Brace yourself for plenty of ads touting President Obama in the near future, even before watching a video online, said panelists at a roundtable discussion on political campaigning in the digital age Monday.
Ten percent of the media budget of the next presidential campaign will be spent online, said Michael Bassik of the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller.
The emergence of political advertising over the internet is due to its ability to target ads to specific users.
In the 2010 Democratic primary of the Connecticut governor’s race, party officials told Danel Malloy they wouldn’t support him because he was being heavily outspent by his millionaire-opponent, Ned Lamont, Bassik said.
Bassik helped Malloy win the primary by creating electronic ads that appeared on the computers screens of people who had visited his website.
The ploy worked. Not knowing that the ads were only appearing on their computer screens, party insiders and primary voters began to believe that Malloy had the resources to compete with Lamont, Bassik said.
Patrick Ruffini, former webmaster for President Bush’s 2004 campaign, said that the internet and social media help underdog candidates compete, citing Howard Dean and John McCain’s 2000 presidential runs as examples of “insurgent” campaigns that raised money online.
Bush’s 2004 campaign was the last major campaign that ignored the internet’s fundraising potential, Ruffini said.
But the campaign did use the internet to organize supporters by giving them a forum from which to plan house parties, Ruffini said.
“How do we build (online) tools that allow people to connect offline?” Ruffini asked.
A candidate’s internet strategy is no longer limited to his or her website, said the panelists.
They agreed that the creation of candidates’ websites has become commoditized and follows hard and fast rules – many of them borrowed from Obama’s 2008 candidate website, barackobama.com.
Katie Harbath, former digital strategist for the Republican Party, called for more risk taking and creativity in website design.
Harbath made an electronic leader board that assigned candiates’ supporters points for tasks conducted on and offline. They competed to earn the most points.
The candidate’s use of social media of such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, is arguably more important than their website, and all of the different media should be integrated, said the panelists.
For example, the website should contain embedded youtube videos and contain links to his or her Facebook and Twitter account.
Every political campaign, big or small, should utilize the internet and social networking, said the panelists.
“I think I learned of technical and practical information,” said campaign manager Stacy Mills, who is managing a local campaign for a candidate who she would not identify.
The specific recommendations she was given by the panel during the Q-and-A session included sending e-mails to the candidate’s friends, setting up challenges to motivate potential volunteers, and creating a Twitter account for journalists to follow.
When choosing a multimedia consultant candidates should make sure they pick a person who isn’t out to push a particular technology for personal profit, said Josh Koster, partner at the digital communications consultancy, Chong + Koster, following his public comments.
Also speaking was Dr. Alan Rosenblatt, director for online advocacy at the Center for American Progress.
The event was held at Johns Hopkins University’s DuPont Circle campus in Washington.