Recently, a local government employee in California declared his run for the U.S. House of Representatives – on Twitter. In full-blown ‘Government 2.0′ style, he appears to be communicating his message in a very personal manner, largely through new media technologies. Will that be enough to carry him to Congress?
New Media Elects a President
The world has seen a U.S. President campaign partly by grassroots organization via new media channels, and now everybody wants to learn. In the nation’s capital, consultants, lobbyists, and people closely associated with political parties want to know about things like organizing a tweet-up about pending immigration legislation in a specific zip code on the Mexican border. It will be very interesting to see who the winners and losers are – both by the judgement of voters and that of social media gurus – during the 2010 Congressional election season.
But what about the reverse? Too much emphasis is placed, perhaps, on traditional political consultants learning about new media tools and incorporating them into a traditional campaign. What if an avid new media user with some political chops used his social network for a major political run?
Adriel Hampton for Congress
A little over a week ago, Adriel Hampton declared his candidacy for what will probably be a special election for an abandoned seat (CA-10) in the U.S. House of Representatives. An employee of the city of San Francisco and a former Chronicle newspaper editor, he seems to be personally interested in his local community. Speaking about social software on his website, Hampton said: ‘I want to use these new tools to join [Obama] in Washington, D.C., to transform a government that has become strangely disconnected from the everyday realities of people in District 10.’
His campaign Twitter account accumulated about 600 followers in its first day, and he has also started a podcast, among using other new media tools. And the novelty of the campaign (and probably the candidate) sparked mainstream news coverage, even in national political publication Politico.
Count the Metrics
It’s hard to quantify the impact of a candidate’s performance during a press conference, or the effects of a new policy proposal made in a speech. But new media ’success’ is increasingly based on metrics. And early metrics for the campaign fall a little flat. After an initial one-day 600 follower boost, the @Adriel4Campaign account flatlined. And since declaring his candidacy (and asking for $100 from each of his followers, many of whom do not live in his Congressional district), his personal account has also flatlined.
Not to be Twitter-centric, while it is way too early to judge interest in and traffic to his campaign website, custonm Ning social network, podcast, and so forth, mainstream media coverage also evaporated after about two days, and it wasn’t even all positive. This SFist article reports Hampton’s tweets as ‘meth-like’ – not a terrific quality for someone campaigning to hold the public trust.
What’s the Verdict?
When long-shot Barack Obama started his campaign for President, few people were betting on him to win. So it is far too early to truly judge Adriel Hampton’s campaign for Congress. Nevertheless, it is clear that it takes more than merely utilizing new media tools to make things happen. And using them improperly – particularly if the candidate’s words are search-engine optimized - may end up being worse than goofing a question at a press conference, or performing poorly at a debate shown only on a local television channel.
Candidates need platforms, personalities, financing, timing, and luck to pull off a successful run. In the end, a campaign is a campaign, and new media tools are just that – tools. They can in principle helpful for executing a campaign against a candidate’s core strengths and beliefs. But they more than likely cannot be used successfully in isolation.