January of last year, I blogged about the Obama 2008 campaign’s success online, calling it the watershed event for the Internet in electoral campaigns. Since then, we saw at least one major upset in the 2009 elections (Scott Brown) owing in large measure to the Internet. A more upsets are sure to come.
While electoral politics is in the throws of evolution, the broader world of public affairs has yet to see a similar type of watershed event and, given the less transparent nature of the field, may never actually experience one in such dramatic fashion. To a technophile like me, this is unfortunate as these poignant movements are great catalysts for change and innovation.
Be sure, the Internet is creating significant and lasting changes and while the goals of public affairs remain the same (building coalitions, influencing policymakers and impacting public perception/regulatory environment) the tools and methodologies necessary for continued success are evolving all around us. To help our public affairs clients take advantage of the opportunity inherent in these changes, we developed 10 “New Rules” for the Internet and social media age (outlined below).
1. Be prepared for asymmetric conflict
In January of this year, Arianna Huffington launched a new site called Move Your Money encouraging ordinary citizens to switch their bank accounts to local community banks and away from larger, “too-big-to-fail” banks bailed out by TARP. Since then, tens of thousands have taken up with Huffington’s cause, including at least one member of congress calling for more regulation on those financial institutions. This sort of David v. Goliath activism (or as we term it, asymmetric conflict) where larger interests are targeted by small, but well organized online groups is a very real and rapidly growing phenomenon made possible by the Internet. And, as in a military engagement, a conventional response to a non-conventional threat will, at best, look foolish and could result in disaster. Going on a broadcast media offensive in this instance would be very much like carpet bombing a village to route out a lone insurgent. Instead, organizations must answer a grassroots attack with an intelligent grassroots response.
2. Mobilize a grassroots army
To continue the Move Your Money example, mobilizing a grassroots army might consist of a few strategies for the besieged financial institutions:
a) Inoculate customers against these types of attacks by building loyalty and strengthening bonds with them (here the Internet provides a number of customer-centric relationship-building techniques such as: regular/useful email communications, highly engaging Facebook fan pages and real-time, Twitter-based promotions/updates),
b) Locate and enlist ideologically aligned online activists that can be activated or act independently to come to the defense of these institutions in the face of future online attacks, and
c) Galvanize built-in supporter groups such as customers, shareholders and employees via online communities built and maintained for each of these groups.
A grassroots army can be deployed defensively (counteracting online assaults, such as the Move Your Money movement) or offensively; for example, to voice their support to elected officials for a key piece of legislation. However, building a grassroots army takes time; the next rule addresses this challenge.
3. Start running a perpetual campaign
Unlike a traditional short-duration, high-intensity broadcast media campaign turned off and on as needed to shape public opinion, public affairs in the Internet context is less like a series of sprints and much more like a marathon. It is also more proactive and less reactive. The bottom line is that an effective long-term online strategy requires time to build relationships and credibility with true grassroots supporters. In the world of broadcast communications, waging a perpetual paid media campaign would simply be too cost prohibitive for all but the largest players. However, as we’ll cover in the next rule, the Internet provides a much less expensive alternative available to all players large and small.
4. Shift spending from broadcasting to targetcasting
In contrasting broadcast communications with the Internet, I don’t mean to insinuate that broadcast is obsolete. It is not. We regularly run online campaigns alongside major television or radio efforts and have developed great techniques for maximizing the interplay between online and broadcast. However, most communications budgets are seriously out of alignment when it comes to balancing broadcast vs. online spending, with a disproportionate allocation to broadcast. The main reason for this imbalance is fairly clear to us: the Internet is newer and therefore “unproven” (though, probably more accurately, not fully understood) in the eyes of those who’ve grown up using the broadcast template. The basic difference between broadcast and what we like to call targetcasting is that your message can be delivered to only those whom you wish to directly target. This difference for public affairs professionals provides a huge advantage. Every dollar spent on targetcasted messages goes directly to the intended audience. And, perhaps more importantly, the risk of blowback from opponents or other outside groups is virtually eliminated as targetcasted campaigns fly very low on the radar. There are a dizzying number of communications technologies available for targetcasting online and the rate of innovation continues at a galloping pace. Building the right mix of communications technologies is the focus of the next rule.
5. Sort through newtech hype using the tool choice matrix
One of the biggest challenges we face in the online world is sorting through the continual hype surrounding the latest and greatest thing online. While this can feel a bit overwhelming, it is crucial to remember that hype and value are not the same things. The tool choice matrix was developed by our team as a powerfully simple way to illustrate this point AND allow our teams to make the best decisions about which technologies to use and which to discard or ignore. The matrix consists of two dimensions (Value and Maturity) to create four categories or “quadrants” of tools:
a) The BOG – Tools that were once valuable but have since matured and declined in value fall into this category. These tools should be ignored or eliminated, as they are a drain on resources.
b) Too Soon to Tell – New technologies that have yet to prove their value generally fall into this category. These could move into any one of the other three quadrants, so we keep an eye on these technologies as they do eventually mature.
c) Experimental – Relatively new technologies that have demonstrated their value early fall into this quadrant. While they have value, they are also new and could be unpredictable or have unintended consequences. Our suggestion is to use these technologies with caution and avoid placing them in a mission critical position.
d) Core Tools – Highly mature and highly valuable tools form the basis of online communications. They should occupy 75-80% of the online campaign’s resources and overall focus.
This post has already exceeded a blog-friendly length, so we’ll stop here and continue with a second part covering the other five new rules, which are:
6) Build (and own) custom technologies using an assembly architecture
7) Cultivate supporter datamining
8) Throw out that press release and build a viral amplifier
9) Build an online monitoring system
10) Get ready for digital democracy