Campaign 2.0: Upgrading your Campaign

Originally posted on and written by Benjamin A. Katz

Web 2.0 is a term that gets thrown around a lot. It refers to many different aspects of new technology, although it isn’t always clear which pieces of technology are and aren’t Web 2.0. In fact, if you have a conversation with different technology advocates, you’ll probably get competing definitions and applications.

Basically, Web 2.0 is the idea that the internet can be used to empower people, paired with new technology that allows for more rapid development and faster applications. It allows you to provide tools so that people can develop their own content and make their own connections. Sites like MySpace and Flikr have been heralded as Web 2.0 icons.

The parallel idea of Politics 2.0 has been discussed quite a bit, too. Some presidential campaigns have used people power to develop their own ads and messages, with mixed results.

This article is about neither Web 2.0 nor Politics 2.0. This is about Campaign 2.0, or taking some of the best Web 2.0 ideas and combining them with the best aspects of a classic campaign. Campaigns want to contact and empower supporters without losing control of their message. Campaign 2.0 can help you do exactly that.

Campaign 2.0 Idea #1: Distributed Campaigns

Sharing data and information is one of the central tenets of Web 2.0. The internet makes it easy for people to go to one source that combines the knowledge of a large group of people. A great example of this is Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia edited entirely by users.

While some may complain that Wikipedia is in danger of having inaccurate information, particularly in less popular sections, the overall site is an impressive source of knowledge from across a wide spectrum of topics.

Campaigns can learn from this Web 2.0 concept without giving up too much control. The key idea here is sharing your resources within your campaign. If you have all your data in one centralized system, whether its fundraising information or supporters addresses, then everyone working with the campaign has the chance to check that data and make updates themselves.

The difference for campaigns is that you can control which people you give access to and what they’re allowed to do. You don’t want your volunteer to see your financial information? No problem. There’s no reason they still can’t add new addresses.

And going beyond just a central database, you can set up things like distributed phone banks, which allow supporters to get a list of neighbors, call them with a set of questions, and then quickly send those answers back to the campaign. With a well designed system, supporters can make those calls and update the information from the comfort of their homes.

Campaign 2.0 Idea #2: Constant Communication

The internet was designed for speedy communication and has only gotten faster and more efficient over time.  However, with Web 2.0 we’ve moved from rapid communication to constant communication. With sites like Twitter and tools like BlackBerrys, it’s now easier to stay in constant touch. The exact same message can be pushed to web-pages, RSS feeds, cell phones and more.

While not all internet tools have a direct value to campaigns, the concept of constant communication certainly does.  Campaigns have been using rapid response for crisis management for years. Campaign 2.0 means doing that faster, as well as constantly keeping your volunteers and supporters informed and involved.

Tools like blogs allow supporters to get regular updates on what the campaign and candidate are doing. And due to the personal nature of blogs, they can often make supporters feel more connected to a candidate. You can also make sure people see your updates even if they don’t come back to your website directly with tools like RSS feeds.

Campaign 2.0 also includes what we might think of as old style communications, like email and blast faxes – yes, faxes can be web 2.0. The entire concept here is to use technology to get your message out to people faster and more efficiently.

Campaign 2.0 Idea #3: The Long Tail

The Long Tail refers to businesses that sell small amounts of a large variety of products. is a great example of this. A large proportion of their book sales come from obscure books, rather than bestsellers. This is also true for the movie rental site Netflix, which reports that more people rent lesser-known films than box office successes.

A 2.0 Campaign can use the long tail to go after an electoral majority without using the biggest issues of the day.  We often focus on a couple of major issues that dominate election news and debates (Iraq, the Economy, Social Issues).  But there are thousands of long tail issues, ranging from local politics in a given state to interest groups. There is an avid fisherman vote. There is a video game player vote. There is even a ferret owner vote. Because of the proliferation of places where people get together to discuss and share views on the internet, candidates can access these voters while still devoting major media time to the larger issues. A Web 2.0 candidate can win by focusing on the long tail.

Campaign 2.0 Idea #4: Voters as Participants

Just as Wikipedia lets anyone write an entry in the encyclopedia, some campaigns have experimented with letting supporters manage the campaign. Some people have described this as letting the inmates run the asylum.  It has huge risks but it can also have huge benefits.  When your supporters are given real power, they feel much more involved in your campaign. And an excited base of volunteers can be golden for a campaign. But there’s also potential to do real damage, since this approach almost inherently means a complete lack of message control. 

You saw this with the Howard Dean campaign and this cycle Ron Paul is taking the concept

even farther. Ron Paul has done very well with fundraising, considering he is what is traditionally referred to as a “fringe candidate,” and he has gotten a lot more press coverage because of it. But because anyone can provide content, he’s also gotten vocal support from neo-Nazi organizations and no candidate wants to be known for that sort of association. To a large extent, Ron Paul no longer has any significant amount of control over his campaign’s message.

Going this route can be dangerous, so it should be carefully considered. No candidate has yet won a national election using this method. Despite all his press, Ron Paul is still considered an outsider with little chance of winning. It’s the Hail Mary pass of political tactics.

Campaign 2.0 in the Real World

I’ve already mentioned a little about the ways that can help drive Campaign 2.0.   Part 2 of this article (coming soon) will discuss the real tools that can help you in your Campaign 2.0 efforts.

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