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Social Networking and Politics: Turning a Local Race Global

As I continue to look back on the long 18 month campaign for City Commission we ran in Oakland Park, Florida, I am trying to pull together the things I learned and what made it such a resounding success with Anthony Niedwiecki winning over 65% of the vote.

framsidesbild_gms.jpgI've talked about the way “identity” politics played into the race and how we took some of what could have been viewed by some as weaknesses and turned them into amazing strengths.  Now I wanted to look at some of the tools we used during the campaign and how effective they were.  

From the very beginning, we decided to run a thoroughly modern, linked-in campaign.  From my experience on other campaigns and issues, I wanted to bring my knowledge of new technology and apply it on a local level.  While many may have doubted the effectiveness of using social networking and new media in a local municipal election, the results quickly began to speak for themselves.

We managed to turn a local race into a global one.I ask your forgiveness for the general geekiness of this post, but it's something we can look at and take lessons from, whether we work in politics, non-profits, or other community issues.  Also, these tools are supplements to traditional grassroots organizing.  We knocked on doors, phone banked, and made lots of direct voter contact as well.

New Media: Websites, Blogs, and Branding- Oh my!

Having a web presence is nothing new to campaigns. In fact, it is rather required in these online times.  But the way you establish, use, and brand your presence can make a huge difference.

2005313120668860690_rs.jpgAnthony knew he wanted to run a campaign where information and communication were key.  We quickly established a website with an easy to remember address- (let's be honest- “Niedweicki” would be impossible for people to spell and find online) and began to flesh out Anthony's key issues, his background, and his record in the community.  We made it visual and interactive, with pictures, links, and things that would keep attention and focus.

We also decided that to create an easier and more immediate way for voters to discuss things with Anthony, we would make a running blog that he updated weekly with current events, campaign news, or issues that mattered to the community.  

By embedding the blog in the website, we also managed something that made a huge impact with people who were searching for information about Anthony and his opponent.  Using geeky tech tricks like keywords, search rankings, and other things, we made it so that if you typed in his opponent's name, the searches that came up were all Anthony's website and blog.  His opponent's website was pushed down on the search list and rendered virtually invisible.

We also made sure we had strong campaign branding.  Using the same images, logos, and colors in his online presence and emails as his direct mailers, signs, ads, and other information created an authoritative and seamless campaign that gave Anthony a huge edge.

Social Networking: Moving Beyond the City Limits

To truly move the web presence beyond just a static site and push it to a larger audience was key to cutting through the noise of other races and higher profile issues.  To do that, we used social networking tools to reach out to a truly global group of supporters.

facebook_logo.jpgThe great thing about social networking sites like Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, and Flickr is that they are free.  The only thing you need is the time and gumption to use them as effectively as possible.  

It took time, but we managed to use these tools to reach literally around the globe to tap into people that cared about the candidate, the issues, and the message we were sending out.

logo-twitter-logo.jpgThe most obvious advantage to sending out tweets or messages to the Facebook group was to get Anthony's ideas and vision out.  We reached an entirely new audience by being ahead of the technology curve, which was essential in a municipal race in March where voter turnout would likely be low.  We managed to drive people to the website to get information, get involved in the campaign, and feel completely part of the effort.  Sites like Facebook and Flickr made people feel like they were deeply involved in the campaign, no matter where they were.

flickrLOGO.jpgWe also learned that by connecting to a larger, global community, other things like fundraising became easier.  By sending out calls to supporters who took an interest in the campaign (no matter where they lived) for small donations, we managed to raise around 40% of our overall budget.  Let me say that again- 40% of our campaign budget came from social networking.

Many of these donors were from around the country who wanted to support someone they believed in.  For example, by putting out a call for donations on the final day we could accept them, we were flooded with donations through paypal and even had people driving to our house to drop off checks at our door to make the deadline.

It was a powerful thing to watch.

myspace-logo.jpgEven more important than the fundraising aspect was the “Get Out the Vote” power of social networking.  There was no early voting for the election, so we had to get people out on one day only, which is no easy task.  We met people while working the polls that day that had never gone to a community forum, never got a mailer, and had never voted in a municipal election before but had heard about the election and been following the campaign online through Facebook or Myspace.  

We even had people thank us for reminding them to vote through Twitter.

The power of grassroots organizing using these new tools was a resounding success for the campaign.

Lessons Learned

Technology can be scary to some.  But its pay-off can be invaluable.

Social networking is by its very nature social.  It creates unparalleled interaction that when used correctly and effectively can really push a candidate, campaign, issue, or organization to the next level.  It can get people more involved and responsive due to its interactive nature.  It gives people a feeling of buying in and helping accomplish something.  

Whether sending out emails, gathering supporters through strategic Tweets, or galvanizing a community behind you through blogging and Facebooking, new technology is a tool we can all use to make our grassroots efforts even stronger.

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