Politics 2.0: Learning the lessons

Matt Bai, who is starting a new political blog next week covering the U.S. election campaign, has a piece in the New York Times today about what might loosely be called Politics 2.0 — the use of blogs and Facebook and other social media as part of a campaign. He says the major parties have tried to adopt the tactics first used by the Howard Dean campaign in 2004, but have missed the point on a number of things:

“It seems clear that the candidates and their advisers absorbed the wrong lessons from Dean’s moment, or at least they failed to grasp an essential truth of it, which is that these things can’t really be orchestrated.

Dean’s campaign didn’t explode online because he somehow figured out a way to channel online politics; he managed this feat because his campaign, almost by accident, became channeled by people he had never met.”

Bai describes how Ron Paul supporters — who had nothing to do with the official campaign — organized their own online fundraiser for the candidate on Guy Fawkes Day and pulled in more than $4-million and over 20,000 contributors in a single day, which turns out to be the largest one-day haul of any Republican candidate to date. Even Ron Paul’s campaign probably doesn’t have a clue how or why it happened.

The point Matt Bai is trying to make is related to my point about online community: You can’t create one, just as you can’t create a “viral” hit, or in fact an online sensation of any kind. You can create what you think are the right conditions for such a thing to grow, and hope to encourage one that already exists to adopt you, but other than that you have very little control. Anyone who claims otherwise is selling something.


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