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Tuesday, January 27

Playing online political catch-up

Whilst, as predicted, former Obama online strategists can name their price, election losers, the Republicans, are now seeing the web as the foundation from which to rebuild. (So, Repub online strategists can also cash in!)

George Bush's former senior advisor, Karl Rove, (aka 'Bush's brain', caricatured right in 'rap' mode) reckons that:

The political Web 2.0 is about networking and Democrats grabbed the lead. The party that figures out where Web 3.0 goes will grab the decisive high ground in high-tech warfare.

Ya think?

In the UK, despite some well received development of the PM's website, only right now does his party seem to have woken up to how far behind the Tories (and the LibDems) it is online — and how damaging that could be.

(Last year I argued that if Ken Livingstone had got his online act together in the London Mayoral election he could have potentially closed the gap).

Gee, that Obama effect reaches everywhere ...

The best of Labour's online responses thus far has come from the unlikely pairing of John Prescott and Alastair Campbell.

Their effort has even received the blessing of top Tory blogger Iain Dale.

This was the same Dale who welcomed the online competition from the more highly publicised LabourList, created by Derek Draper, the NuLabour insider and star of 'Cash for Access'.

Founder of ConservativeHome, Tim Montgomerie, has also been lending a hand - well advice - to NuLabour's efforts (lunch with Draper). Says Dale, Montgomerie:

did a piece [on the BBC] critiquing Labour's online strategy this lunchtime. Sitting in the studio listening was the old bruiser himself, John Prescott. While using some pretty garbled internet language, it's true to say that John Prescott knows more about campaigning than Derek Draper will ever do. If he can transmit that knowledge into an online environment I suspect his Go Forth website will outdo the disappointing Labour List.

Prescott has started his own BLOG and this afternoon has even taken to commenting on ConservativeHome to thank Tim for his well meant advice. You can view Prescott's response to Tim HERE.

Here's Prescott's first - yes - sweet'n'endearing Vlog:

There seems to be something terribly significant about the attitude and personality of the people behind the two sites: Prescott is humble, Draper is arrogant. The UK political blogosphere's conclusion seems to have already lined up against Draper's enterprise.

Says Tim Ireland, 'Derek Draper is an arrogant sod'.

For one, Draper's LabourList employs the services of the legal firm Schillings:

Without the first clue about what this might mean to other bloggers. I seriously suspect that he chose them on the basis that his wife has hired them in the past.
Schillings are libel lawyers well known for harassing bloggers who question the big and powerful.

Ireland details the whole sorry back-and-forth as he, politely and helpfully, tried to point this out in an email exchange with Draper.

But then newly minted 'cyber-warrior' Draper has written "I am building a site for 60 million people, not 60 bloggers", has raised the middle finger to Iain Dale's very generous and correct advice, thinks three days a week's work commitment is enough and is enhanced by stupid PR claims that his site will be like the UK's version of the Drudge-beating HuffingtonPost —he obviously already knows everything about blogs and websites because he's a work of staggering genius. Not.

Pissing off key people when he's in 'beta' launch like he - stupidly - is just says it all. It's precisely the opposite of how HuffPost built itself. Snide comments isn't how Arianna Huffington has conducted herself. She put the hard work in to learn her trade, Draper seems to have nothing but contempt for the way this stuff actually works.

And it's partisan contempt - which is the entire problem with his approach thus far and why Prescott is far more likely to suceed. Despite all the rhetoric and colum inches just look at the content, the product. Where, for example, is the anti-third runway article?

"60 million people" aren't going to visit a clearly partisan (and dull) website. If Draper thinks otherwise he has everything left to learn. Which he appears to have no interest in. Because he already knows it all ...

Over the pond, the key difference is that it's not like the Republicans (GOP) are starting from nothing. (Which is my sad characterisation of Labour's position).

As with conservatives here, they have some very smart webbies, like Patrick Ruffini, who have been helping them for some years now. But they've been way outgunned by the Democrats for a while now on all online fronts, most importantly in the lack of enthusiasm and lack of smarts expressed in online by the party itself.

This is changing. On websites like, directly inspired by Obama's efforts, more than 1,300 people have submitted ideas for using online social networks to modernize how the party raises money and mobilizes supporters. Five of six candidates in the 30 January election for Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman have endorsed the coalition's plan to make "winning the technology war with the Democrats ... the RNC's number one priority in the next four years."

The conservative wing of the American blogosphere in pretty large - and influential, they perpetuated a lot of vote winning memes in the election - and they are supporting the politicians about-turn vis online campaigning.

The problem left to be dealt with is that - like Labour - the GOP has always had a top-down approach to the Internet, using it primarily to deliver campaign messages rather than mobilize supporters.

At a conference last month at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Mike Connell, a longtime GOP web consultant and leading member of McCain's Web team, listened to Obama's Internet gurus tout their use of online organizing. He was skeptical. "Conservatives are more likely to look for information online than look for a group they can join," he said.

The other half of McCain's Web team, Rebecca Donatelli, agreed. "Our users are not using the Internet in the same way," she said. "You're reaching different audiences." She admitted, "there are a lot of opportunities for us to grow," but defended the campaign's approach, insisting that it was simply "out-resourced."

But it may not just be a question of the right vendors (or consultants) it seems to be about a more basic understanding of the interactive - and somewhat anarchic - nature of the Web. A joint examination by the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Reporting and the Berkman Center during the 2008 presidential campaign revealed a fundamental difference in the candidates' approach to blogging.

The study found that while the Obama campaign reached out to activist bloggers in order to communicate with campaign volunteers and feed them into its online social networking site,, the McCain campaign took a top-down approach to the horizontal network of blogs and used it as an echo chamber for its ideas.

This approach is partly explained by the fact that McCain's blogger outreach coordinator, Patrick Hynes, heads a firm that advises corporations on how to use the blogosphere as part of their public relations strategies.

In 2006, he was accused of masquerading as a 20-year old blogger to promote the telecom corporation Verizon's position on cable regulation. That same year, he blogged in support of McCain without disclosing that he was on the payroll as a political consultant for McCain's political action committee, Straight Talk America. Not long afterward, Hyynes was outed by the National Review's Jim Geraghty.

As president of New Media Strategics, Hynes touts his understanding of "how bloggers receive and process information... what energizes them and, just as important, what turns them off." One of the company's services is "alliance building," which makes use of its existing relationship with bloggers to "create powerful alliances to deliver your brand message and reputation through the New Media."

When McCain became the GOP's lead candidate, Hynes reached out to "top-tier, right-of-center bloggers" such as Red State's Erick Erickson, Hot Air's Ed Morrissey, Jim Geraghty at National Review Online and Glenn Reynolds - aka InstaPundit - at Pajamas Media.

We pitch stories to folks online in much the same way a campaign pitches to talk radio journalists. We give them our information, and try to give them our angle [aka 'talking points']. Usually when I'm talking to them its not a big stretch to write something that would agree with our world view.

Doesn't this sound just like how NuLabour might approach 'new media'? Like something Draper might say?

Hynes touts this service on the New Media Strategics website as a "blog release" - conceptualizing, drafting and delivering "blog-friendly content (including podcasts and vodcasts) for placement on friendly or relevant blog venues."

Hynes' techniques frustrated longtime Republican Brad Marston.

It was all about getting information down from the top of the campaign to individuals. That's why we started the and and... social networking sites so that supporters could build a network.

Marston said his groups received no financial support or direction from the McCain campaign, but were so involved among online activists that Meghan McCain (John McCain's daughter) misidentified Marston as the "McCain e-campaign coordinator" on her blog.

Now he is working to register Let' as an educational foundation and political action committee. "Adversity is a terrible thing to waste," said Marston.

Says Karl Rove's IT guru, Mike Connell:

The blogosphere is not just another communications channel. It is an activism channel, a fundraising channel. We're getting caught up on that point of view.

Many conservative activists have looked to groups such as for inspiration. MoveOn was formed in response to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, it has been cited in some accounts as a factor which helped propel the Democratic Party to power in the 2006 midterm US Congressional elections.

"I believe we should be looking at the left as the model," said David All, founder of and Slatecard - a website modeled on, which provided important fundraising infrastructure for Democrats.

All acknowledges that was organic in its growth, but says the left structure is actually "very top down, even Barack Obama. They just do a good job at making an illusion that people are connected through others. You get an email from someone who lives in your zip code and you think that's bottom up, and its really just a very smart directive from within the top campaign structure."

Some of this is true - staying 'on message' had a certain resonance during the campaign because the fear of an electoral loss remained so great amongst Democrats. This may not remain true if Obama pisses off the netroots. There's already been signs of this over the choice of Rick Warren for the inaugural and through some dodgy manipulation of contributed priorities on the handover website,

But all the new technology won't help Republicans unless they have a message that appeals to the grassroots - a very key point in understanding why and how Obama's online tactics worked as well as they did (compared to - say - Hilliary's).

"I get frustrated with all this talk of what technology we need to build," said Jon Henke, formerly New Media Director for the Republican Communications Office, and co-founder of
Unless you have an idea of what you want to do with it, it doesn't matter.
Ultimately, Henke argues the grassroots:
Needs to develop its gravitational pull with a compelling story.
Cue John Prescott.

Says All:
Republicans have to find a message, then we need a messenger, or vice versa. And from there we'll start building the tools. Amazing tools will never build a house. You have to have a carpenter who can use the tools to build a house.

For NuLabour, this ain't Derek Draper. Shock - it might well be John Prescott.

Credit: Renee Feltz


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