Saturday, January 28, 2012

Social Media's First "Win"?

My first exposure to the social media world was the Howard Dean campaign. Dean's website "Dean For America"- which later morphed into "Democracy For America"- became a buzzing hub for ordinary citizens to express their opinions in comments, meetups, fundraising. The now massive website Daily Kos was really a spinoff of the Dean campaign, "Deaniacs" moved to this site and it was here that it took off and cemented itself as the Democrats online beehive. I mention this ancient history, because I recall vividly the media wondering if this online expression, this impressive capacity to raise money, would translate to "boots on the ground". Alas, when push came to shove in Iowa, it was acknowledged, online hype wasn't necessarily real world organization, there was a clear disconnect between social media and real world influence. Since 2004, social media has evolved south of the border and here, wherein concrete impact is more and more apparent, it is really a question of scale of influence now.

Prior to the Liberal Convention I wondered if online perceptions would match real world manifestations:
Of interest to me, does the online "hype" surrounding my guy Crawley translate to real delegates, because I see his candidacy as very much social media driven, very much organic in momentum, does that "buzz" manifest into bodies or another example of the cyberworld overstating practical numbers.

I've had this running theory, that social media is still not a core electoral driver, while it has impact, for the general population, it still hasn't reached critical mass. That acknowledgement doesn't dissuade from an emerging influence, just a recognition that "social media" is still evolving, hasn't quite achieved it's potential. However, I do believe social media is quite important when dealing with a narrow, partisan audience of engaged citizens. Enter the Liberal president race, tailor made to see if social media could make a practical difference. Hard core partisans are delegates, these people are online and interconnected, this limited audience ripe for social media expressions.

Brian Klunder, who worked for the Crawley campaign, put up a piece, detailing how social media was a key player for the campaign:
However, the game has changed in the age of social media. The local MP or Senator is just one voice in a new sea of online opinions and recommendations. Watching Twitter at any given time during the campaign told me more about the amount of momentum the Crawley campaign was carrying than any conversation with “key influencers” in politics. With hashtags like #cdnpoli, #lpc, #lpc12 and #lpcprez the level of online engagement during the campaign was stunning. The goal then was to ensure material was being provided that could influence the social media conversation – whether it be through positive media, blogs, supportive tweets or a candidate that actively engaged conversation – each carried the potential of reaching thousands of people. As well, being aware of both the positive and negative issues being shared on Facebook and Twitter allowed us to fine-tune our messaging to address any concerns.

Much of my sense of how the campaign was going was monitoring social media interactions. I would routinely key in Crawley's name to access "buzz", how things were moving around the cyberworld, as stated earlier it was very organic and grassrooty. My impression was things were moving Mike's way, there was a definite online momentum and these people were delegates, a small, but powerful cadre of rank and file Liberals. Yes, Copps had much of the establishement, but Crawley was being propelled by bloggers, tweeters, facebook people, etc, within a narrow audience, it was quite relevant. As an aside, in the final days the media seemed to key in on a two person race, part of which a perception built by social media. I remained sceptical, because we've seen social media fail before, but if ever there was a situation wherein it could tip the balance, a small group of Liberal delegates seemed fertile ground.

I was stunned when Crawley won, rarely do "insurgents" actually win, but he did, and it was close. As someone said to me just after, it was so close, everyone could say they influenced the result, all these little interactions had impact, they actually changed the direction of the party, it mattered. I think it fair to say that, given the numbers, social media very well did "tip the balance" for Crawley, it manifested itself in a practical and important way. There are still challenges for the wider audience, but within this narrow audience, social media was more than just astroturf and "hype", it was real world, real time, momentum expressed in interconnected fashion, feeding itself and a real vehicle for perceived change.


Red Tory said...

Nice post.

Like you, my first exposure to social media was via the Dean campaign. It was a very exciting experience to feel linked into a grassroots movement with a dynamic online presence.

And then it was crushed by the establishment... Oh well. That was to be expected.

As for Crawley, I subscribed to his Youtube channel because he had some interesting things to say about reforming the LPC. And man, was he ever persistent... Lots of fresh ideas, lots of posts.

What seem to be missing now is a mechanism forming a more direct linkage between social media, the online universe of choice, and the real world of politics.

Steve V said...

I think I was user 3266 at Daily Kos, fun times.