@ EconSM: Election ’08 And The Rise Of Voter-Generated Content

imageAfter discussing their new jobs, Dennis Haarsager, interim CEO of National Public Radio, asked members of the opening panel at ContentNext’s EconSM conference the way social media has influenced the participation of the electorate in this year’s national political campaigns.

Betsy Morgan, CEO, The Huffington Post: “It’s not unusual to have 1,000 comments on a campaign story, so people are much more engaged with online politics than four years ago.”

Leonard Brody, Co-founder and CEO, NowPublic: News used to be something that was reported, now there’s a feedback loop – it’s reported, it’s commented upon and then reported on again.

Micah Sifry, Co-founder and Editor, Personal Democracy Forum/TechPresident: Voter-generated content is the wild card of electon ’08. Campaigns have lost control – some are more aware and better at dealing with this reality than others. What hasn’t changed: the horse-race aspect. Although the internet creates more room for substantive discussions, it doesn’t happen as much as focusing on the trivial aspects of a political campaigning. The Obama campaign is 37-minutes long – his speech on race – that makes me hopeful that there will room for real content over soundbites.

Chuck DeFeo, VP and GM, Townhall.com and Salem News/Talk Online: YouTube didn’t exist in 2004. When we created a web video, it was designed to have the TV networks play it over and over again. The Swift Boat Veterans spent a few hundred thousand dollars four years ago. They wouldn’t have to spend as much today. It’s now about the power to communicate and being creative.

New tools: Sifry: The lesson is that it pays to invest in building a network instead of building a list. Clinton campaign has learned that lesson hard. But not much organic social media being built for the McCain campaign. You need to allow your supporters to fundraise for you and get the word out. That’s become an essential part of campaigning. Morgan adds: Every place a candidate speaks is a forum for blogging. You can’t step out your door and not expect that what you say and do will not be talked about. DeFeo, who worked on the 2004 Bush re-election campaign, noted that the ultimate currency is not dollars, it’s votes. There’s no PayPal for votes, you have to do that offline. We didn’t want you congregating on Bush.com, we wanted you to do it offline. The last thing we wanted you to do was to create a blog. We would have rather someone spent their limited time manning a phone bank.

Influence on mainstream coverage: Manuel Perez, Senior Supervising Producer, CNN.com: We’re doing a lot more blogging, PoliticalTicker is one of our most viewed channels. We’ve also added more user-gen and it provides an alternative to what we would normally offer. Morgan noted that the lion’s share of the ad dollars are still going to mainstream media, despite social media’s increasingly influence. One audience member asked if social media connections are self-perpetuating, given that most voters are not participating in the online aspects of campaigning. DeFeo pointed out that the major political parties were the original social networks. The biggest challenge is taking the online community and taking it offline. Brody: Ask people outside of this room what they want to talk about in the election and it will be something more mainstream, than what you might be hearing about online. The panelists acknowledged the influence of social media is still in a transitional form and won’t be fully felt until the next election.