“People don’t expect the government to get it”

29 09 2009

Government agencies have a front row seat to the show; they are observing the importance for candidates and big businesses to engage their audiences personally and interactively, while remaining somewhat excused from the consumer expectations of an active online presence that exists in other industries. But as government agencies begin to implement social media platforms, a new standard is set.

Everyone I go I hear talk about swine flu, and as such an important and widely discussed current issue it’s no surprise that rumors have developed and H1N1 hysteria has ensued. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a major component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is aimed at providing accurate and official information regarding disease prevention and health education to better the lives of the American public. In carrying out this mission amidst the current H1N1 outbreak, the CDC has recently launched a social media campaign that provides information, guidance and support for audiences available through almost every aspect of new media; an approach that even Ad Age has praised as revolutionary.

The big issue here is not that the CDC has implemented social media. If that was the noteworthy aspect, we could praise almost every business out there. Instead, we see an industry that has remained previously untouched by technological advances until having the realization that its audience have practically abandoned traditional methods of seeking health information. The Pew Internet & American Life Project found in a June 2009 study that the American public has become almost solely dependent on the internet for health information. This conclusion transformed the task of the CDC in arming the American public for battle against H1N1.

In true best practice style, the CDC searched social media sites prior to launching the campaign to find out where people were misguided and the assumptions or stereotypes people held about H1N1. They searched on Twitter, scanned Facebook pages for group discussions and read blogs only to discover that many of the “facts” about the H1N1 virus were simply false. It was after gathering this information and in response to it that the CDC implemented its campaign to bridge these gaps in knowledge in a way that would actually impact consumers.

While government agencies and departments are not usually compared to or held to the same standards as corporations in consumer relations and social media, the CDC raises the bar for even the most progressive Fortune 500 companies and we can expect other governmental agencies to follow suit.

HOW Interactivity is Changing The Campaign Trail

27 09 2009

In my last post, we saw an example of the “groundswell” in action and evidence that the modern American public is seeking interactivity in politics. Given this insight, we will investigate HOW this psychographic change is impacting politicians on the campaign trail.

In less than six weeks, my home state of Virginia will head to the polls to elect a new governor. As most gubernatorial races prove to be, the battle between Creigh Deeds (D) and Bob McDonnell (R) has been largely orchestrated by grassroots politics. This concept, explained simply in Hank Wasiak’s February blog post, acknowledges the power that lies in the hands of individuals and communities when they choose to get engaged; in this case, the power to carry a candidate into office.

When politicians choose to run for state or local politics, a strong grassroots organization is vital. In Joe Garecht’s blog Local Victory, he discusses the mistakes candidates often make in developing this network. Garecht explains the importance of targeting the audience you need to reach with his example of a politician shaking hands outside of a grocery store; blindly implementing a campaign plan without considering the audience is a waste of both time and money.

Garecht’s insight transcends to the political arena emerging online with social media. While new media can be an effective way to reach groups that may be otherwise inaccessible, posting daily tweets on Twitter or registering for a Facebook is a waste of time if your audience isn’t active in these communities.

Considering this, it is interesting to examine the social media activity of both candidates in Virginia’s gubernatorial race. Both McDonnell and Deeds have aggressive presences on Twitter, a social media site which Nielsen Wire studies have shown is dominated by working adults ages 35-49.

By keeping up to date on each of the candidate’s Twitters and reading Project Virginia’s blog on the topic, it is interesting to see a difference in how each of the candidates use this media. Deeds in particular has focused his tweets on his personal life, establishing a relationship with his followers by discussing his family and his feelings as he continues on the campaign trail. He has also used this medium to rally his followers together by tweeting criticisms of his opponent and encouraging them to take action in online petitions.

McDonnell has focused his tweets more heavily on his future plans for Virginia and fundraising, but I was also very surprised to see that he (or perhaps a member of his campaign team) was actually posting tweets during a live debate with Deeds to criticize what his opponent was saying in the conversation.

This brings us back to Garecht’s blog and suggests that perhaps McDonnell is reaching out to two different audiences within the same age group at once; the audience that is watching the debate and one that is surfing online and would have missed what was said in the debate if not for updates on a social media site. The psychographic change in what consumers are looking for is requiring politicians to develop outreach plans for several different groups and meet audiences where they are, but it is also expanding their reach and opening up the possibility to speak to previously unaccessible audiences if they put in the effort.

Look Who’s Talking

23 09 2009

For centuries, the link between the media and politics has been evident and influential on public opinion and political decisions. The opening chapter of Jim Willis’ book, The Media Effect, highlights page after page of anecdotes documenting examples of times in our recent history that political action; be it declaration of war, presidential elections, or decisions to enter and aid distressed nations, were determined by the media’s portrayal of the event.

As Chuck Tyron discusses in his blog, The Chutry Experiment, the notion of activists filming small, unheard of events is not a novel one. But as video recording and editing equipment becomes cheaper and more mainstream, this fad is expanding beyond the most extreme of activists with agendas focused solely on propelling their ideals.

In rising frequency, we are seeing ordinary citizens transform into trusted journalists before our You Tube-hooked eyes. This cultural phenomenon, based on the rising trust in peers over big businesses, is being called the groundswell and suggests that no longer must one obtain a Journalism degree or achieve a reporting job at a media conglomerate to reach such a lofty position as to influence public opinion and alter the course of the government.

On September 12, Glenn Beck supporters charged the Capitol lawn in Washington to protest Obama’s healthcare reform and administration in general. Among them were journalists from every news organization assigned to cover the event, as well as hundreds of independent reporters that showed up in jeans and sneakers.

One of these reporters was Max Blumenthal, a tongue-in-cheek, self-proclaimed “investigative reporter” who is challenging modern journalism with a camera and a tight grasp on social media.  Blumenthal’s piece spent every second of his nearly seven minute piece to beat down and poke fun at the tea-bagger party with clever comments and smart editing used to direct the viewer’s attention from one extremist to the next. His video, posted on YouTube shortly after the event, has already reached over 107,000 views and generated almost 1,500 comments- proof that Americans are turning to social media sites to not only get news information but also to make decisions on political issues.

The day of striking deals with newspaper companies or news organizations is over because these conglomerates aren’t the only ones out there anymore; independent reporters and individual citizens are now speaking up. By enlisting the use of non-traditional social media to accelerate their exposure to audiences that would be otherwise unreachable,  citizens are bringing a new face to politics. And you can bet that on September 26 when Mt. Vernon hosts “Glenn Beck Day,” an event officially closed off to the press, everyone else’s eyes, ears, and cell phone cameras will be wide open.