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Long Answer To A Short Question

The InternetPoliticsI received an e-mail looking for my thoughts on the “netroots” poll that got gums flapping last week. The poll is located here. The gist is almost 70% of Democrats believe internet political activists will have a significant impact on the elections. The GOP is almost exactly the opposite with 70% claiming it will have little to no impact.

Given their list of “GOP Insiders” it’s not a surprise. Most of those guys have been doing campaigns the “old school” way since the 70s and 80s. The fact that they would see a new medium as a fad or marginally effective is not a surprise.

The GOP is full of people who learned on old media – mail, phones, radio, and TV – and don’t know anything else. What’s funny is I imagine the same quotes were probably uttered by consultants when cable TV came along.

“Let’s be honest: The people who take the time and energy to [watch cable television] have made up their minds months before any election.”“When it comes down to it, those who are motivated to act via [cable television] are not being swayed to a different party or to vote. They are simply using [cable television] as another way to communicate.”

Now we recognize cable television for what it is – a very cost effective way to deliver a narrowly focused message. The Internet and blogs are that, and so much more.

The reason is inherent in the two-way nature of blogs. Imagine if television allowed anyone, anywhere to instantly refute the newscast with an audience of equal or greater size. Viewing blogs as some passing fad, or some novelty misses the point. It’s shortsighted and conveys a lack of understanding of new media and how people adopt new technologies.

Blogs are merely part of a larger movement in media. The concept of the “blog” will soon fade, but the movement they represent – a broad, diverse network of small, niche market news gatherers and commentators – will remain. As long as these “professionals” and the party leaders approach the changing media landscape with the same conceptual framework they apply to one-way television transmission, they’re going to get hammered.

The trouble for the GOP is we approach bloggers the same way we approach the media. We feed them sound bites, and send them suggested blog topics, but we don’t involve them in the process. We give them widgets they can drop on their website, and we allow them to participate in conference calls or seminars occasionally, but we do not leverage their real power.

Their power is their passion for politics, and their connections. If you had a community leader, someone whose social network was extensive, knew everyone, could gather a variety of opinions on short notice, had both a deep understanding of issues and a source for vetting solutions with an audience representative of the general populace, that person would be an invaluable resource for the campaign. They would likely be asked to serve within the kitchen cabinet for a fair number of candidates. They would likely be sought as an endorsement in the primaries, and as a trusted advisor to campaigns.

Because they are online, however, and choose to spend a great deal of time on the computer and manage their connections via e-mail and IM, the bloggers – who fit the description above in every way – are treated as media, and offered only occasional glimpses of the campaign, and rarely brought in to help.

That’s what the GOP doesn’t see. As long as it remains blind to that, we run the risk of turning the Internet into what talk radio is for Democrats – a medium that is not understood, and which gives the other side great power. Unfortunately, the power of the Internet, compared to talk radio, is much greater and capable of inflicting far more damage on us than we inflict on them with the AM dial.

Written by Michael Turk