Social Networking in 2008 - All About the Niche

One of the biggest process/tactics stories of the 2006 election cycle is the rise of social networking as a campaign tool.  Candidates caught on to the fact that young voters are a demographic they need to be courting - particularly progressive, who currently have a naturaladvantage in this demographic -  and that social networks were the place to do that.

On November 8th and 9th, there will be plenty of stories about the role of social networking in the midterm elections.  If current predictions hold, most likely those stories will focus on how social networking played a key role in turning out young voters.  Hopefully for Democratic candidates.

But what have candidates really done with their social networking profiles, and what will they need to do in 2008 to take this campaign tool to the next level?

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Social Capitalists and The Opportunity Gap

Cross-posted at Future Majority

I've finally finished Applebee's America (damn is it hard to find time to read these days).  The book doesn't have much new to say, at least not if you've been paying attention to political/business strategy discussions or have spent any time reading about the GOP 2004 GOTV strategy.  

In a nutshell - "Gut Values" connections, not policy proposals, are what win voters; people group by lifestyle affinities not ideology; and word of mouth trumps broadcast advertising.  Essentially the book is a strategy memo about framing and community-building told in the language of  cutting-edge corporate marketing.  

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, then I suggest reading it.  If my last paragraph sounded very familiar, you can probably pass on this book.  There are some good case studies, and a few rudimentary how-tos, but mostly the book builds an argument in favor of life targeting as a tactic.  By far the freshest piece of information, to me, was the description of mega churches.  Sosnik, Dowd and Fournier tell a good tale about the rise and practices of mega-churches, and their descriptions definitely broke down some stereotypes I was holding onto.  

Most interesting to me was the discussion of Millenials - or what the authors label "Generation 9/11."   

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Campaign Review: John Edwards' One Corps

Cross-posted at Future Majority

This is the second in a series of reviews of democratic presidential campaign websites dedicated to young voters.  As I previously outlined, my purpose in writing these is to provide a useful critique that our presidential contenders can use to improve their outreach to younger voters.  The first review in this series examined YouthRoots, a project of Mark Warner's now-defunct presidential campaign.

This second review will focus on John Edwards and the One America Committee.  Currently, the One American Committee does not have a youth-specific program, making this a somewhat akward and out-of-bound review for my chosen topic.  However, what One America does have is One Corps - an interesting program that I think overlaps philosophically and technologically with elements that can make for a solid campaign to engage voters under 30.  

Still in Beta, One Corps is an attempt to build a social network for local activism.  A facile yet easily graspable description might be to say that it attempts to mashup the social networking of Friendster with the online-to-offline movement of MeetUp in the service of a sizable number of ambitious electoral and social justice goals:

  • Fight poverty in their local communities; addressing important local needs through community organizing and service projects.

  • Help elect local, state and federal candidates who support One America ideals, and who are fighting for all Americans.

  • Register new voters for this November's election.

  • Assist with important statewide ballot initiatives, like those seeking to raise the minimum wage in AZ, CO, MO, MT, NV, and OH.

  • And, spread the message of One America by writing letters to the editor, calling local radio stations, talking with other members of their communities at events and meetings, and recruiting new members to the One Corps community.  

It is by now a matter of conventional wisdom that, more so than our parents' generation, Millenials are a community-oriented generation of volunteers.  More and more, we are producers of information as much as we are consumers, and we are looking to participate in the lives of our communities.  As Robert Putnam has reported (pdf), we are the only generation whose level of community service and participation has maintained an increase since 9/11.  So while I don't consider One Corps to be a replacement for a dedicated youth outreach, its focus on giving back to the community and working locally on a range of issues that cross the line between strict electoral politics and opportunities with a more social justice flavor is clearly something that could attract younger voters.  

If constructed properly, One Corps could accommodate the coordination needs of the youth arm of a presidential campaign.  In both form and content it has the potential to attract a large pool of younger voters.  It doesn't hurt that the One America Committee already promotes One Corps on MySpace. Let me emphasize, however, that when Senator Edwards does begin to ramp up a dedicated youth outreach program, he will need to create a broader strategy that taps multiple social networks - including niche networks that target more specific subcultures - and devise a way to integrate that work with One Corps. This strategy will also need to provide young supporters their own networked community with within the larger realm of Edwards supporters and One Corps chapters.

That said, let's dig in and see what One Corps is all about.  As in my last review, I'll tackle One Corps section by section noting what is good, what's bad, and what is missing.  

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Who's Really Using Social Networks?

Cross-posted at Future Majority

By now there is a standard story about social networks and politics.  It goes something like "Young people congregate on MySpace and other social networks.  If politicians want to tap the power of the youth vote that emerged in '04, they need a presence on these networks.  This is starting to happen, and FaceBook and MySpace administrators are actively facilitating it."

But who really is on social networks?  A new study suggests that social networking isn't just for young people.  In fact, it's mostly for folks over 34.

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Campaign Review: Mark Warner's YouthRoots

As the Democratic presidential primary begins, candidate websites are coming online.  Politicians are starting to take notice of young voters, and some are starting to build a base among millenials.  With that added attention comes new programs - many of which attempt to leverage social networks and new technologies to reach out to the millennial generation.  

As these programs and websites launch, I'm going begin writing reviews of these efforts at Future Majority These will be honest critiques of both design and program aspects of the candidate's youth outreach efforts.  They are not intended to be mean-spirited or snarky swipes at politicians who don't get it.  I hope that these will be read more as strategy memos meant to help candidates increase their support among young voters.  I don't really have a horse in the race yet, so my biases are small and I hope to keep them out of these reviews.  At the end of the day, it's all about increasing the ability of Democrats to engage Millennials.

First up in this series is Virginia Governor Mark Warner, who this week launched YouthRoots, the youth arm of his Forward Together PAC.

The website basically consists of four chunks:  Video/Feature Content, Sign-up/Action, Testimonials, Links.  I'll tackle each chunk separately, providing review of what's good, what's bad, and what's missing.

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