Posted by: Kevin | May 2, 2007

An Interesting Story on Campaigning and the New Media

I just came across the story of Joe Anthony on Memeorandum.  Mr. Anthony set up a fan page for Barack Obama on MySpace back in 2004 after Obama’s speech at that summer’s Democratic Convention.  He was able to secure the potentially valuable url of myspace.com/barackobama.  Unlike your typical cybersquater, Mr. Anthony made it clear from the start that this was a fan page and made no attempt to profit from the page.  When the Obama campaign was launched, Mr. Anthony made himself and his MySpace page available to the campaign.

At first, all was rosy between Anthony and the Obama campaign. Chris Hughes, one of the campaign’s first internet staffers (and a co-founder of Facebook.com), emailed Anthony through the MySpace page and both sides were pleased to connect with each other. For several weeks, they collaborated on a daily basis, with the Obama campaign offering advice to Anthony on how to improve the site, sharing content with him, helping him place a fundraising widget on the site, etc. He in turn gave the campaign password access to the profile in case they wanted to tweak it quickly, but they made little use of it and relied mainly on Anthony to maintain the site.

Unfortunately for Mr. Anthony, the surge in Obama’s campaign resulted in a surge in the work of maintaning the MySpace page. 

A few weeks later, when Obama’s picture was featured on MySpace’s “Cool New People” box on its home page (Hillary Clinton is there now), everything exploded. Obama’s friend total barocketed from 100,000 to 140,000 in a week.

At this point Mr. Anthony contacted the Obama campaign and requested some kind of compensation.  At the time, the Obama site on MySpace boasted over 160K friends.  That’s a social network that any media consultant would drool over.  The Obama campaign asked him to propose a one-time consulting fee.  Mr. Johnson responded with a request totaling $49K.  That’s about $0.31 per friend, significantly less than an organization like Care2 might charge a campaign per email address generated.

The Obama campaign (which raised $26 million last quarter) decided that $49K was unacceptable.  Rather than counter offer, they contacted MySpace to get control of the URL for themselves. 

MySpace itself has come up with a positively Solomonic solution to that question, promising to restore Anthony’s network of 160,000 friends as soon as he picks a new url for whatever unofficial Obama fan page he may care to create.

So the Obama campaign gets the URL and Mr. Anthony gets to keep the friends list.  This seems like an unnecessary lose/lose to me.  The Obama campaing now has to rebuild their database and the primary reason seems to be that professional campaign staffers just don’t get new media yet.  The McCain campaing’s gaff on MySpace is another illustration of this.  The new media of blogs and networking sites can enable a motivated person to do the same work as the professionals.  Everyone has a voice that wants one.  The candidates, companies, etc. that grasp that concept best will benefit the most.

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