Social media in Wisconsin politics

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The importance of social networking services in politics and business cannot be overrated. OK, everything can be overrated. Even God.

However, from where we sit, the praise of Howard Dean’s “use of the internet!” to raise money seems pathetically antiquated. Blogs and social networks like facebook, twitter, and linked-in have become hugely influential in marketing candidates, as well as organizing supporters for campaigns. A campaign that neglects such tools is either irresponsible or has a comfortable enough lead to not bother.

Nowhere is the importance of open internet dialogue better displayed than in local politics. Ignored almost entirely by television and given only cursory attention by dying local newspapers, local pols often receive the most scrutiny from local blogs and other online discussion forums. Like I’ve written before, there is simply no better way to find out what happened at a City Council meeting than to read Brenda Konkel’s blog. Nowhere are issues of student government discussed more intensely than on the Critical Badger. In fact, the best analysis of local government from the local papers often comes on their blogs – which are usually entrusted to a recent college grad with a good understanding of the internets. Kristin Czubkowski at the Cap Times would be case and point, as would Bassey Etim, a former Herald editor who was recruited by the New York Times to work on their caucus blog.

Moreover, the social networks make it so much easier to market blogs and issues. Setting up a twitter and facebook account for the Sconz was easily the most productive decision I’ve made in getting traffic to this blog. While simply putting all my updates on facebook isn’t as helpful as say, a link from a big blogger, it helps to keep people in touch with the blog, even if they don’t click every time or visit every day. Simply claiming to write about local issues has gained me (very theoretical) followers from Madison lobbyists to gubernatorial candidates. And yes, unless I get a follow from Barbara Lawton, Jim Doyle, or Scott Walker, I will be forced to lend my extraordinarily heavy weight to Mark Neumann.

So it was good to see the Cap Times do a profile on the issue, discussing the implications on next year’s governor’s race.

“Around 11 in the morning, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker got online and did what his gubernatorial campaign manager had asked him to do several times a day. He reached out to his political supporters with a message that was simultaneously posted on his Twitter and Facebook accounts.”

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin, under new young leadership, has pushed aggressively into social media as well, adding Sam Roecker, a UW student and facebook friend of the Sconz, as a staff member specializing in social networks. Perhaps one of the most visible things Roecker did was create a youtube video for the party convention. Youtube is incredibly important – 15% of ALL internet traffic at any given time is on youtube.

The next step will be the creation of networks specifically for politicians, campaign workers and activists. Services like “ning” already allow people to create their own networks – for a field or cause as specific as transportation, human services or sex toys. I haven’t actually discovered the sex toys one yet.

What these services do is merely expand what the communications revolution started with the telephone, the radio and the television. They make the country and the world smaller. They will allow campaigns to have a larger pool of applicants and will open a whole nation of campaigns up to young activists and consultants.

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8 Responses to “Social media in Wisconsin politics”

  1. Steve Says:

    Hey, why don’t you link to those blogs you mention? I don’t feel like looking them up on my phone.

  2. The Sconz Says:

    Steve, sorry about that. I usually do link to everything I cite.

  3. Sam Roecker Says:

    Great post about social media and politics. It’s great to have instant interaction – even if it’s not always positive – about the political issues facing Wisconsin through our networks.

    At the DPW we’re always looking for new ways to reach people and keep our members across the state active. Mike Tate, Jason Stephany and all the staff have been really supportive and have embraced new media, I couldn’t do it without them.

  4. Chris Says:

    The Democratic Party of Wisconsin seems to be lagging behind the Republicans in WI. The Wisconsin GOP has nearly 6 times the followers on twitter. Looks like more followers on Facebook too, and more active. What gives?

    • The Sconz Says:

      Good find Chris. On a national level the GOP was the first to capitalize on online social networking, starting in the 2004 election. In “Applebee’s America,” Matthew Dowd, Bush’s campaign director, talks about the way they created online communities that could organize picnics, discussion groups, etc.
      However, the numbers you’re pointing to on twitter and facebook are not big enough to draw large conclusions, except that the GOP put up its account a little while before. Let’s wait a few months before drawing any big conclusions – but you’re right, if at election time next year this disparity exists, that is unacceptable.

  5. Sam Roecker Says:

    Chris,, when it comes down to it I’ll admit that the RPW started using Twitter before us. We’re about the same on Facebook (we’re transitioning over from a group to page right now so we’re seeing our numbers grow rapidly), but I don’t want to reduce it to a numbers game.

    I think our clear advantage right now is our use of YouTube and some of the Web ads we’ve created and even aired on TV.

    The Sconz is absolutely right, as we get closer to the 2010 elections I expect to see more fans and followers online as we explore new ways to keep people involved and active online.

    • Chris Says:

      Agreed, though even with the web ads, it looks like they about the same/a few more hits on their YouTube channel. Web ads are great but they seem to still get more traffic. What happens when they start releasing web ads? Because it seems like they have more of a presence even with out home grown content.

      ps. when is Doyle going to get on twitter!

      • Sam Roecker Says:

        Thanks for the feedback, Chris. The governor’s office is starting to roll out their social media presence, they have a Twitter account – @GovDoyle – but no updates are posted yet. I’m sure if he announces his run for re-election that will be a strong part of the campaign.

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