Big Data, Business, and Politics

Some candidates in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary are marketing themselves like products, running solely on familiarity—presumably like the familiarity of your favorite neighborhood restaurant or a carmaker whose models you keep buying over the years. Others are using a radically different approach: They are building movements while they campaign, because they see themselves as activist leaders, not products. So these campaigns are building movements, “thoughtfully and deliberately designed to create an unprecedented grassroots movement driven by hundreds of thousands of volunteers.”

We hear and read these all the time: shallow comparisons between running businesses and running political campaigns—particularly where the use of data, social media, and other infotech are concerned.

It’s not entirely unfounded. After all, big political firms do make many of the same mistakes that businesses make where tech and data are concerned. For example, while I might not put it in the stark terms that he does, there’s something to Igor Lys’s comments in a recent post that many of the promises of big data in politics, just as in business, are false, based on the assumption that “big data allows reliable prediction.” I do think it’s futile to “predict” outcomes and instead that it’s better to use data in combination with other forms of information gathering. Lys agrees, writing that “the real use these people make of massive data collection and analysis concerns less the prediction and the manipulation of the future result, than the better analysis of the already existing ones.”

Political campaigns might also parallel business practices in efforts to capture email addresses of visitors that don’t end up donating money (or in business parlance, buy the product). Such sites might use pop-up windows to offer free newsletter subscriptions in exchange for an email address and use email append and verification services to build powerful databases of supporter contacts and preferences.

But while both political campaigns and businesses analyze data and collect contact info, I am also cautious about drawing too many parallels between, on the one hand, an endeavor whose primary goal is to make profits and one whose primary goal is to engage people into voting for, financially supporting, and working for political candidates or issues.

Here’s why political engagement, even through data use, is different from profit-seeking: Profits are extracted from workers’ labor and paid to owners or shareholders. These are very exclusive dividends. But political support grows as relationships among people. Political support, and political solidarity, are not finite and can’t be exclusively owned or claimed. A group of volunteers for a campaign may feel that political energy growing inside of them and when they share it with others, that energy grows rather than thins out. I don’t have less of it when I give it to you.  

This is why it’s important to use data in combination with direct political participation, such as social media engagement, canvassing, and campaign communications. For example, you can use your data to plan solid social media messaging strategies, to nuance the language on a candidate or issue website, or to pick the appropriate language for your campaign emails. Those messages invite different kinds of interaction, from campaign volunteers reaching out to vocal supporters of a campaign on social media, to a web form offering many different options for a supporter’s participation. Businesses sell products and services and the entire process is rather binary: will you buy the thing, if yes, then profit into the hands of owners and shareholders. There’s not much else a loyal customer can do beyond buy more products and refer others to do the same.

None of this is to say that pouring massive amounts of money into big data operations will have an effect even if it doesn’t help build an organic movement. Michael Bloomberg’s plan to use big data to help defeat Trump is a notable example of an effort that will probably have an effect even if it doesn’t empower people politically beyond voting. But an approach that includes participation and lots of interaction produces organizations —like Bernie Sanders’ campaign— that have strength beyond their numbers.

And, although I recently wrote that small donor acquisition efforts rely on creating a sense of urgency (which some may see as similar to creating consumer desire), these efforts are really ultimately about creating political communities. Sure, we can tailor social media ad campaigns based on appeals to different interests and demographics, but the end goal is to get invite these people’s participation through small donations as alternatives to courting large sums of corporate or millionaire money. And such courtship of small donors almost always includes inviting them into the interactive and participatory aspects of a campaign.

This isn’t some hypothetical or abstract philosophical assumption. Key voting blocs for the Democrats want big ideas and morally sound positions from candidates going into 2020. Knowing the difference in ethos between a political campaign and a business selling products or services is critical in appealing to the values of those voters who will create a new majority in the coming decades.

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NationBuilder and NGP VAN

If you’re looking for the best political software technology platform  – integrated voter files, supporter and volunteer database, online donations, voter outreach tools, social media, online political action forms and political websites that build fast and work well – skip over NGP VAN and check out NationBuilder.

Inbound Marketing – It Works

“Inbound marketing” is one of the buzziest of the social media catchphrases, but that’s because it works.
I’ve been doing a lot of Web 2.0 and social media for government speaking of late, and all of the leads have come either from social media connections or contacts directly through my web outposts, from inquiries on my blog to messages on Twitter. These leads have taken me to new states and countries in the past year, and, in April, I’ll be putting a two-day workshop in Southeast Asia because I quickly responded to a conference organizer with a proposal after she found me through search engines and followed me on Twitter.
If you’re just getting started with social media marketing of your products or services, don’t get discouraged. I’d been actively blogging on Gov 2.0 for more than a year before the leads started coming in. Persistence matters.
In 2011, I’m going to be focusing on a small number of high-impact workshop and speaking engagements, events in California, and social media trainings and implementation for government and activism. It’s great to see the groundwork of many late nights of writing bearing fruit.

SF Architecture, Landscape, Weather Brought to Life on Twitter

Twitter has long been a place where fictional characters – from Darth Vader to strange turns on comic book heroes to the characters from the space opera Firefly – have found life. Now, in a move to warm a tourism board’s heart, some of the most iconic features of San Francisco are also animated on the micro-blogging service.

Authored by a person or persons unknown, about two dozen SF buildings, structures, landscape features – even the fog – tweet away to each other and other Twitter users concerned with traffic, weather and other Bay Area happenings. These tweeting icons are cheeky in style, and several are quite active, while others have faded away, as Twitter users are wont to do.

From “Karl the Fog” to “TransAmericaBdg,” you can check out their latest antics on my new Twitter list.

Fall Speaking Schedule

My fall schedule is quite busy, and I’m looking forward to meet many of my social media friends at several upcoming speaking engagements.

So you’ll know where to find me:

Citizen 2.0 Workshop – Sunday, Sept. 19, 2-4 p.m., Fairfield, CA – I’ll be leading a session on social media for progressive activists and campaign workers at the Solano County Democratic Party Headquarters;

NAGW National Conference – Sept. 21-22, St. Louis, MO – I’ll be leading a workshop and a regular conference session on social media for government;

CityCampSF – Oct. 16-17, San Francisco, CA – I’m an organizer of this unconference, and will be proposing sessions on social media, neighborhood beautification and mobile apps, and a public art location-based app check-in race;

Beyond 2010 – October 20-23, Edmonton, AB, Canada – I’ll be speaking in Edmonton on the 21st, on “Sci-fi, Digital Society and the Future of Governance,” holding a social media workshop for City of Edmonton’s IT branch, and meeting up with friends from Twitter and Empire Avenue;

How To: Podcasting – October 28, Oakland, CA – Joe Hackman and I are the guest speakers at Jonathan Fleming’s East Bay LocalPreneurs meetup, talking about our respective podcasts and sharing tips;

Gravity Summit – November 8-9, Irvine, CA – I’ll be keynoting the Social Media and Government event, talking about going to the next level with conversation and collaboration for governments and campaigns;

Keep up with me on Twitter, and I’ll be Plancasting these events as well. Hope to see you soon!

Q&A: ‘I See Pictures Everywhere’

Allie Wojtaszek of Edmonton, Alberta, is one of the top members on the social media influence market Empire Avenue, and a prolific photographer. I interview Allie about Empire Avenue and Flickr, where she is ranked as the most influential member on EA.

Adriel Hampton: Allie, with recent updates to Empire Avenue, you’re the No. 3 in price on the site, and the top Flickr member. EA didn’t even have Flickr at first. How did you find out about it (EA), and what first drove you to be an active member?

Allie: I found out about Empire Avenue when I met (co-founder) Dups at a Tech Start Up in Edmonton. I knew I wanted to be a part of it right away.

Adriel: You’re a self-avowed early adopter, but what it is that got you to stick with EA? I know I’ve tried and dumped a fair number of social networks.

Allie: I find EA rewarding (in the sense of game play, it’s fun) but what really made me stick with it was the community it created and the people I have had a chance to connect with there. The strength of EA as a social networking tool is attractive.

Adriel: You’re a social person! Before we start talking Flickr, what is it about the Empire Avenue community you found so attractive?

Allie: I like that EA connects with all the other social networking sites that I find important and useful. I love that EA has given me the opportunity to connect with people all over the world. Their ideas now influence and expand me.

Adriel: A small yet-international community, yeah, that’s super cool. So, Flickr. I hardly knew Flickr was a social network, but obviously you’ve been thriving a long time there. How did that start?

Allie: I needed a place to put my pictures online when I switched to digital. I was using Yahoo, tried Picasa. But when I found Flickr, I was sold. I’ve been using it now since 2005 as a pro member (which I totally recommend).

Adriel: I went Pro because of Empire Avenue! It is great for storage. Do you also back up your pictures, or is everything on Yahoo’s cloud?

Allie: I also use Mozy.com for backing up my pictures. Yes, I love them that much. Plus, I tend to only put pictures I like or that have significance to me on Flickr. I have thousands of other pictures to back up.

Adriel: Not surprised! When you do a shoot, do you post most or all of your pictures to Flickr, or are you really selective? I see both styles on the site.

Allie: I do try to be selective. I want people to like my pictures and want to visit, so I aim for the best quality I can provide.

Adriel: I’m guessing it won’t be long before you have a thousand Flickr contacts. Have you met a lot of folks there?

Allie: I know a few contacts in real life as well as on Flickr. We have Flickr photo walks and meetups here in Edmonton.

Adriel: That’s cool. Lot of that in SF, but I haven’t been to one yet. Are you a trained photographer, or self-taught?

Allie: No training, so I guess that makes me self taught. I see pictures everywhere. At some point someone gave me a camera, and I’ve never looked back. I think I was 8 years old.

Adriel: What are you shooting with these days? Do you do any post-processing?

Allie: I use a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi. I usually will auto correct for colors if need be and have been known to crop.

Adriel: Obviously you’ve put serious time into Flickr, but what’s your best advice for Empire Avenue folks looking to build a network there?

Allie: I would first say select good and interesting photo’s to post. Don’t dump or flood your page or people won’t want to look. Give every picture a title, description and tags. Add them to a set if applicable. Then find groups for them. Then you can post links to your pictures on other sites to entice people to come and see your Flickr profile. I would also suggest interacting with your audience – answering comments and checking out their pictures and leaving comments. Groups are great for exposure but also advice and tips. Flickr people are amazing at sharing advice!

Adriel: Again with the mind reading. I was just typing a question about groups. Tell me, how many photos do you think is right to upload in a session/day?

Allie: To be honest I think the less the better. I think quality is way more important than quantity. So I try to do no more than 25. And that would really be a lot – like vacation pictures (which I take a lot of). But I don’t know if there is a right/wrong amount to upload in a day. If you want people to look, less is better.

Adriel: How has EA changed your Flickr experience?

Allie: When Empire Avenue added Flickr, my enjoyment of it escalated. I love that I’ve had more exposure, but EA also helps to find new contacts.

Adriel: Makes a lot of sense. Thanks for your time! Any last words for your fans on EA and Flickr?

Allie: I’d like to say thanks to everyone who supports me on Empire Avenue and Flickr. If it wasn’t for them, none of it would be fun at all.

Adriel: Awesome. And thanks for all your great community building on EA.

Allie: Thanks Adriel, this was fun! I could talk about Flickr all day.