America has plenty of elections, from the crucially important annuals like the Oscars or the meaningless Presidential elections that we only bother with every four years. In many of them, online networks and social media can predict results – winning candidates tend to be mentioned more on Twitter or liked more on Facebook.
While some will jump to the conclusion that online chatter will drive the support that pushes a candidate over the edge, that’s an over-simplistic reading of the situation. Social media posts are tea leaves of human behavior, but not usually the initial driver. It’s worth watching data trends and extrapolating results, but trying to create those data trends to ensure a specific outcome is a waste of time. Daniel Day Lewis didn’t win an Oscar with social buzz, he won by making the legislative posturing surrounding the passage of the 13th Amendment interesting and engaging. He didn’t even have to slay any vampires, so that was good too. Similarly, online activity follows good political candidates, it doesn’t create them.
(Sidebar: What kind of a sick joke is it that Lincoln Motor Company is a subsidiary of Ford?)
If the correlation between online data and reality was more direct, according to Google we’d all have the flu by now.
Two seemingly unrelated pieces of patriotism struck me as oddly similar this week. The first was, obviously, the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The second was the not-quite-safe-for-work homage to George Washington from cartoonist Brad Neely.
Neely’s work is kind of out there, but for those who share his sense of humor it’s spot on. (A sample line: “And we danced, like those people in the hyper-tight light of fried chicken commercials!” Seriously, what does that even mean?) Even with limited exposure in venues like Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, Neely’s two or three minute videos are especially suited to a YouTube audience.
Obviously, the Navy SEALS who took down bin Laden crafted a much more significant piece of work on Sunday. Their achievement, though, was a reflection of a changing military environment just as Neely’s videos reflect a changing media environment.
The major military conflicts to stop terrorism after September 11 targeted nations – specifically, Afghanistan and Iraq. The plan was to smoke out terrorists by pressuring state sponsors of terrorism. We found that the strength of our armored columns had limited effectiveness confronting the independent contractors who made up Al Qaeda’s network. We could contain the snake, but we couldn’t do the one thing we set out to do.
It’s significant, then, that the bin Laden kill mission was set up by intelligence and espionage, and executed by a couple dozen elite servicemen. There was no invasion of Pakistan, simply a precise action focused on a single piece of property within the country. One can’t help but suspect that had our leaders not announced the mission’s success, the rest of the world might never have known bin Laden was dead.
A small, elite unit was all it took to snuff out the world’s leading terrorist. George Washington (who crossed the Delaware for a surprise attack) would be proud.
President Obama’s first campaign event kicked off on Facebook this afternoon just a few hours after Micah Sifry at TechPresident did a basic overview of the online landscape of for the 2012 race thus far.
Sifry’s attention-getting headline – “It’s not Facebook, It’s the Data, Stupid” – seems to be an indictment of social networks. But his key point is that knowing the audience is more important than having thousands (or even millions) of friends, followers, or likes. It’s a point that many have made since 2008 repeatedly, yet it isn’t repetitive. There are still folks who believe that online success is measured by the easiest metrics of Facebook and Twitter, and not in the more difficult (and final) measurement of votes on election day. Ultimately, success or failure of the online campaign is tied to the success or failure of the overall campaign:
Facebook and other third-party social network platforms aren’t the central battlefield. It’s data and targeting and figuring out how to use online strategies to enable motivated volunteers to identify, persuade and get out the vote.
Sifry does miss an important shift in voter engagement, though. He downplays Facebook, noting that the Obama 2012 effort still has the advantages of the MyBarackObama.com networking infrastructure left over from 2008 (with roots stretching back to the nascent Howard Dean effort in 2003). But that campaign architecture is outdated if it doesn’t work with Facebook.
Consider that in the 2004 and 2008 election cycles, social networking was a varied market. Friendster, MySpace, AIM, Friendfeed, Twitter, and of course Facebook all had significant shares of the market at one point or another. Now, Facebook is the unquestioned market leader. What’s more, Facebook is built as a platform for other services. For instance, the biggest social network to gain traction since the Obama campaign, Foursquare, allows you to sign up for their service by using your Facebook log in.
There’s no room for MyBarackObama.com in the modern online media and networking environment unless it works seamlessly within the Facebook interface. If the Obama campaign tries to copy 2008 tactics in 2012 they will fail.
Sifry talks glowingly about the Facebook apps deployed by the Pawlenty and Obama campaigns – and rightly so, because these little programs are monumentally important in bridging the gap between social networking success and data management. Liking a page is a tangential connection, that can be severed easily and surrenders little information; running followers through an application that allows them to submit contact information and self-identify their interests and issue priorities is much more powerful.
The idea that activity on Facebook is separate from data management is a recipe for a losing campaign; the winner in 2012 will have both working together. (And despite the attention-grabbing headline, Sifry seems to get that.)
A Pew survey announced last week revealed that in 2010, a majority of adults used online venues for political information. One major takeaway was that about one out of five adults used social networks for politics – and, as the New York Times mentioned, that included older and more conservative voters as well.
Surely this won’t be the last survey on this subject, but it probably could be. People ask their friends for political advice, so if people are communicating with friends online, that’s where they’ll ask for political advice. This might as well be the cover story for the next edition of Okay, We Get It magazine (which doesn’t appear on newsstands because, as study after study has show, print media is becoming a tighter market every day).
Brandkeys released their annual Customer Loyalty Engagement Index – a ranking of companies by brand identity in a number of categories. In the social networking group, the ubiquitous Facebook was unsurprisingly first. But media observers are scratching their heads over MySpace’s runner-up status and Twitter’s fifth-place finish – not to mention the fact that Groupon, Foursquare, and other fast-risers in the social networking space didn’t even place.
They shouldn’t be. Despite MySpace’s current state of limbo, it does have a very distinct niche – as do LinkedIn and Flickr, numbers three and four on the list. Despite a large user base, Twitter suffers from the curse of one-time users – people who try it once and leave because they really aren’t sure how the Twitter works, and/or don’t care to learn. Foursquare is going through a similar growth movement as Twitter did – folks are signing up, but aren’t sure for what. Groupon and other community shopping sites are utilities more than networks.
Being on the list doesn’t make MySpace’s future any brighter, nor any clearer. But it shows the erstwhile leader in connecting people online did something right.
Time Magazine ignited some controversy this month by naming Mark Zuckerberg their Person of the Year. Zuckerberg deserved the award, said Time, for “connecting more than half a billion people and mapping the social relations among them, for creating a new system of exchanging information and for changing how we live our lives.”
Indeed, Zuckerberg did all that – but he arguably did so in 2003, when he invented Facebook in his Harvard dorm room. So why is he the person of the year seven years after actually making this contribution to humanity? Or did Time discover Facebook only weeks after their grandmother, as “Julian Assange” suggested?
There are actually two questions here, so there are naturally two answers. Question 1 is why Time gave Zuckerberg the award this year; and Question 2 is why 2010 is The Year of Facebook.
Culturally speaking, the last half of 2010 is a perfect storm of Facebook hype. The Social Network was a big hit and created some preliminary Oscar buzz. The next time you watch live TV, watch how many commercials end with URLs for a Facebook page. And Zuckerberg scored headlines with his pledge to donate half his fortune to charity and $100 million to Brick City, NJ. The success of social gaming in 2010 is linked directly to those games using Facebook as a platform for popularity – even non-gamers have seen their friends’ Farmville, Cityville, or Mafia Wars updates pop up in their own news feeds.
In short, Facebook is everywhere in a way it hasn’t been in years past. But why is 2010 REALLY the Year of Facebook? It turns out, there are some numbers to back it up.
Facebook’s traffic numbers surpassed Google’s in 2010. That indicates a huge difference in how people are consuming information – instead of searching the internet and relying on Google’s algorithms to tell them what’s important, they are relying more and more on friends (a point I made yesterday in a post on Pundit League). Trusting friends is something people are most likely predisposed to do; Facebook makes it easier to do that.
More important, Facebook continues to report increases in ad revenue. It’s one thing for a website to have a good and popular idea; it’s quite another for a website to make money. That Facebook has proved it could do the latter is no small feat and guarantees solvency for the foreseeable future.
So 2010 was more than just the year when America collectively noticed Facebook; it was the year when Facebook set down stakes as a permanent entity that gave legitimacy to its foothold in the public consciousness and culture.
And for that, Mark Zuckerberg really is the Person of This Year
One interesting sub-plot to come out of Saturday’s Rally for Sanity is a minor feud between online communities who carried the torch for the rally and Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who are decidedly apathetic about the role online organizing had in making their rally a success.
Much of this may stem from some rally-goers/rally-supporters misunderstanding that, although event was politically-themed, it was essentially a free concert featuring comedy and music. The message Stewart delivered in his self-important address at the end was more critical of the media than any other institution, and attempted to be inclusive of all political leanings in urging respect and courtesy. Sure, it probably would have gone over better if it had come from someone who doesn’t make a living ridiculing other people, but that’s another topic.
The point is that despite Stewart’s 12-minute rant at the end, this was not an important event. It was a fun event. There was no call for participation, and many of the signs in the audience were more political satire than political commentary.
Despite the idea of some on the progressive side that this was a call to action and the flash point of a counter to the Tea Party, it really was the Million Meh March for people who just wanted to have a good time. Online communities may have helped advertise for it, but Stewart and Colbert’s lack of gushing thanks is not worth getting worked up over.
In the world of location-based social networks, Foursquare has been the early leader, closing in on four million users. Gowalla and SCVNGR have been battling for a distant second place.
Gowalla’s move to cut into the lead came back in August, when it released a set of tools for campaigns – tools that many campaigns have been taking advantage of. Last week Politico’s Morning Tech followed up on the campaign toolkits:
Since the tools launched, Gowalla tells us, hundreds of political events, such as a rallies and town halls, have been created on the location-based service and thousands of people have checked into these events. And Gowalla users like to share which events they’re at on other social networks, too. About half of people who check into political events on Gowalla push out their status, comments and photos to Facebook, Twitter or both social networks.
And it sounds like interest in the politics-geared tools is growing. Gowalla says it has already started talking with both Democrats and Republicans about using its service for the 2012 elections. In Gowalla’s home state of Texas, the tools have gained traction with several candidates competing in local races.
Gowalla smart to take the long view, since location-based tools probably won’t be as prevalent until the Republican presidential primary campaigns. But since those campaigns will start on November 3, Gowalla is equally smart to start catering to campaigns now. At the same time, Foursquare has been somewhat deaf to calls for better political engagement, such as Jordan Raynor’s “I Voted” badge concept.
Foursquare still has a dominant market share of close to 70-80% (by the rough numbers). But in the early days of online social networking, MySpace was similarly dominant. The key is that the location-based market in 2010 is similar to the social network market in 2004 – it isn’t mature yet. By most counts, the top three location-based networks boast five or six million users – or 1% of Facebook’s membership. There are simply an awful lot of people who haven’t plunged into the location-based markets yet.
So what are the current also-rans to do to expand the location-based market – and make sure the new recruits choose something other than Foursquare? By targeting campaigns, Gowalla is actually recruiting political activists – passionate users who will join their network (or possibly even switch from Gowalla) in the pursuit of a bigger goal. By starting in 2010 and targeting 2012, Gowalla isn’t just executing a political strategy, but a business strategy as well.
The Washington Post told it’s journalists to keep off of Twitter after a staffer spent 140 characters defending the publication of an unpopular editorial. The piece, by the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, made a case that gay teens committed suicide because they were mentally unhealthy. It predictably raised the hackles of gay activist groups, who criticized the very idea of allowing such opinions to be published – which just as predictably led to the Post’s representative standing up for the First Amendment and the need for a broad marketplace of ideas.
It may seem ironic that, after a representative of the post contributed to this public conversation by citing the need for a public conversation, the Post shut down public speech from its employees. In fact, Mashable roundly criticizes the new policy:
The Post is clearly trying to do some damage control, but in a time when it is often difficult to encourage traditional journalists to embrace social media and dialogue with readers, this will only discourage it further. News organizations should be encouraging dialogue and debate, not stifling dialogue between readers and journalists.
Actually, the Post’s policy is a good one.
Think of this in terms of a classroom debate. A teacher poses a question. A few students argue for one side, other students argue another. The teacher provides facts and information, but shouldn’t be taking one side versus the other, right? In fact, by removing their journalists from the discussion, the Post can do more to promote a discussion by not taking a side.
It’s important for media outlets to connect with their audience – as purveyors of information, they have to know what’s relevant, understand the various viewpoints are out there, and appreciate which issues pieces of information is most important to readers or viewers. But if a journalist is supposed to (try to be) an objective resource, why would he or she want to participate in the debate? Wouldn’t any journalist who did start to lose some credibility or give evidence of having some sort of agenda or bias?