Occasionally, I'm pleasantly surprised at some of the dividends that my blog pays. For example, at the end of last week, I was contacted by a staffer at BostonNOW, a new local paper that is edgy and is beginning to embrace social media, to see if I'd like to be interviewed as a social media expert, commenting on the use of social networks in the presidential race.
A note: I didn't use a partisan approach in the interview, nor do I intend to use this blog to discuss my political views; they are irrelevant in this forum. My goal is to assess what is being done and to what degree.
I also learned that my friend and new media colleague Doug Haslam was interviewed as well; he's got a nice entry on his blog summing up his point that candidates are not using social media to the fullest potential.
I made that point with the reporter as well, likening the candidates' treatment of MySpace, FaceBook, YouTube, etc. as media buys - they've simply ensured that they have a presence there. There's little to no conversation going on with their constituents.
In many ways, political candidates are very similar to corporations: they have a specific message that they want to push out. At rallies, stump speeches, debates and public appearances - even town hall meetings - they manage to spit out their talking points.
One of the most important points I made with the reporter was this: the candidate that learns to use social media to listen to the people is the candidate that will pull ahead. Social media works best when candidates - or companies - hear what's being said and put themselves in a place to respond accordingly. Even if they can't solve a problem or completely address a concern, the fact that they make their constituents/customers feel as if they've been heard is enough to create brand loyalty.
The other major point I made is that the presidential candidates are using social networks for a different purpose. Rather than to connect to their base, they are allowing the base to connect to each other. This is a pretty shrewd move when you think about it. Create the conditions for a social movement and you'll see a major shift begin to occur.
It's exciting to see this unfolding before us - and to wonder how much it will improve in the run-up to November of 2008. But we're far beyond where we were a short time ago in 2004.