This semester I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about successful campaign organization and messaging. One common thread, in all my classes and volunteer work, is that without a solid message or a good candidate all the technology in the world wont help. Nowhere is this clearer to me than in the presidential election. Although Obama certainly did have an exceptional social networking strategy, it helped that he is an extremely charismatic man with a talent for oratory and keeping calm in stressful situations.
I can’t help but think that the exact same online strategy wouldn’t have helped John Kerry nearly as much– Obama’s talent was connecting with the voters and Facebook was just a tool to get that done. In contrast, men like Kerry and Howard Dean never got over initial stumbles or the perception that he’s inaccessible. Sure, Facebook creates the illusion that someone is accessible (we know he likes Bob Dylan, for example) but Obama isn’t making these pages– his communications staff is.In a similar way, I think that Planned Parenthood created a successful online presence by combining Facebook, YouTube, and guest articles on the Huffington Post but another organization might not have the same results.
Although I think it is too soon to say that the abortion wars are over, I do think that what we witnessed this autumn is Americans saying “enough” to the abortion ballot measures (sadly, not with the anti-gay legislation). Thus, I’d conclude that Planned Parenthood really did have the message people wanted right now– the technology just helped them achieve it, but without that message all the technology in the world wouldn’t help.
Perhaps we’re getting into a chicken-or-egg problem: which came first, the message or the campaign? My semester of reading and observing, however, makes me think it is the message first– the campaign (tech, design, and all) has to come second.