How campaigns’ new obsession with social media is hurting America

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A must-read from Tech President’s Nick Judd:

Klout. Kred. Proskore. There are more ways than ever for people in politics to quantify their influence online. As my colleague Micah Sifry pointed out last week, very little of it has any real meaning — and yet newspapers like the Washington Post persist in joining in with toys like the “Mention Machine,” a page that tracks news and Twitter mentions of each candidate.

The thing about attaching numbers to people’s names is that it usually makes them want to make the number go up. Call it gamification if you want. The truth is that it’s human nature, and as more people pay attention to social media, it is creating a sort of downward behavioral spiral. Candidates wanting more points on the social media scoreboard are urging supporters to tweet and post to Facebook on their behalf — spreading borderline spam on social networks and doing nothing to make the campaign season less of a horse race when that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. Rather than just making things worse, there are better things that papers like the Post could be doing.

Watch every 2012 campaign work online and you’ll see this in action. Newt Gingrich’s Newt Hampshire uses NationBuilder’s leaderboard function, giving activists “points” each time they take a vaguely useful action on Gingrich’s behalf. MyMitt, Mitt Romney’s national action platform, tracks points in much the same way. Barack Obama’s re-election effort is surely tracking every phone call made, tweet sent, Facebook post created and door knocked upon, and will use those numbers to set supporters in competition with one another. It’s already happening; earlier this year, the campaign held a “competition” to see which of its state-level Twitter accounts could accumulate the most followers in a set amount of time.

As Patrick Ruffini of the D.C. firm Engage reminded me a few months ago, this has become a science. It’s not just about what kind of competition the campaign sets before its supporters; polish matters, too.

“If you’re smart, you pay attention to the color of the button, you pay attention to the coloring of the text, you pay attention to how your splash page is laid out,” Ruffini told me. “And I think this can be powerful as well in delivering the same, if not more, increases in the level of action that people may take.”

There’s a lot more to read here.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.