Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Andrew Kaplan Viewpoint - Presidential Primary and Social Media - Who is Engaging Best Wins!!

I came into the election season with an independent view of the candidates. I had spent time in the fall looking at ways social media would have an impact on the campaigns in the primary and leading up to the election. When the primaries were just heating up, my consulting and advisory practice as a facebook branding expert was also on the rise.

So I started a group on facebook about politics and then started to really look at how facebook was having an impact on the candidates and the election. I noticed a few things immediately.

Obama has very dynamic groups on Facebook and seem to capture the imagination of the college educated and professional class. His groups on facebook linked back clearly to his websites and also were a place of really connecting with the candidate. Reading further into this, Obama early on had recognized the power of social media and networking and had hired one of the early executives of facebook to be on his campaign staff. Basically, Obama new how to engage and build a grass roots organization.

Hillary Clinton on the other hand faced some challenges. Not much was happening in her Facebook groups. In fact, "Anti-Hillary" facebook groups were popping up every day. there were dozens of these groups on facebook. No one from her campaign seemed to pay attention or possibly contact Facebook to have these groups shut down since I believe it goes against the "culture of Facebook" to make derogatory remarks about an individual, even a candidate.
So looking to help out and gain some experience, I sent e-mails into her national campaign's e-mail address on the main website to see if I might help with consulting. NO RESPONSE. The only messages I received from the Clinton Campaign seemed to do with ACCESS.....send a donation and perhaps then we might talk or have you be a volunteer.

I had seen John McCain in person in January and was at his town hall meeting. His rally was engaging, interesting, humorous and warm. He was connecting with the crowd. He recognized that he needed to reach the independent vote and to bring change to Capitol Hill. He surrounded himself with politicians who were moderate and were well versed on reducing spending and healthcare. He also had a relatively young and maverick US Senator at his side Tom Coburn (R-OK). Coburn is energetic, youthful and charismatic. And when question about Healthcare came up, McCain, called upon Coburn to answer......Coburn is a doctor.....(my sense is that he could be on the McCain short list for VP since he has appeal to independent, educated voters and his knowledgable on healthcare....he also works hard to stop frivoulous congressional spending)...

At the town hall meeting, I had a chance to ask a question was about science and math curriculum in public schools and how he might create a way for the US to compete better on the international level in these areas. I also mentioned technology too. He answered in a "political way". He didn't give specifics...he did however show me he had seen a model for this. McCain answered and discussed Ireland and how he had met with the mayor of Dublin and how they have transformed that city into a technological juggernaut. I liked this answer, because it showed that he had a world view and that he had thought about this. McCain won the South Carolina primary two days later. I was impressed with him. I could feel his sincerity. He wants to engage and bring change.

McCain has a facebook group and in fact, in March, he sent out an e-mail about having a March Madness bracket contest for the NCAA basketball tourney. Someone on his campaign was at least working to engage. McCain also is traveling in the "Straight Talk Express". From my viewpoint he does say what is on his mind. This sometimes gets him into trouble, but I respect that he is a maverick.

In April, Hillary's campaign sent her husband and former President Bill Clinton into North Carolina to campaign. I went to see him at a rally in Salibury, NC and had access in the press section. An e-mail had arrived in my mailbox at around 10 pm the night before giving little chance for others to see him He was NOT in Charlotte, but visiting the small towns of the blue collar worker. He discussed policies on global warming, education, and healthcare. He seemed to be enjoying the crowd, but at the same time, I felt that he was just going through the motions for his wife. He even made a joke about it at the rally...about what would happen at home if he didn't go on the campaign trail. He was accessible after the rally to the small crowd of a few hundred who had attended.

I then decided that I would spend some time trying to figure out the "Obama" mystique. What was he doing that was attracting people to his vision and campaign. Was it his message, his charisma or something else? How did Obama come from having no organization to be the leader in the democratic primary? A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from his campaign that they wanted help in "Getting out the Vote". The e-mail did NOT ask for asked for time! It asked for "volunteerisim" and "engagement". The Obama National Campaign had secured office space on one of the "coolest new streets" in Charlotte. On the street was a new upscale bar, a new Starbucks, an new home made Ice Cream shop, and one of the top live music venues. It was also about one block from where the first "early voting" was to occur in Charlotte (Mecklenburg County) beginning April 17th.

I stopped in the Obama HQ and immediately was greeted by 3 volunteers at a long table filled with brochures, pamphlets, "woman for Obama" signups, etc. The volunteers were warm, friendly and inviting. You could feel the excitement and energy. I told them I wanted to find out more about volunteering and I filled out a short form and then was sent over to a table to meet Bruce, who was managing this campaign office. Bruce and I spoke for a few minutes about how I can help, where I lived in Charlotte and then brought me over to meet a young woman named Jori. Jori was the coordinator of the campaign for North Charlotte, Davidson and Huntersville where I lived. She was in a small office she shared with another campaign worker. She was working hard on her laptop. She greeted me and then asked me how much time I had. I told her I had just stopped in to see how I might volunteer and didn't expect to be put to work. I told her I could help for about 90 minutes before I had to leave for my next business meeting. She went into some database on her computer and then printed out about 20 sheets of around 500 names. These were a database of registered democrats in Charlotte. She then handed me a 'telemarketing script' to read for calling and asking people to vote early.

Jori handed me a mobile phone and I started to call. So in less than 20 minutes, I went from someone who wanted to see how I could help to being an active campaign worker. To me that showed great organization. What was more amazing to me, was that these staff members were the ones traveling from state to state and this office had only opened a few days before and was a temporary base. They were so organized. It was impressive.

I was in my element..I had spent a good part of my business career bring contact management and customer relationship management systems such as ACT!, SalesLogix and to Fortune 500 companies and mid-size companies. As a database marketing professional, I saw that they not only were having me call people, but had me circle certain data boxes next to their names. This included where I left a message, had a wrong number, where they were going to support Obama or Hillary. It also asked if they were going to vote early, wanted to volunteer or needed a ride to the polls.

My script also mentioned that we felt there would be long lines due to 200,000+ new registered voters on primary day (May 6th) and we were encouraging voters to use North Carolina early voting at their local libraries starting h. It was an impressive way to organize.

As I finished up about 100 calls, I gave my sheets back to Jori and she told me they would be entered back into the database. She also showed me how each voter was bar coded for easy date entry.

As I was leaving, I learned about door to door canvassing they were coordinating. Even though Jori and these national campaign workers had not been in Charlotte before, she had a large map of her area and was targeting to do a door to door canvassing for "Obama and Early voting" that weekend. Again this was very organized. Although, my schedule did not allow me to participate that weekend, I know that my 12 year old son, told me that someone from Obama's campaign had come to our neighborhood that following Saturday and told him about Obama. From a technology standpoint, they were using geographic mapping systems to plan these.

A few days later, early voting started at our University Libary location. I stopped in at about 6:45 pm Tuesday, a week prior to the official primary day to vote thinking there wouldn't be any lines. The lines were out the door. The majority of voters seemed to be for Obama and energized by the vote. I stopped by the library again on the Saturday (which was the last day of voting) and the line at this point was about 300 people long snaking around...Police where on hand to help with creating extra parking areas. It was no surprise to me that Obama and the early voting initiatives had been effective and he was going to win by a large margine.

Now, here is another thing that separated Obama and Hillary. Hillary's campaign sent me an e-mail that she and Chelsea would be at the 20,000 seat NBA Bobcat arena with Chelsea. I really wanted to see her too, to understand and hear her unfiltered from the press. There was one catch and a "turnoff".....yes I could go see her, but if I wanted to be up close, I would have to fork over $250.00 for a seat up front or $75 for a seat a little ways back....There were also free seats, but I am thinking they are the what is Hillary's message......I will only talk to you or let you close if you have MONEY!!!!.....Seemed to me it resonated in the same way the lobbyist in Washington worked. She is trying for grass roots fundraising, but it seems it is too self serving and too late. Her campaign is out of money.

By contrast, I was invited to two Obama events in Charlotte. One with Obama himself and the other with his wife Michelle. It was open to the public and encouraged us to invite whomever we wanted. He wanted to get his message out. He wasn't looking for a handout.

Hillary did arrive in the state and was supported by our governor. She did make stops in other areas of the state. Yes I guess these were "free"stops, but it wasn't in Charlotte.

So here is my take.......
McCain who had little funding during his campaign, won because he engaged the crowds and had a message that was to bring change to Washington, DC. He was accessible and showed he could admit he didn't have all the answers himself. He was self-deprecating...and enjoyable to be around. You also got a sense he was a true patriot and truly loved this country.

Obama was like a CEO of a well oiled startup company ready for great success. His campaign was loaded with energy, youth, technology and a spirit of changing the world. His little campaign headquarters also was very mixed in demographics there were people of all ages and races working there....including a very bright staff member who actually was from Vancouver, CA and a recent political science grad.

Hillary to me was like the old time politician...She wanted money....she said she was listening, but actually made it difficult to get close unless you had money...and never had any one from her website respond to inquiries. She was not creating "relationships" either in the facebook or web community nor in real life. Bill was doing the connecting and probably could win if he ran again, but it was clear that the voters separated Hillary and Bill in style. Hillary is impressive in the battle to break the glass ceiling. Perhaps her appeal is more to the older and woman voter, so I may have not been her target audiene.

Bottom line on the day after the election in Charlotte, NC (Mecklenburg County)....Obama won 70% to 29% ..........His juggernaut is in place and will be very formidable.....He showed that he could beat one of the top and most experienced and respected campaign organizations - the Clintons.

Last looking at this day an age loyalty is priceless. Obama has loyalty from his followers.Hillary does not have high level people loyal to her..people who worked in the White House and in Bill Clinton's cabinet with her are backing Obama. Those are the ones that had "access" and know her best.

My predication, I am seeing McCain pick a youthful VP (perhaps Tom Coburn), and I see Obama choosing a loyal experienced "centrist" democrat (perhaps Joe Biden who can bring the party together at the convention and offset McCain's "experience".

I don't see Hillary as the nominee for many of the reasons stated above. Even though she may be out of money, she had things that were free and engaging to reach an audience ...Facebook and other social media. She didn't do this and I think she lost the youth vote because of this.

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