Video Made The Political Star

Submitted for the April 2011 edition

Is your candidate ready for their close up? If not, they should be.

Campaign videos – specifically videos made for YouTube, Vimeo and other video hosting sites on the Internet – are quickly becoming one of the most impactful tools in your campaign toolkit. Just as the first televised debate between Kennedy and Nixon heralded a new era in political communications, there is ample evidence that web video is going to change how politicians regularly engage their target audience.

Canadians sure do love to watch videos on their computers. According to a recent study by ComScore, Canadians watched between 8 to 20 hours worth of online video in the last quarter of 2010. The typical Canadian watched over 200 videos in that same timeframe. The ComScore study also noted that while entertainment continues to be main genre of videos consumed online, views of videos categorized as “general news” rose by 14% from the same time last year.
Meanwhile, the video format is itself a powerful medium. Studies have shown that website visitors only typically remember 10% of what they read or hear 72 hours after they consume it on your website. However, video content resulted in a 68% recall rate. A University of Western Ontario study demonstrated that subjects remember 58% more of what was taught when the material was presented in both audio and visual form.

Video has also been demonstrated to invoke action. According to Forrester Research, including the word “video” in the subject line of an e-mail results in a 2-3 times higher open rate. One search engine marketing firm found that offering instructional or informational video generated 373% more leads for corporate clients than offering whitepapers for download.

Political leaders have seized on this trend and are exploring the potential life web video can offer to their political fortunes. In March of last year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper partnered with YouTube to conduct a live interview that featured questions pulled from the list of 1,800 submitted beforehand which were voted by over 140,000 individuals. The resulting interview was watched live by 30,000 Canadians and has been subsequently viewed over 272,000 times.

In the U.S., the White House recently demonstrated the full power of interactive online video during President Obama’s State of the Union address, with interactive charts and graphs, rotating fact boxes and sharing capabilities all built into the livestream of the President’s speech.

Of course, the power of web video has also been demonstrated in less positive ways. One only has to Google the word “Macaca” to see how one short video can quickly change a campaign. In the case of former Senator George Allen, the impact of a 2006 video clip of him using the slur to describe an opponent’s campaign staffer filming his stump speech was immediate. Many believe it that video contributed to his narrow defeat in Virginia.

If you’re still looking for yet another reason to invest your scarce time and resources into video, then analytics web video offers may yet convince you. Unlike traditional media buys, services like YouTube and others allow campaigns the ability to see exactly how many people viewed your spot, shared it and commented on it. Like most social media statistics, all of this data is recorded and displayed in real time, so you understand the impact your video is having with your target market.

Of course, online video doesn’t end with interviews featuring your candidate. More and more commercial and political advertising outfits are moving towards streaming online video ads to reach an audience. Each quarter, more dollars slated for TV advertising are being moved into the digital environment. Industry leaders expect that trend to continue into and beyond 2011 as advertisers look for better ways to segment, target and track how their ads are viewed and what impact it has on sales.

In the political realm, the 2010 midterms saw more online video ad buys than ever before. In an interview with ClickZ, a representative for Targeted Victory, a political firm that specializes in online campaigning, told the interviewer that the clients that “get it” were spending approximately 85% of their online budget on video advertising. Other reports from states with competitive races noted that in the crucial days leading up to the November vote many media buying agencies found that YouTube and other ad networks were running out of available ad inventory.

Web video creates an opportunity for campaigns to merge important campaign messages with compelling and impactful visual elements. And gone are the days when “spots” cost tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars to produce and distribute. For the price of a decent video recorder, a microphone and editing software, even local candidates can produce quality web video for their campaign. And distributing it and tracking results cost a fraction of what it did even ten years ago.

As the old adage goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Video, then, is worth tens of thousands of words. As more voters come to access their video content online, it is important that campaigns recognize how to effectively integrate video into their communications program. Done correctly, it can have a meaningful and substantive impact on your campaign.

Lessons From The ‘Social Media For Mayor’ Panel

Last week I had the privilege of sitting on a panel for Toronto’s Social Media Week to discuss the impact of social media on Toronto’s recent municipal election. The panel featured an impressive group of folks who use and deeply understand social media: The Globe’s Kelly Grant, voting reform activist Dave Meslin, Edleman Digital VP Dave Fleet, “resident communist” (and National Post columnist) Jonathan Goldsbie, Smitherman spokesperson Stefan Baranski and digital strategist (and moderator) Michael Nus.

As the administrator of the website Toronto Election News, I closely observed each mayoral camp and most of the hot races across the city.  Unlike some panels I have participated in, every member had excellent insights into the use of social media in political campaigning.  You can watch the entire discussion thanks to Justin Kozuch) via Ustream here. You can also check out the reactions on Twitter here.

For those who don’t have the time to watch the discussion, I’m happy to offer some conclusions on social media and politics from the discussion with my fellow panellists.  The big take away is that social media is a tool for your campaign, not the tool – there are no silver bullets here.

Some other insights:

1.  Politicians are still on ‘transmit’: The panel agreed that most of the campaigns still used social media to almost exclusively transmit messages rather than try and engage their constituents or potential supporters.  One noted that if you look at the Facebook Pages, no one was even responding to comments to posts.  Everyone agreed that this is going to have to change.

2. Media still loves a horserace: The panel noted that the media often looked to statistics such as number of followers to determine who was “winning” the social media war.  But such shallow analysis is often misleading and really doesn’t provide any context to how a campaign is using social media and whether they are doing it effectively.

3. Goals must be defined: The panel generally agreed that social media has moved past the stage of being a concept or gimmick when have a Facebook Page meant you were connected and current.   Now, activities must shift towards defining real goals related to election activity (Voter ID, GOTV, etc) and social media be leveraged to meet those goals.

4. Content is (still) king: It doesn’t matter if you have a great hashtag or Ustream ever event, if your key messages do not resonate, it won’t matter.  Mayoral candidate Rocco Rossi was held as an example: he ran an excellent social media campaign, but his message never seemed to resonate with Toronto voters.  As a result, his online never really morphed into wider concrete support with voters.

It was a great discussion and I enjoyed being a part of it.  Campaigners using social media would be well served to heed the advice presented by the panel.

E-Mail As Your Branding Machine

As I was on my way into the office, I came across not one but two businesses that were advertising their services through wraps that they have had placed on their automobiles. They included all the information you need to understand what they do: business name, tagline, phone number, website – and e-mail. But in both cases (one pictured above), their e-mail address was a Yahoo! or a Hotmail exchange.

We are all familiar with these free webmail services and they are great for allowing you to access your e-mail on the go. The interfaces are easy to use and intuitive and they are often bundled with other useful services. In recent they have substantial increased their data storage capacity as well.

But what struck me was why businesses would use these particular webmail clients as their main client-facing e-mail address. A corporate e-mail address provides one of the best opportunities to advertise your brand doing something your going to do anyway. Every time you give it out, you are promoting your company and your website. Using Yahoo, Gmail or Hotmail for your business is a wasted opportunity.

The good news is, if you have even just a domain name, you can create a branded webmail service. In virtually all cases, if you have a hosting account, it includes at least one e-mail account, which you can set up as you see fit (info@yourbusiness.ca, etc). In many cases, even the basic packages include 5-10 e-mail accounts and 10-25GB of storage space.

I personally love Google Apps. If you’re not familiar, Google Apps is an integrated suite of applications (Gmail, Google Docs, Google Sites, Google Calendar etc) that you can brand specifically for your business. Again, if you have a domain name you control, you can easily set up a branded e-mail account that allows you to create up to 50 e-mail addresses. It is free with up to 25 GB of storage and you don’t have to worry about maintenance.

A branded e-mail address is your electronic businesses card. If you’d like one, talk to your hosting company, check out Google Apps or familiar services like Yahoo! Business E-Mail (which charges a modest fee) to quickly set up your business e-mail account. It may be your cheapest, yet most effective tool in your promotional arsenal.

Examining Social Media In Federal Politics

I read with interest an article in today’s Globe and Mail by Eric Grenier which discusses federal politics and the use of social media. In the article, Mr. Genier concludes that Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals hold a much bigger presence on Facebook and Twitter over Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. And given that the next federal election will be fought in the social media realm, this could give them a much needed edge.

While I agree with Mr. Grenier that understanding and utilizing social media is incredibly important in any modern campaign, I don’t agree with his assessment of where the Parties stand.  I should disclose that I am a supporter of the Conservative Party, but as a social media consultant, the analysis of the data does not change.  Here are a few reasons why I disagree with Mr. Grenier:

1.  It Is All About the Leaders

Mr. Grenier lumps each party’s caucus together and totals to the number of followers on Facebook and Twitter to determine who is “winning” the social media war of popularity.  And the Liberal Caucus wins.  But when you look at the individual leaders, it’s a different story.  Prime Minister Harper has more followers on both Facebook (39,083 likes) and Twitter (81,768 followers) than Michael Ignatieff (32,862 and 53,811 respectively).

I put much more stock in the stats of the individual leaders than I do of the caucus members.  Any politico will tell you that an individual candidate is worth roughly 2-5% of the vote.  The Leader and the Party is worth much, much more.  So, it seems that Mr. Ignatieff has more work to do.  In fact, I would be much more troubled by the Facebook number than the Twitter number:  following someone on Twitter (where Ignatieff is closer) does not suggest support; “liking” a Page of Facebook does.

2.  Mentions Are Incredibly Important

While it is easy to size up a candidate by looking at the totals for a given politician, the “buzz” around them online (how often they are talked about in an article, blog post, tweet, etc) is even more important.    Yes, Mr. Grenier is correct when he says it is not surprising that Prime Minister Harper leads the pack in mentions, given that he is the Prime Minister.  But the gulf between Harper and Ignatieff is something worth examining.

In the recent Toronto municipal election, I conducted an analysis of each of the candidates’ mentions and found that the eventual winner, Rob Ford, completely dominated the discussion.  In fact, even though Ford did not have as many followers on Twitter or Facebook as his rivals, he was mentioned four times more often on Twitter than his closest competitor, George Smitherman.  Ford was the story, plain and simple.  He dominated the agenda online and offline.

3.  Sentiment Means Something

Mr. Grenier does not provide an analysis of the mentions he cites for each of the Parties and their leaders.  Prime Minister Harper leads in mentions in news article and blogs, but is that positive or negative?  It would have been helpful to know the percentages for each. Whether the general discussion is supportive towards a candidate or negative helps put things into context.  Former Governor Sarah Palin has a high number of mentions.

4.  The Social Media Discount

In general terms, I give the Conservatives somewhat of a discount on social media.  Their supporters tend to be older and less likely to use social networks such as Facebook – and especially Twitter.    In other words, their support within the social media landscape is often underrepresented when measured against national popular support.

Given that reality, it is even more impressive that the Conservatives are able to hold their own in terms of supporters and followers within social media.

My Advice

Based on my initial analysis, I think the Conservatives have a lot to be positive about.  While they may lose the overall horse race (# of followers, etc), the Prime Minister is well positioned online.  I also think the Liberals could exploit some of their online strengths in the coming months.  Here’s how:

Conservatives
[itemlist]

  • PM Harper clearly dominates any space he’s in – he’ll get coverage.  Flood channels with as much content as possible.
  • As Mr. Grenier mentioned, Harper’s “Sweet Caroline” moment had a lot of interest online.  This is a great way to personalize him in the minds on Canadians.
  • Conservative MPs are on Twitter, but they aren’t using is to their full advantage.  MPs should be encouraged to talk about government policy and get feedback from constituents as much as possible.

[/itemlist]
Liberals
[itemlist]

  • The flipside of the Conservatives – the Liberal caucus are clearly a strength online.  They should use that strength to push Ignatieff and the Party.
  • The Liberal Party has three times as many followers on Facebook than the Conservative Party does.   The Party brand resonates; it is important to use it to it’s full advantage.
  • No Opposition Leader can compete against a Prime Minister or Premier for mainstream media attention.  That’s why I would give alternatives to the press – blogs, niche websites, podcasts, etc as much direct access and content as possible to try and build buzz in other ways.

[/itemlist]
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