Opportunity for Politicians to Learn Online Marketing

I’ve been struck by the impact the internet is having on this year’s elections. And how handicapping the digital divide can be. One of my neighbors emailed me an invitation to his election night soiree. And another, at dinner last weekend, bemoaned the lack of information there is on our local proposals – but they don’t have home access to the web.

What’s different about this year’s election? And what should the parties learn before the big one in 2008? Here are some thoughts on how today’s technology will change the election.

Increased Candidate Accountability – Camera cell phones that record video can capture every gaff a politician makes and then distribute it on YouTube. Just ask that Sen. Allen R-VA, who was recorded uttering the phrase, “macaca.”

Decreased Source Accountability – The FCC doesn’t require FaceBook, YouTube or any other social networking site to give equal time to candidates. Sources don’t have to provide you with their affiliation (i.e. “brought to by citizens for the ethical treatment of fire hydrants”); they don’t have to even provide their names.

More Polls, Less Accuracy – FaceBook has an interesting Election Pulse tool which shows our Michigan Gubernatorial race down to the short hairs – 50.59% versus 47.58%. Knowing that statistic, will more voters from both sides commit to voting? Hasn’t that always been a limitation of polling – communicating poll results may influence the results of the election, encouraging more folks to vote in a tight race or stay home for foregone conclusions? I’m remembering the Bush/ Gore election night results problems. With the increased anonymity of internet polling, you have no warranty of accuracy.

Speed of Light Distribution – The teenage world is fueled by text messaging, Del.icio.us, Digg, and text messaging (remember 16-year-olds can vote for the next president). These sites are even faster than email, which relied on a domino process. Current popularity means these huge populations are worth billions – just look at Google’s purchase price of YouTube.

Internet Immortality – Even after the media buzz dies down, the data on a blunder exists forever on the web. It can even resurface decades later, out of context and without the accompanying apologies or explanations. The tape of Rush Limbaugh’s comments on Michael J. Fox’s political ads on stem cell research will be available to his critics for decades.

In spite of all of this, not everyone is tuned in and tuned on. Which brings me back to my neighbors. Standing around my kitchen counter, we dug into the direct mail we’d received from one side of a proposal. That piece of paper and workplace chats at the coffee maker had encouraged my neighbors’ current choice. That is, until I promised to get some research from the League of Women Voters site. Hmmm… maybe the internet has more influence than even I think.