters.
Even on the campaign's own web site, the organizing efforts and community-building by the grassroots has outpaced the growth of the traditional campaign infrastructure. On the site, over 11,500 people have created their own blogs about everything from their issue priorities to their personal experience campaigning locally. Thousands of events have been planned using the events tool (social events, planning meetings, small fundraisers), and tens of thousands of people have RSVPed to these grassroots-driven gatherings.
And over 5,000 grassroots volunteer groups have been founded -- in many states, these groups will be the only organizational presence the campaign has. Even in the early states, staff organizers are hitting ground in places where volunteer groups have already been meeting and organizing. One of the first orders of business for new staff on the ground is getting to know the grassroots who have already started building the movement.
When it comes to MySpace, I'm not sure if a campaign of this size has ever teamed-up with a grassroots volunteer on this scale, but we wanted to give it a try.
Joe Anthony's great work was building community at the www.myspace.com/barackobama address, and so we contacted him.
At that point, the profile had about 40,000 friends, and to our delight, Joe agreed to work with us. Indeed, he seemed relieved to have some help -- he gave us the password, and we began to exchange content, work together, and continue growing this community from the ground-up. We created images that he (and others online) could post, and began going through the process of preparing the profile to be "official" by combing through the content and establishing a plan to ensure that everyone who tried to contact the campaign through the profile received an answer. (People wrote messages and comments in huge numbers, virtually all addressed to Barack or the campaign -- "Will you come speak at my graduation?", "Where do you stand on issue X?", "How can I help locally?", etc.)
We started talking to Joe about formalizing the arrangement, preserving his work building the community, and talking through how to preserve his involvement in the direction and development of the profile.
For a time, both the campaign and Joe had mutual access. Soon after, MySpace launched a promotional campaign to direct traffic to the official candidate pages. The campaign allowed MySpace to promote this unofficial profile because, strictly speaking, there was no official presence. And so MySpace began featuring the profile in candidate promotions -- and the friends and workload grew.
We knew Joe had a full-time job already, and, early on, we floated the idea of moving to Chicago to work for us full-time (potential staffers were moving to Chicago and join the team at that time, and there were openings). I totally agree when Chris Bowers says that the New Media/online outreach efforts of campaigns should be a priority -- and we have built an operation here in Chicago and in the early states that reflects that posture.
But Joe seemed to prefer to volunteer part-time from the outside with the campaign to continue building the community. He said he was honored to help out, and we were honored to work with him. We worked through the complications that arose: letting Joe know that he shouldn't work on the site from work, educated him about the rules governing campaign promotion of official Senate material, etc. Joe was right with us, and things continued down the path towards making this unofficial community into an official space run with help from volunteers.
As we progressed, we began to work-up paperwork that would codify this arrangement -- ensuring that the campaign would have full access (what if someone put up an obscene comment during the day while Joe was at work?), and assuming the liability burden (legally, ethically, and politically) for what happened on the site.
At the same time, though, the community had skyrocketed. Nobody expected the grassroots to respond this campaign in such large numbers the way they have, and the rapid growth of the MySpace profile once the MySpace Impact Channel began promoting the various candidates is yet another example of the appeal of Barack. We were well over 100,000 friends, and the burden of administering such a profile became immense.
Unfortunately, at that point, Joe changed the password on the profile, and didn't give us the new one, like he had done in the past. This changed the previous dynamic, and we could no longer access the profile at a moment's notice if need be. We asked Joe what was needed to restore access, and subsequently we received the list of itemized financial requests that have been discussed elsewhere.
This made us uncomfortable. Every day, MySpace was driving tens of thousands of people to the page on the premise that this was more or less our "official" presence -- yet we had no access to the content on the page, and no ability to be responsive to the thousands of messages coming in from supporters seeking information or action from the campaign.
We talked to Joe and made clear that we truly wanted to incorporate the community into the campaign's official presence, but that if these financial demands were a precursor to the campaign having access at all, that we would need to start with an official profile separately and have MySpace promote that instead.
And so it became clear that we needed to have MySpace point people at something we had at least basic access to -- immediately. In MySpace, politicians, musicians, and other public figures have the right to their own name (www.myspace.com/barackobama, www.myspace.com/hillaryclinton, etc.), and so we asked MySpace for use of that URL and to ensure that any promotion of "official" profiles for candidates be directed to the new profile our team created.
The community of the 160,000 still exists, and we've made sure that MySpace will let Joe have access to the community he helped build. And we hope we can continue to work with him to make that as effective as it can be.
At the end of the day, this is all new for everyone -- this Joe, that Joe, and everyone participating or commenting on it. We're flying by the seat of our pants, and establishing new ways of doing things every day. We're going to try new things, and sometimes it's going to work, and sometimes it's not going to work. That's the cost and that's the risk of experimenting. Joe launched this profile for all the right reasons, and for a while grew it with us.
But the ultimate purpose is building a community around the idea that ordinary people can come together and affect change in this country. Barack Obama is the candidate I believe can transform the process and make that change happen.
And, to the extent that more and more people every day come to that same conclusion, my bet is that both profiles will continue to grow.