Presidential candidates from both sides of the aisle are embracing social media in a big way for the 2008 presidential campaign. As we head into tomorrow’s New Hampshire primary, here’s a rundown of some of the work being done. As political blogs were the first to really take off and in a way defined the early days of the blogosphere, it should be no surprise that campaigns understand that the Internet and social media tools are a great way to reach and engage their highly-charged audiences–their supporters. But the open access to the Internet is one with another side too–since supporters can make sophisticated and compelling content on their own. Candidates have no control at all about what their supporters say (about them or their opponents) or how they convey the carefully chosen and tested messages that the candidates have adopted. The rise of user generated content from supporters is then a double-edged sword.
One of the opening salvos in campaign 2008 was just such an ad. Back in March of 2007, a [remix](http://youtube.com/watch?v=6h3G-lMZxjo) of Apple’s classic “1984” ad that attacked Sen. Hillary Clinton in a pitch for Illinois Senator Barack Obama made its debut on YouTube. The clip is more than a minute long, and was just as striking as a political ad as the original Super Bowl commercial was for Apple. The buzz surrounding the video, especially the question of who produced it, extended the story over weeks and the ongoing attention caused thousands more to view the clip. While it was later disclosed that the ad was the work of a seasoned Democratic political operative–Philip de Vellis of Blue State Digital–the stage was set for the 2008 cycle.
At least one of Obama’s supporters really understands what sells on the web: sex. There is no other word to describe the sultry siren song of Obama Girl’s “[I’ve Got A Crush On Obama](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKsoXHYICqU)”. The success of the first video–which joins the ranks of the 1984 ad with more than 4 million views on YouTube–has spurred the creation of additional “Obama Girl” videos on [BarelyPolitical](http://barelypolitical.com), as well as tongue-in-cheek “reactions” to the video, like “[Romney Girls Attack Obama Girl](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXyl39kgBh8).”
Senator Obama’s official site also has social media elements, including a blog, embedded video, and links to the campaign’s presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, and MySpace. You can also follow the Senator’s Twitter
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Republican candidate Mike Huckabee’s site has a blogroll that sports links to more than 600 bloggers supporting Huckabee. The site also incorporates embedded video, which includes a variety of clips, not just the candidate’s commercials. The campaign’s most notable use of social media to date is a campaign commercial that seems tailor-made for the web. Huckabee’s “[Chuck Norris Approved](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDUQW8LUMs8)” commercial is an amusing take on the standard political endorsement ad. Norris’s reputation as a tough guy is played up, as Huckabee quotes some of the funnier “[Chuck Norris Facts](http://chucknorrisfacts.com).” (Huckabee says: “when he does a pushup, he isn’t lifting himself up, he’s pushing the earth down”). While the numbers aren’t on par with Obama Girl, the clip has a respectable 1.6 million views on YouTube–which is something, considering the fact that people are voluntarily going to a site to watch a campaign commercial.
In May, Senator Clinton posted a video clip on her campaign site, asking supporters to provide advice on “one of the most important questions of this campaign”–something the team had been “struggling with, agonizing, and debating for months” over–selecting the campaign’s theme song. She then showed a clip of herself singing the Star Spangled Banner (badly), and promised that no matter what the choice of song was, she wouldn’t sing it in public. Unless she wins. The video was funny, and showed that the senator had the ability to poke fun at herself, and added a component of interactivity by asking supporters to choose the song.
Republican candidate Congressman Ron Paul has ardent supporters who have been very active in forums, message boards, and on blogs. While the campaign itself hasn’t invested heavily in a social media strategy, quite frankly it hasn’t needed to. The supporters appear to have taken over Digg and Reddit, he’s mentioned on those two Web 2.0 establishments virtually every day. Tech types are an independent bunch, and the contrarian nature of a Paul candidacy appeals to them.
While the above candidates have had the social media “hits” of the campaign season thus far, every candidate has attempted to introduce some social media elements into their official websites. Democrat John Edwards has a
(http://blog.johnedwards.com/) on his site, and incorporates YouTube clips of key campaign appearances. Republican Mitt Romney’s sons have a “Five Brothers” blog, and the campaign has enlisted the services of [VariTalk](http://varitalk.com) to allow personalized greetings to be sent to supporters and friends “[from their dad](http://romney.varitalk.com).” Republican John McCain’s site has a
(http://www.johnmccain.com/Blog/) and a blog roll, embedded video, and a link to “[McCainSpace](http://www.johnmccain.com/Connecting/),” the campaign’s MySpace presence.
While the candidates and their supporters have met with varying degrees of success when utilizing social media to convey their messages, the fact that so many candidates have incorporated these tools into their campaign communications toolboxes shows how important the rise of these technologies has become. As we move closer to Election Day 2008, Media Bullseye will be watching to see how campaigns and supporters evolve in their usage of Twitter, social networks, blogs, video and more.