On Blogs & Campaigns

I’m participating in a forum at the Dole Institute at the University of Kansas next Tuesday night. I was asked to submit a post on the ’08 race and blogs. This is what I sent in:

The 2008 Presidential campaign season will be the first where an “e-campaign coordinator,” the fancy way of saying blogger/campaign spammer, will be as common as a communications director for a Presidential campaign. And no aspect of a campaign will be heavily promoted and hyped. Nonetheless, I remain a skeptic of bloggers and campaigns, despite being a blogger myself.

It is important to separate hype from fact. It is true that blogs can be beneficial to campaigns as a fundraising tool or an activism tool. But the effectiveness of blogs and bloggers should be kept in perspective. For all the hype of Howard Dean’s campaign and blogs in 2004, he imploded in Iowa. Blogs are just tools. They can be beneficial for fundraising or organizing, but they are not going to reach out to mainstream America.

In my observations of where campaigns are at heading to 2008, I see that some campaigns understand better than others the best use of blogs — as tools for shaping opinion leaders in communities early. In several surveys of blog readers, including an internal one conducted at RedState.com where I write, the surveys show that blog readers are not the norm in communities, but they are opinion leaders in a community. A blog reader is usually more likely than his neighbors to be informed about politics and more likely to help shape other people’s views about politics. Keeping up with these people via blogs is a cost effective way to build a candidate’s name and support among opinion leaders early.

At the same time, blogs can be a double edged sword for campaigns. Take the recent example of John Edwards. In an attempt to reach out to the left side of the blogosphere, he hired two bloggers whose views were not only incendiary, but frequently vulgar and obscene. Campaigns need to realize that the rules of campaigns still apply — staff hires, even bloggers, need to be properly vetted. For several days now, from the New York Times to Time magazine, the Edwards campaign has been stumbling dealing with this issue. And now, apparently having fired the bloggers, the campaign is having to deal with a backlash inside the blogosphere.

Campaigns should expect that bloggers will, on occasion, say incendiary things. Like Star Trek pushing Pon’far on female Vulcans every time there is a ratings dip, bloggers sometimes push incendiary writing to get traffic. But, though decency limits are harder to define in the blogosphere than they are to define in a Star Trek episode, they do exist. The rule should probably be: would what the blogger wrote really creep out middle America? And if so, was what the blogger wrote a pattern or a Pon’far rating grab? In other words, a couple of posts from a blogger that are incendiary can be dealt with more easily than a novel’s worth of nuttery — opposing campaigns will more likely be able to hang a blogger’s writings around a candidate’s neck if the writing was frequently incendiary, crass, and vulgar.

There are plenty of bloggers on the left and right who would be great assets to campaigns in getting their message out early to community opinion leaders who read blogs. Candidates just need to remember that rules still apply, bloggers must be vetted, and when in doubt a blogger, as with other tools of a campaign, is more likely to harm a campaign than help a campaign. Until the blogosphere matures, that will continue to be the case.

UPDATE: Edwards caved to the lefties. They are unfired now.

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Erick Erickson

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