A political campaign is rife with challenges and pressures similar to those of a digital marketing endeavor: You have to juggle getting your message out on various platforms with managing your social media and having a crisis control strategy on hand. Todd Herman has straddled both these worlds. A longtime digital executive, Herman spend two years as the chief digital strategist for the Republican National Committee (RNC), leading it to victory in the 2010 elections.
Herman, a speaker at this week's iMedia Brand summit, sat with iMedia to share some insights from his 12 years in digital marketing, as well as his experience in Washington D.C.
Todd Herman is the founder of Hour72//Marketing:
iMedia: As a former political campaigner, to what extent should the political machine really monitor the social media responses -- or should it monitor them at all?
Herman: It varies, really. There are campaigns and political organizations that do this a lot, most of it through human monitoring. I am aware of some people in politics who are very interested in actual crowd listening done by software, by companies like Recorded Future or PredictivEdge, to name two. It's safe to say that this hasn't taken a super-strong hold. As to whether it should be used, I would argue that, so long as they respect privacy -- and I mean really respect it -- then, yes it should.
Polling is one of the biggest aspects of political campaigning, and in some ways it's an area that is increasingly anachronistic. The difference between polling and social listening is similar to observing animals in a zoo versus in the wild; companies that really do social listening well are observing people in a much more life-like environment than pollsters who encounter people who want to "sound smart" or please the pollster (of course, people act differently in social media than they do at home, but are more likely themselves than being interviewed). Real crowd monitoring, by that I mean very sophisticated systems, should replace polling entirely, but that will take time. Keep in mind, DC has yet to shift meaningful dollars to broadband video from TV -- that puts them almost 10 years behind the brand world.
It doesn't require sophisticated systems to make to make a measurable impact with social, though. We did not use listening technologies at the RNC. We actually did something more old-fashioned: We met as many people in our social-spheres are we could -- and that bore real fruit. It drove a campaign that raised $1.7 million in three days, which was our record online fundraiser by a factor of 16. Twenty people with massive follower lists literally launched that campaign. We met these folks through our social feeds and helped inform them with the gracious assistance of our research director, Jeff Berkowitz, who is a big champion for modern campaigning. When we launched that campaign near midnight EST, those so-called weak connections propelled it. It raised $400,000 overnight and we know 95 percent came from Twitter and Facebook referrals, and that it started with those 20 really supportive social users. That 100:1 ROI event -- we spent only $17,000 on ads -- did not come from social monitoring, it came from getting to know people in our social sphere who had followers numbering in the hundreds of thousands.
I contend that it is possible for brands to create similar impacts -- especially if they are able to work through broad principles and get aligned with coalition groups, something politics is brilliant at doing.
iMedia: What lessons can brands take from politicians when it come to damage control in the digital space?
Herman: With a few exceptions, I happen to think Republicans are very far behind the curve using digital in crisis control. So, this was an area of frustration for me and for a lot of direct media strategists and bloggers I know, but in that I learned a ton. Here are some insights.
- There is no such thing as "message control," there is only message collaboration. The moment a damaging event occurs, the Google-brain is creating its impression of you and the event. If you do not match link for link, trackback to trackback, robo-site for robo-site, the Google-brain will remember things the way your opponents or detractors painted them. If your detractors are cave-painting negatives about you, your side has to keep up with distributing your story.
- All stories "have legs" -- the Google-brain does not forget. You may well get away with not responding to something and cause the fervor to die down, but the story will not "go away." Negative pieces without your corresponding counterbalance will make their way back into blogs and coverage for evermore -- and, when something else hits, they will add weight to the negative Google-juice of a search like "Brand Controversy." So, the phrase "does it have legs? " belongs in the same dust bin as "roll down the window" and "LP."
- Press releases don't link-back. A press release is a fast way to get your opinion out there, but in the digital world, mass matters as much as speed. The bloggers I know don't do much with press releases, and they certainly don't engender link-backs to your site the same way a blog post on your site (with a link to existing blog coverage), followed by a guest vlog on another site and a live QA on one more, will do that. Remember, you are teaching the Google-brain what you want it to know -- feed it good nutrition, not snacks.
- Social connections that are well cultivated are far from "weak links." During Chairman Steele's bus tour -- something I had almost no involvement with, which is important to this story I am about to tell -- the bus ran into a parked truck... oh, and someone snapped a picture... oh, and this was during the week that President Obama was saying the Republicans would "drive the car into a ditch"... oh, yeah and the person who took the photo tweeted it instantly. My communications director, who had his hands plenty full already, saw the tweet of the photo and pinged me. I didn't know this person, I couldn't direct message him because he wasn't following me, and I could not @him because that would surface in any story and draw attention from reporters. Using what Malcom Gladwell would call "weak connections," meaning social connections to people I had never met, I was able to surface the actual identity of the person, ascertain that he was a Republican, and call him to ask that he take the photo down, delete the tweet, and ask his friends to delete their retweets, all of which he did, as did his friends. This happened in under 20 minutes. Had I been forced to find him on my own, it may not have happened at all -- that was my first real involvement with that tour, and it was a pretty important one. No story ran about that particular bus incident.
iMedia: Aside from your political experience, you have extensive background in streaming media. What opportunity are digital marketers missing in this field?
Herman: Far be it for me to tell brands what they are missing; let me instead talk about areas for exploration.
Radio. Pandora is fantastic -- their CEO well knows I am a huge fan -- but that is so untapped... Someone should build an app that lets listeners to Pandora intersperse audio from other sources into their streaming mix. Imagine audio from The Onion or Daily Dish mashed up with Pandora, or audio drawn in by keyword, or topic choices -- then imagine the advertising possibilities around something like wine reviews. When we had content like that in the streams of my internet radio company, theDial, we commanded $85 costs per thousand (CPMs) for content targeting -- who says there was a bubble?
Crowdsourced video campaigns are going to be very big -- but crowdsourcing is not as easy as asking people to make videos for you. Zooppa and GotCast are two examples of companies doing that very well. With a generation of young people growing up with HD cameras and editing suites that studio heads would have been glad to have 20 years ago, this change in how creative is produced will be lasting and big.
Zeitgeist moments continue to be under-targeted. It is a strange fact that traffic spikes online, especially in broadband, can result in publishers running lower CPM or CPC ads or, in some cases I have seen, even house ads. It seems to me that brands like Nike, Apple, or media brands like CNN or The New York Times should make a meal of buying peak inventory hits. In fact, Bing should buy them out everywhere it can. Media has become so fragmented that massive media gatherings -- where all eyes are steered somewhere -- are hard to come by, so I opine that brands would be wise to work with publishers and exchanges to buy non-disaster peak inventory and, perhaps, to buy disaster peak for charities, with a page-set devoted to helping people, like peak-driven cause marketing.
Streaming can replace high-cost theaters. In the spirit of zigging while others zag, someone is going to do the math on the down times in local playhouses and create a virtual roll-up of these places, at which they show independent films on nights that a play is not occurring. If play houses could curate independent film from a massive database of films cleared for play in public, if they could load in their demographic and geographic data for live ads that could be drawn down live, before each film, one could build an alternative structure to high-priced movie chains. I would love to see American Express and Sony partner on such a thing -- think of dinner and a movie on a much hipper scale, as curated by local leaders in arts and culture and underwritten by ads aimed at high-income theater crowds (people who will go out of their way to support local art).
To read the extended interview, click here.
Lucia Davis is associate editor at iMedia Connection.
On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.
iMedia Communications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.