Thursday, February 19, 2004

Some Thoughts on Blogs and Fundraising

I always feel a bit uncomfortable writing about this stuff because as the manager of the advertising department it's my sworn duty to inform all potential clients that advertising here will lead them to victory. But, as editor of this place I can't be quite that evangelistic.

The Chandler campaign had a lot of success with their ads. If nothing else, they got a terrific return on their advertising investment. And, for the most part the benefit of doing what is essentially national advertising for a local race is fundraising. That is, I don't think Blogads are going to steer any votes your way, but they might steer some dollars (and volunteers).

But, as many have pointed out 435 House campaigns and thirty-odd Senate campaigns aren't going to be able to spend a couple grand on ads and get back $80,000. Chandler's campaign succeeded partially because they were first, and mostly because they were the only game in town due to the fact that it was a special election. Also, there were polls showing that while Chandler could win, it definitely wasn't guaranteed. People want to contribute where they think a) they might get results and b) their $25 might have an impact. And, the chance to win in a "red state" where the opponent was running on a "whatever Bush does is right" platform was also an appeal.

I do think that there are a lot of campaigns out there who will be able to make Blogs work for them, but it's going to take a bit more than simply placing ads. If everyone jumps on the ad-placing bandwagon, and then they sit back and wait for the money to roll in, then I'll get a nice fat check from Blogads but it won't necessarily do much for the campaigns.

I think it's useful to spell out my ad policy here. First, I'll accept ads from just about any entity that isn't explicitly fraudulent, obscene, racist, etc... If the Bush campaign (as obscene, fraudulent, and racist as it is) wants to waste their advertising dollars here that's fine by me.

Second, buying an ad buys an ad. It doesn't buy a plug from me personally. On the other hand, an ad sitting on my website gets my attention too. And, if I see something I like I'm going to plug it. I tend to take a closer look at those who buy the "sponsored link," but if the Bush campaign buys a spot there I'm not going to tell everyone to rush and donate to them.

I think placing an ad is a good first step for reaching blog readers, but it is neither a necessary nor sufficient way to do it. I've plugged campaigns that haven't advertised, such as the Herseth campaign. A senate campaign has contacted me about doing a "guest blogging" post, which I agreed to. They later placed an ad (which hasn't run yet), but I never suggested it.

The key thing blogs provide is a way to personalize your campaign. Aside from getting the attention of the bloggers themselves, I think ads get a positive reaction from blog readers because they perceive that the campaigns take this seriously. And, then, when they click through the website they want to see something more than just a standard impersonal campaign website which is rarely updated. Nobody thinks that twenty bucks buys them face time with a candidate, but people donate because they think their twenty bucks is being bundled with a hundred other peoples', and suddenly that makes them part of an interest group which, collectively, wants to feel it's being heard.

What the Dean campaign tapped into was a bunch of people who wanted to feel personally invested in a campaign, but hadn't found any way to do that. Too many state and local parties are completely ossified and don't return calls by people offering to volunteer, and are often run by people who don't seem to want any new blood interfering with their little fiefdoms. Between impeachment, Florida, and the Bush administration there are a lot of people new people who decided they wanted to become "involved" but didn't know how. The internet allows a small degree of personal involvement by a large number of people, and they're grateful for candidates who let them feel involved. Haines, who is running to be the nominee in Georgia's 12th, started taking/responding to comments and criticisms. That's smart.

Look, a lot of the internet "personal involvement" is an illusion - and most people know that. Nobody ever thought Howard Dean read through thousands of comments on his weblog, but it nonetheless allowed them to feel they had a wee personal connection to the campaign, and that's all that mattered. The truth is, I think it's relatively easy for a campaign to tap into that sentiment, though not all campaigns will be comfortable doing that - and nor should they try. Blog readers are not your "typical voter" or your "typical Democrat," and not all campaigns/candidates are necessarily well-suited for trying to tap into that particular vibe. But, some are and with a little creativity and not too much effort they might be able to get the little extra money/attention they need to put them over the line in November. And, hey, write me a nice fat consulting check and I'll tell you how to do it... ;)