Monday, October 4, 2010

Gubernatorial Candidates Make Use Of New Media

By Randy Krehbiel/Tulsa World ~ Face time still beats Facebook when it comes to politics and probably always will.

Tweets may never outnumber twits on the campaign trail. But woe to the candidate, in this age of e-mail blasts and viral video, who ignores the figurative cool kids of communications - Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and all the other emerging media transforming society.

The last time Oklahoma elected a governor, websites were just becoming commonplace for political candidates. Facebook was still limited to a few college campuses, and most other Internet tools - with the exception of e-mail - were still rudimentary. Now they are as ubiquitous as yard signs.

"The overall strategy is to communicate in a one-on-one way with supporters and people who want to learn more about your candidate," said Aaron Cooper, who handles new media for Republican Mary Fallin's gubernatorial campaign.

"That's the beauty of the new media." Sarah Burris, Cooper's counterpart with Democrat Jari Askins' campaign, said new media does not yet approach the reach of broadcast or print but does offer a broader, and potentially more personal, platform.

"I believe in advertising, but you are limited in the amount of time and space to convey your message," Burris said.

Not so on the Internet. On YouTube, Burris has posted some 200 video endorsements, most of them less than a minute in length, as well as candidate forums lasting more than an hour. Campaign shots go on Flickr and Facebook.

Askins herself tweets from campaign stops across the state. E-mails keep supporters updated on events and solicit contributions.

The Fallin campaign makes similar use of new media. She has about 17,000 Facebook "friends" and 2,000 Twitter "followers." Her YouTube account contains 65 videos with about 11,000 total views, and she has about 160 Flickr images. Flickr is similar to YouTube but is for displaying still photos.

Askins has about 6,500 Facebook friends and about 3,000 Twitter followers. Her campaign has made more use of the visual media than Fallin's - about 250 YouTube videos with more than 24,000 views and more than 1,600 Flickr images.

Burris said Askins' campaign has worked hard from the start to get images of as many people as possible on its website. "It takes on a kind of 'Hey, Mom!' quality," she said. "A lot of campaigns use (new media) as just another contact point," Burris said. "Our goal is to use them as an accessibility point, as an unfiltered entry into the campaign."

Cooper said his primary audience is active Fallin supporters. He said the campaign's e-mail list contains "several hundred thousand" addresses that receive updates on a regular basis.

"It can be a pretty useful organizational tool, just telling people where they can get a sign and things like that," Cooper said. And the cost is practically zero. "Besides paying for Google ads and Facebook ads, it's free," Cooper said.

Google and Facebook advertising is interesting in that it's keyed to certain words, rather than specific websites. Earlier this year, for instance, one of Fallin's ads popped up on an Internet version of a Los Angeles Times story, triggered by words in the Google search that led to the story and the fact that the search originated in a computer in Oklahoma. Those ads still reach relatively few people, though.

Cooper and Burris seem to agree the greatest advantage of new media is in targeting and cultivating core supporters. "The engagement is different," Burris said. "If you pull in somebody because of an ad, they are not as likely to be as engaged."

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