Political strategists say social networking is opening the floodgates to a new generation of voters.
RESTON, Virginia—There was bipartisan agreement on display Thursday about the impact of Web 2.0 technology on politics.
Joe Trippi, senior advisor to the John Edwards presidential campaign, and Cyrus Krohn, the director of the eCampaign division of the Republican National Committee, both spoke of how social networking has changed the face of politics on a panel at ExecutiveBiz's The New New Internet conference here.
"It's going to overthrow the current structure [of politics]," Trippi said of the impact of the Web, social networking, and social media. Krohn concurred, saying, "The floodgates have been opened—it's going to change politics forever."
While the "first Internet President" has yet to be elected—and the Internet may not be the deciding factor in the 2008 election—it's clear to senior people within several campaigns that social networking is the only way for them to reach a segment of the population that politicians have generally ignored in the past.
"More than half of people under 30 don't have landline phones," said John Della Volpe, the director of polling for the Harvard Institute of Politics, who joined Krohn and Trippi on the panel. "Most campaigns go after seniors. But more people under 30 voted in the last election than people over 65."
To read more about why presidential politics and the Web's response time rarely mix, click here.
Both Trippi and Krohn heavily use Web 2.0 technologies to reach supporters of their causes. Krohn, in fact, told the audience that he was "Twittering" the whole conference, and uses Twitter to communicate with a large number of what he referred to as "Generation M" voters—voters under 30.
"[In] our MySpace group, the average user is under 25," said Krohn. He said that the RNC has turned to social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace to help get the word out to younger supporters. "The medium has gone wild," he said. "It can be exciting, but it can also be intimidating."
One of the side effects of sites like eBay and MySpace, said Trippi, is that "Americans have faith in strangers again—something that was wiped out by big media." While television news broadcasts "show murders every night," he said, the nature of Web 2.0 builds communities of trust.
Page 2: Web 2.0 'Changing Politics Forever'
Krohn agreed, and noted the power of what "millennials" are building in social networking sites. "There is someone on the Internet today, probably 15 years old," said Krohn, "who is building a social network online that will [help him] become President."
Trippi said that he felt that the RNC was a bit behind on its development of understanding of Web 2.0 culture mostly because of President Bush's re-election bid four years ago. "If you have a guy who's a done deal running, even though you had people who believed in Web 2.0, they really didn't need to go bottom-up," he said. "On the other side, you had Howard Dean's campaign, and we were freaking out trying to figure out, 'How do we get to people?'
"It spawned a whole group of people who are comfortable with these tools."
Conversely, Trippi, said that he believes that the parties' roles may be reversed this time. "This year, you have almost the exact opposite—Hillary tends to be safe," he said.
Trippi, who became a convert to Web tools for campaigning as an adviser to Dean's presidential campaign, pointed to the successes of Republican congressman Ron Paul's campaign in taking advantage of the power of social networking—not that his campaign could control that power. "His (supporters) are just more excited about him and using the tools," Trippi said.
The Edwards campaign used the power of social networking to counter the "$400 haircut" buzz that surrounded Trippi's candidate through a YouTube video campaign, he said. The videos, which used the song "Hair" from the Broadway musical of the same name, pulled back from close ups of people's hair to reveal scenes of the aftermath of Katrina and images of the war in Iraq. "It got hundreds of thousands of views," Trippi said. "We put it up in the middle of the CNN debate, and all the talk just stopped."
YouTube and other social networking sites with user-contributed content are also creating what Della Volpe called "an era of authenticity."
"Someone in this campaign is going to get caught doing the facade thing, at some closed-to-the-press event, on a cell phone [camera] where he thinks he's safe," said Trippi. The threat of something like that happening, he said, will build authenticity and honesty into how candidates carry themselves.
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