Ever wondered what Congress might have been like if our forefathers had twittered, had friend lists, or been able to Digg the constitution? Politics today are certainly putting those questions to the test. Geeks across America got chills when the Obama 08 campaign rolled out the most sophisticated political web presence since… well, ever. “They get it!” cheered the massive population of people under 30 who can’t remember life without email. The votes came in, and the rest is history.
In Missouri’s 8th Congressional District, young candidate Tommy Sowers may have taken his cue from the socially savvy 08 presidential campaign and is pursuing 14 year incumbent Jo Ann Emerson by taking his baby kissing virtual. Flooding Facebook fans with tales of his heroism as a soldier, teacher anecdotes, and other life experiences, Sowers has built a strong following both on Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, posting video and blog entries chronicling his “I’m one of you” series entitled Boots On The Ground has proven to be a very effective campaign strategy. “I am continually amazed by the folks that I meet for the first time that tell me they have already been following the campaign on Twitter and Facebook”, says Sowers. “People love the Boots on the Ground site, which we had some local students build at a fraction of the cost of traditional political web designers. We’re already working on a few new ideas.”
Recognizing that social media is the most effective way to reach out and touch someone in 2010 politics seems obvious. It seems to be the how that’s catching rival political incumbent Jo Ann Emerson’s campaign off guard. Her website, while fairly adequate, puts an significant emotional distance between her and her constituents. First, instead of her blog being an insight to Jo Ann “the person”, it appears to be written by a third party who is disinterested, at best, in their job. Entries are made about her rather than by her, the formatting is irritably inconsistent, and the content is a snooze. Second, awkward photos that are likely intended to present her as a regular person leave the impression that someone told her to stand next to the old veteran, wear the t-shirt from Kmart, etc. You know what they say… you can take the girl out of Washington, but you can’t take the Washington out of the girl. Given the sheer number of typos, sloppy photoshopping, and bore factor of the site, it looks like her web consultants may be incumbents, too.
There is a lesson to be learned here, but it is not new. Football teams do it, marathon trainees do it, politicians should do it…. you’ve got to be prepared to play where the game is. In this political race, Tommy Sowers clearly gets where his people are and how to effectively reach them with his powerful message. Unfortunately for the Emerson campaign, they have shown up with a proverbial mullet and are left looking outdated and ready to be replaced.