Try this modern twist on an old slogan: It is common these days to allow our vote speak for itself, particularly if we’re dissatisfied with the results of an election. What’s interesting is that the “other guy” doesn’t necessarily have to be a guy, or even a person anymore. It can be an issue – something that drives you, or a problem you think needs to be solved.
Politics at its heart is just a different form of marketing. There are more rules you have to follow and some restrictions on what you can do that are different from traditional marketing, but the basic difference is that, when the polls close on Election Night, you can’t change the result until the next time an election rolls around.
That may be why the lessons in politics are harder to learn: the “event” we all market doesn’t take place for at least another year, so what we’ve learned is all too easy to forget. That said, I hope there are some things you can take away from this past election season that you can use in your personal marketing efforts and apply to things you’d like to see changed.
1. An online movement that doesn’t create change isn’t a movement!
To illustrate my point, I’ll use the recent attempt by Congress to pass the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). The online marketing community realized that this legislation, if it became law, would do little to protect intellectual property online but would instead set up a lot of roadblocks for Internet users. So the community decided to take action. It started a movement in which various organizations (including ours) agreed to “turn their websites dark” in a show of solidarity against the legislation.
The protest worked. SOPA was stopped. But the movement missed an equally important opportunity. It made no effort to educate its supporters about where their individual legislators stood on the subject- and how they voted. If activists had taken the time to educate supporters better, they might have been able to impact the debate surrounding CISPA – the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act – a similarly controversial piece of legislation. With 87% of the seats up for grab in Congress this last election, the movement might have been able to change the political landscape and stave off any further draconian efforts to police the Web.
I’ve seen many of the movement’s anti-SOPA communications because I have lots of friends who care passionately about this issue. I agree with them, but I take the course many of us do: I say to myself, “they know what they’re talking about, and I trust their judgment, so I will take action when directed.” Leading up to the election, none of my friends shared a single voters’ guide or any material discussing the issue or indicating how my Representative or Senators voted on it.
It is one thing to be passionate about an issue, but to effect change you have to get off the sidelines and into the game, as uncomfortable as that might be. Politicians are not all that different from any other rational actor – they’re going to pay attention when you give them a reason. Organizing online does not give politicians a reason to listen to you unless you show them how you can impact their objectives (in a positive or negative manner). Connecting who you are and what you stand for with actual votes when they tally the ballots, or shaping how the media covers the election (and influences voters in the process) is how you will influence a politician to reconsider his or her position.
2. Talking about your favorite politician online does not win friends or influence voters!
How many readers saw friends post something to the effect:
“I need to find a way to screen out political posts from my feed so I can stay friends with people.”
Our political feelings don’t always line up neatly with those of our friends, particularly when social media have minimized the emotional investment required to maintain a friendship. By that I mean, I can be someone’s friend without having to remember key things like their birthday, their likes and dislikes, where they work, their kids’ names, what they look like, etc.
I slightly exaggerate that for effect. But you can’t expect to maintain a network of hundreds or thousands of people who all agree with you on every political issue. You also can’t expect to say disparaging things about people who disagree with you and hope to remain friends.
That said, all the commenting in the world isn’t going to help your candidate at all. Rather, it just reinforces an incorrect perception that your candidate is doing well. Facebook likes to help us figure out what we want to read most. When you’re talking about something, it’s going to show you more posts about that subject. Unless you have a lot of interaction with people who disagree with you, you’re more than likely going to see opinions that validate your own, creating a false impression that your opinion is reflected by most other people.
As media outlets become more polarized and we continue to gravitate toward those that reinforce our point of view, this problem will only get worse. Unless you’re actively working to reach out to people online who you know are planning to vote for the ‘other guy’ or not vote at all, you’re not helping your cause by just talking about it online.
Technology has made it so much easier to participate in the process. There are tools you can use to organize people and collaborate online. You can even make get-out-the-vote calls through the Internet. Candidates and advocacy groups are always looking for new ways to make helping more convenient, and the Internet always seems to be the solution.
Whether your ‘other guy’ is an issue or a candidate, a small amount of effort can make a tremendous difference! Just looking at the recently concluded Presidential race, the five closest states were decided by a margin of 5% of those who voted. Sixteen states (including those five) were decided by 10% of those who voted! This year there are many races for the U.S. House of Representatives that were decided by less than 5,000 votes – some by even a few hundreds of votes.
Organization makes all the difference, translating your online activity into offline action is what can change elections and deliver the results you want. If you learn anything from this election, it’s that saying “meh” is not enough – you have to find a way to impact the process if you want to see change. Contact me if you want to learn more about how to transform online activity into real change – I’ve helped people figure out how to win elections and influence voters for over a decade, and I’d enjoy helping you design a strategy to achieve your goals as well!