Back in October, I was IM’ing with Tom Bowen, a good friend who I got to know during the 2004 Obama campaign. After the campaign, Tom set out for NJ where he ran a bunch of successful state campaigns, then helped out with a Senate campaign out west in the ’06 race before returning to Illinois to help out the Duckworth campaign. In short: Tom knows his stuff.
So it was kind of funny that night that we were chatting about whether there would be new technology that would play a part in the ’08 race, much like blogging redefined the ’04 presidential race. Youtube was an obvious candidate, but I was pretty sure social networks would have far more impact than they did in ’04. Sure, Dean had DeanLink, an early candidate to help supporters network. (Inside joke: yes, Clay, it was all yours. I can’t help it if Joe wrote something in his book to the contrary.) In the IM session with Tom, I was specifically thinking of Facebook and MySpace:
[21:49] tomb82279: i would be intrigued
[21:49] tomb82279: if there was a huge following that grew out of something like this
[21:50] RickKlau: i guarantee you the myspace and facebook stuff will do exactly that
[21:50] tomb82279: think so? what would be amazing is if they could double (or at least get as many) new members
[21:50] tomb82279: as BO has email addresses
[21:51] RickKlau: i’ll bet you a dollar that myspace + facebook = 200k within 9 months
[21:51] tomb82279: really?
[21:51] RickKlau: now, how many are voting age and/or registered, that’s another matter.
[21:51] RickKlau: but yeah, absolutely
[21:51] tomb82279: i’ll buy you dinner
So, fast forward a few months. Tom pinged me yesterday – proving he’s an honorable sort, since I’d probably have missed this otherwise: sure enough, someone created an Obama for President Facebook group. Adam Conner blogged about this over at MyDD, noting that as of yesterday they had more than 90,000 members. This morning, I checked: over 100k.
Someone else created a “tribute” page at MySpace, which as of this writing has over 22k friends.
I think Tom’s going to owe me dinner. More importantly, I think Facebook in particular has the potential to be a tremendous mobilization tool for campaigns if used well. My first political activity was as an Internet volunteer on the ’92 Clinton campaign. We self-organized largely via e-mail mailing lists – but for a college student, it was invigorating. Jock Gill, who would go on to be Director of Special Projects in the Office of Media Affairs, was the guy who spearheaded that effort. Policy papers would go out via e-mail. Rapid responses got delivered whenever a falsehood about Clinton’s record showed up in the press. Appearances on the campaign trail would be mailed out. Our job? Distribute the e-mails locally – to the local press, to campus papers, to supporters.
The smart campaigns will see Facebook as a multi-faceted tool: as a proxy for enthusiasm among an oft-under-represented demographic (the 18-25 crowd) it’ll be useful for some earned media and talking points; as an organizational tool it’ll be great to reach out to campus groups to organize events, volunteer activities and the like; as a networking tool for like-minded potential voters to discover each other and encourage themselves to get more active. Are all 100k of these names “real”? (That is, are they all potential voters?) Absolutely not. Contained within that number, are there people who can contribute real work to the campaign? Most definitely. It’ll be fun to watch as it grows…