When Barack Obama became the first presidential candidate to successfully use the Internet and win it caused more than a few political/government affairs types heads to turn and say, “I think this interwebs thing is here to stay.” But between Facebook, Twitter, custom social networks, blogs, podcasts, etc where does one start in using the Internet to help their cause or goal?
If that sounds like you, or if that sounds like what you have to explain to your bosses, then hopefully my column and I are here to help. Each month I’ll take a look at the online strategies and tools elected officials, candidates and citizens are using to govern, campaign and keep an eye on what’s happening in our government.
To start I wanted to offer some tips and a review of a book I recently read that really helps explain the generation of people helping to sweep this use of the Internet into all aspects of our lives. The book is “Grown Up Digital” by Don Tapscott. It’s a follow up to his book “Growing Up Digital” that he released in 1997. In his new book he discusses the findings of a $4 million research project he conducted by interviewing nearly 10,000 people across the world on how they live their lives and how digital tools fit into that. What he found is pretty interesting.
Tapscott organizes the book into three parts. Who the Net Generation is, how they are transforming institutions and how they are transforming society. This organizational structure is great because it helps readers identify which aspects of the book fit into their world. While I think the entire book is well worth the read the one chapter I flagged for some of my co-workers and I think the politically minded will be interested in is the Net Generation and Democracy.
The biggest theme throughout the book and the one I think is most important for people who want to jump into this is that to be successful you have to listen and interact with NetGeners. Like Tapscott says in one of his handy guidelines that he puts at the end of each chapter, “Think enablement, not control.” Just broadcasting to people isn’t going to work and your effort will fall flat on its face from the get go.
To do this in the political/government affairs world Tapscott suggests you need to create communities around your issue, topic, org – whatever it is you have. You need to allow people to congregate, communicate and then act. Transparency and honesty is key. People will see right through you on the Web if you’re not sincere. Do all of this externally but internally with your staff as well. Ask your staff for ideas and have a place for them to interact and brainstorm. Best Buy did this with great success for their employees.
At this point you might be like, “Ok great, I get all that. Now what? Where do I start?” For every organization, person, business, etc it’s going to be different. But I will tell you a few key things I’ve learned.
1) There is no age limit on who can be a member of communities on the Internet and be involved. There’s a misperception out there for some folks that this is all a bunch of teenagers and twenty somethings in their basement and if you’re a boomer or a Gen Xer you’re screwed. I’m here to tell you that you aren’t and “Grown Up Digital” will help you get a good feel for how the NetGener brain works. (Apparently it is different and all those video games we play actually help not hurt in some aspects.)
2) The best way to learn is to actually do it. Hire a few young people for whom doing all of this is natural or ask your kids. Have them spend an afternoon and help you get an account on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. They can give you a tutorial and then start using it. You don’t have to be on them 24/7, but give them a chance. You might end up pleasantly surprised at how fun and helpful these communities can be.
3) You don’t have to do it all at once. Start with just Facebook for a month or two then try Twitter. Launch a blog on your organization Web site and commit to writing a few posts each week. Or start a personal blog. Posts can be anything from just a link to an interesting article you read or something longer. There’s no set rules except don’t treat it like you do a press release. Think of it more “If I were writing this to a friend of mine in email how would I do it?” Do that and the blog post will follow. But if you start slower you can get your feet wet and get a feel for things. You don’t have to be everything at once.
4) The Internet is not a silver bullet. By that I just mean don’t expect to be on the Internet and then immediately be successful. If that was the case Ron Paul would have been our Republican nominee. Instead, and what made Obama successful is, you need to integrate the Web into everything you do from field to public relations to fundraising to workplace management.
Those are only a few tips and I hope to expand on those and share more in the coming months. I’d love to hear from any of you reading as well. Let me know what you like,, don’t like. What you want to learn, etc. Feel free to leave those in the comments or follow/talk with me on Twitter (@katieharbath).
There’s no denying though that the next administration will be using the Web a lot more to govern and people need to pay attention and catch up. I like the tip Tapscott gives to senators and congressman in his book from the lyrics of Bob Dylan, “Please heed the call / Don’t stand in the doorway / Don’t block up the hall. / For he that gets hurt / Will be he who has stalled / There’s a battle outside / And it is ragin’ / It’ll soon shake your windows / And rattle your walls / For the times they are a-changin’.”
Katie Harbath is the Director of Online Services at DCI Group. She has over 5 years of experience in the online political sphere including work during the 2008 and 2004 Presidential Elections. Her personal blog is at www.katieharbath.com and she’s on Twitter @katieharbath. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of Katie Harbath.