U.S. elections online campaigns discover social networks (again)

The last U.S. presidential election campaigns put weblogs on the agenda. So what’s the deal this time? Barack Obama’s campaigning website includes a social networking site, MyBarackObama. But what with social networking having been around for quite awhile (in web terms, that is)? Before the 2004 U.S. elections, the mainstream media had hardly noted the existence of weblogs. While blogs had been well-known in the web community at the time, I have to admit I didn’t even recognize Markos Zúniga (dailykos.com) and Matt Stoller (bopnews.com at the time) until way into a little chat we had at the IPDI Politics Online conference 2004. (That was despite my being there accredited as press for my former employer politik-digital.de, which covers pretty much exactly that field of interest, i.e. the intersection of politics and the internet.) What I’m trying to say is: Weblogs were big inside the web community at that time, but not far beyond. Weblogs are still around, way bigger than 2004, but they’ve evolved into a heavy-use, must-have, there’s-no-way-to-go-without-it tool to communicate directly with your stakeholders, voters, supporters and community. But social networking sites?

With social networking sites, it’s pretty different. They’ve been all over the media, in a way that sometimes reminds me of a massive burn-out syndrome. I’m not saying social networking sites are a passing fad. (I don’t think they are – maybe in the way they’re around now, but with some minor issues solved around privacy, going mobile and having some kind of trusted, central digital ID or signature, there’s no end to the desire to be social.) But they surely have lost their fancy, all-new appeal. However, building a social network around a purpose (getting your candidate elected) might actually add a good deal of motivation to your supporting folks out there. So far, it’s mostly been tried to either have your supporters talk to each other (like at the German SPD platform roteblogs.de in 2005), or to coordinate your supporters’ actions from your central HQ (like with Civicspace, which emerged out of the 2004 Howard Dean campaign). Adding a dash of social by mixing those two up might work well.

For everyone interested in campaigning, and how the web can be used to make it more worthwhile, check out Campaigns Wikia.

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