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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Bypassing Bloggers

For all my skepticism about the conservative “Rebuild the Party” movement, it does appear that its avatar, Patrick Ruffini of NextRight, is offering his party some very good advice. He now has a post up schooling Republicans who are just discovering the internet and the phenomenon of bloggers about the real New Media lessons of the Obama campaign:

The mainstream things people do online are 1) e-mail, 2) connect on Facebook and MySpace, and 3) watch video on YouTube…. [T]he advertising value of all Obama videos watched on YouTube was huge: over $46 million and bigger than the media budget for most primary and general election campaigns.
The difference between the Obama campaign and every other campaign is that they treated the online space as a mass medium, and not just a niche medium for the very interested. They announced online. They did their VP via text message. And they built up an e-mail list that was equal to almost 20% of their voters. They were maniacally focused on building up their e-mail list at every opportunity, requiring e-mail to attend events — and even setting up dummy registration pages late in the campaign for events where an RSVP wasn’t even required.

And as Ruffini points out, Team Obama paid relatively little attention to the blogosphere, and in fact, much of what they did bypassed bloggers and appealed directly not only to self-conscious “netizens” but to a broad swath of the technology-using public. Meanwhile, more traditional campaigns, and the Republican Party generally, still think of blogger-outreach as extremely hip:

I’ve been on numerous campaigns, some more open than others when it comes to technology. But even those campaigns that were more skeptical — and whose bunker mentality caused them to lose — always latched on to blogger relations. Blogger outreach is always the easiest thing to sell to a campaign because it’s like the thing that traditional communications people most understand — namely, pitching to reporters….
While new media is replacing old media, the model is still the same: campaigns passing along information to influential reporters/bloggers/Twitterati, and counting on them to spread the word to the general public. The Obama campaign showed that this model could be superseded. Through its 13 million strong list, the millions of people who would consume content all-digitally on YouTube, and the 2 million tied to the campaign umbilically through MyBO, the campaign built its own in-house messaging engine and didn’t need the netroots, either in the primary or the general. Of the dozens of moving parts to Obama’s online campaign, blogger outreach was probably the only one that got short shrift.

To put it another way, the Obama campaign typically treated bloggers as unnecessary “gatekeepers” that could be bypassed, much as bloggers have treated the would-be opinion-leaders of the MSM. And progressive bloggers were among the first to figure that out, and (to their credit) appreciate it.
I continue to think that Ruffini’s tech-heavy GOP reform effort can only get the party so far if it remains unwilling to reconsider its ideology and policy agenda. But he’s right to worry that too many Republican pols hear the words “new media” and think of it as it existed two or four years ago.

One comment on “Bypassing Bloggers

  1. Jon on

    Agreed: a very insightful post by Patrick.
    Do you really think that bloggers came to appreciate the Obama campaign’s approach? At least in the progressive blogosphere, I certainly saw a lot of posts bemoaning the Obama campaign’s lack of attention to bloggers and talking about what a huge mistake this was going to be. There’s also a general dismissiveness for social networks — Paul Rosenberg’s We’re so lame was a good summary of this. It’s striking to me that nobody built on Get FISA Right and 100,000 Strong against Evan Bayh’s lead by using blogs to catalyze social network activism; it was even more striking that the progressive blogosphere largely missed Join the Impact, which used a wiki/social network organization to go from an idea to 150,000+ people in the streets in ten days.
    So the way I see it, bloggers are threatened by loss of their gatekeeping power, just as the MSM was; and they’re reacting by dismissing the new medium.


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