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UW Election Eye 2012

Campaign 2012 through the eyes of UW faculty and students

September 11, 2012 at 6:45 AM

Obama team winning the digital campaign, but grassroots want more

The Democratic National Convention last week took on social media and garnered a flood of tweets. But one organizer says the Obama campaign has lost sight of its digital roots of engaging people in local participation.

The “I’m There” Flickr Project for the Democratic National Convention (Photo by Amber Cortes/ UW Election Eye)

CHARLOTTE — The Democratic National Convention was hailed by its leaders as the “most open and accessible convention in history — reaching more Americans than ever before through a diverse set of social media platforms.”

True, absolutely true. But not good enough for some.

The DNC could be found last week on a dizzying array of social media platforms — flickr, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google +, Foursquare, Pinterest, and Instagram. A DNC mobile app helped delegates and media navigate the convention and broader Charlotte (though there was no platform for BlackBerry, so I couldn’t use it). There was also a website with an interactive delegate map and a livestream of the speeches every night.

In terms of social media presence, the Obama campaign is winning the race. Consider that the Republican National Convention in Tampa — where the RNC headquartered a social media “Command Center” — was the focus of over 4 million tweets during the convention — whereas the DNC was the focus of more than 5 million tweets by the second day.

But is the Obama campaign truly engaging their base through digital media? Hmmm. Interesting question.

A recent Pew study shows that neither campaign is really using the “social aspect” of social media — that is, the part in which grass

A Pew study of the both Presidential candidates showed Obama outpacing Romney, but neither campaign engaging much (Chart by Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, August 15, 2012)roots citizens are actually part of the conversation and campaign. During the two weeks of the study, the Obama twitter campaign only retweeted 3% of citizen posts. Much more, though, than Mitt Romney’s team: During this same period, the Romney campaign retweeted a citizen post once — and that citizen was Romney’s own son.

Jim McBride is the founder of Network for Progress, a website that seeks to build online and offline communities for “social and media-savvy grassroots organization.” He attended the DNC and saw many missed opportunities for sharing some of the content that was coming out of the convention halls. For example, he said, by 11 a.m. the morning after Michelle Obama’s speech, although the video was posted to the official Obama YouTube channel, he had yet to see the video link shared through their Facebook or Twitter feeds.

“There’s a lot of things where you can leverage social media to get out information, and they’re kind of settling for the donation ask email or some other piece of content like a picture, but the real power was that video,” McBride said.

He cited the President’s recent appearance on Reddit as another example of good but not great usage of digital media.

“Just because you’re on Reddit doesn’t mean that you fully maximize the potential of those kind of platforms,” McBride says. “There’s so much to it that goes beyond just having a presence. Like making sure that if you have good content you’re sharing it.”

A wireless router setup at the Time Warner Arena on September 5th, 2012 (Photo by Amber Cortes/UW Election Eye)

Another aspect that marred the accessibility of the DNC was wireless problems. Despite massive preparations to place WiFi hotspots around Time Warner Arena, many journalists complained that wireless access was poor if not even impossible at many locations. Downstairs in the cavernous media basement major news networks were sectioned off behind a labyrinth of blue curtains, while the masses of journalists without assigned seating and bloggers jockeyed for Ethernet cords plugged into long tables in the back. Attempts to get online at a “specialty media lounge” upstairs (sponsored by Microsoft!) proved unsuccessful.

McBride says the WiFi fail was a massive oversight — people not in the official media room couldn’t get online and share live.

“I was in a DNC Youth Council meeting,” he explained, “and Jill Biden  showed up. I have an older phone, so I tweeted a little bit about the event but I feel like I wasn’t able to engage as well as if I had my laptop going.”

McBride started a Generation Obama chapter in the Washington, D.C., area in 2007; it’s what became the launching pad for Network for Progress. He says that as the establishment gets more involved with the Obama digital campaign, many of the digital grassroots organizing tools that were starting to develop in 2008 are being underutilized this time around.

“Like empowering the volunteers to become leaders beyond ‘phone bank captain,’” he says, or “hosting a meet up, or creating a social media team that that works together to get out a message online within the local community.”

Building a strong grassroots political base on a local level means being dynamic, McBride suggests, and the Obama campaign could get creative, by getting in to other areas of media, like art. He pointed to the “Hope” art drawing of Obama in 2008.

“[That] was something that was totally grassroots-inspired,” McBride says. “And now it’s iconic, and it helps elevate Obama beyond being a politician. He’s a media icon.”

Similar grassroots and digital examples by the Obama camp are harder to come by in 2012. McBride says finding inspiration from the bottom-up will help the campaign gain momentum. After all, in the digital era, citizens have the potential to be movers and shakers, to get the media and the politicians’ attention.

“In the end if a million people say they want Betty White on Saturday Night Live,” he says, “guess what: Betty White is on Saturday Night Live!”

A similar grassroots Facebook campaign was created to get Betty White to to show up at the Democratic National Convention— and if the Obama camp was listening, we’ll never know, but Ms. White was nowhere to be found.

Comments | More in National | Topics: Barack Obama, Democratic National Convention, digital media


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