Waymon Hudson

Social Networking and Politics: Turning a Local Race Global

Filed By Waymon Hudson | March 13, 2009 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Geeks, Politics
Tags: Anthony Niedwiecki, Facebook, Get Out the Vote, local politics, Myspace, New Media, political campaigns, social networking, technology, Twitter

As I continue to look back on the long 18 month campaign for City Commission we ran in Oakland Park, Florida, I am trying to pull together the things I learned and what made it such a resounding success with Anthony Niedwiecki winning over 65% of the vote.

framsidesbild_gms.jpgI've talked about the way "identity" politics played into the race and how we took some of what could have been viewed by some as weaknesses and turned them into amazing strengths. Now I wanted to look at some of the tools we used during the campaign and how effective they were.

From the very beginning, we decided to run a thoroughly modern, linked-in campaign. From my experience on other campaigns and issues, I wanted to bring my knowledge of new technology and apply it on a local level. While many may have doubted the effectiveness of using social networking and new media in a local municipal election, the results quickly began to speak for themselves.

We managed to turn a local race into a global one.

I ask your forgiveness for the general geekiness of this post, but it's something we can look at and take lessons from, whether we work in politics, non-profits, or other community issues. Also, these tools are supplements to traditional grassroots organizing. We knocked on doors, phone banked, and made lots of direct voter contact as well.

New Media: Websites, Blogs, and Branding- Oh my!

Having a web presence is nothing new to campaigns. In fact, it is rather required in these online times. But the way you establish, use, and brand your presence can make a huge difference.

2005313120668860690_rs.jpgAnthony knew he wanted to run a campaign where information and communication were key. We quickly established a website with an easy to remember address- Anthony09.com (let's be honest- "Niedweicki" would be impossible for people to spell and find online) and began to flesh out Anthony's key issues, his background, and his record in the community. We made it visual and interactive, with pictures, links, and things that would keep attention and focus.

We also decided that to create an easier and more immediate way for voters to discuss things with Anthony, we would make a running blog that he updated weekly with current events, campaign news, or issues that mattered to the community.

By embedding the blog in the website, we also managed something that made a huge impact with people who were searching for information about Anthony and his opponent. Using geeky tech tricks like keywords, search rankings, and other things, we made it so that if you typed in his opponent's name, the searches that came up were all Anthony's website and blog. His opponent's website was pushed down on the search list and rendered virtually invisible.

We also made sure we had strong campaign branding. Using the same images, logos, and colors in his online presence and emails as his direct mailers, signs, ads, and other information created an authoritative and seamless campaign that gave Anthony a huge edge.

Social Networking: Moving Beyond the City Limits

To truly move the web presence beyond just a static site and push it to a larger audience was key to cutting through the noise of other races and higher profile issues. To do that, we used social networking tools to reach out to a truly global group of supporters.

facebook_logo.jpgThe great thing about social networking sites like Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, and Flickr is that they are free. The only thing you need is the time and gumption to use them as effectively as possible.

It took time, but we managed to use these tools to reach literally around the globe to tap into people that cared about the candidate, the issues, and the message we were sending out.

logo-twitter-logo.jpgThe most obvious advantage to sending out tweets or messages to the Facebook group was to get Anthony's ideas and vision out. We reached an entirely new audience by being ahead of the technology curve, which was essential in a municipal race in March where voter turnout would likely be low. We managed to drive people to the website to get information, get involved in the campaign, and feel completely part of the effort. Sites like Facebook and Flickr made people feel like they were deeply involved in the campaign, no matter where they were.

flickrLOGO.jpgWe also learned that by connecting to a larger, global community, other things like fundraising became easier. By sending out calls to supporters who took an interest in the campaign (no matter where they lived) for small donations, we managed to raise around 40% of our overall budget. Let me say that again- 40% of our campaign budget came from social networking.

Many of these donors were from around the country who wanted to support someone they believed in. For example, by putting out a call for donations on the final day we could accept them, we were flooded with donations through paypal and even had people driving to our house to drop off checks at our door to make the deadline.

It was a powerful thing to watch.

myspace-logo.jpgEven more important than the fundraising aspect was the "Get Out the Vote" power of social networking. There was no early voting for the election, so we had to get people out on one day only, which is no easy task. We met people while working the polls that day that had never gone to a community forum, never got a mailer, and had never voted in a municipal election before but had heard about the election and been following the campaign online through Facebook or Myspace.

We even had people thank us for reminding them to vote through Twitter.

The power of grassroots organizing using these new tools was a resounding success for the campaign.

Lessons Learned

Technology can be scary to some. But its pay-off can be invaluable.

Social networking is by its very nature social. It creates unparalleled interaction that when used correctly and effectively can really push a candidate, campaign, issue, or organization to the next level. It can get people more involved and responsive due to its interactive nature. It gives people a feeling of buying in and helping accomplish something.

Whether sending out emails, gathering supporters through strategic Tweets, or galvanizing a community behind you through blogging and Facebooking, new technology is a tool we can all use to make our grassroots efforts even stronger.

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Everyday Transperson | March 13, 2009 2:17 PM


Not for nothing, and I certainly don't want to rain on your obvious "parade" here, but was the past two posts concerning this election and your use of social networking to achieve it really about true grassroots organizing or was it really about you and Anthony and the power and glory associated with such an election ??

I mean, how quickly we forget that discussion not long ago on this very blog about the "Creating Change" conference in Denver which you claim brought broad community perspectives to the forefront..........

Well, the only "change" I have seen since that conference is a Gay politician's move up the success ladder and the business as usual practice of the cronies coming out of the woodwork to praise such a victory, but funny that there seems to be little "change" anywhere else. Do you plan to do articles on everyday people who work hard so that people such as yourself and Anthony could gain such political notoriety. And what about the normal, everyday commentors who came up wth some great ideas for the creating change thing, will Anthony be sure to recognize them for their contribution during his next speech ???

Sorry, but I should have known when you had solicited opinions for the "creating change" article that there was some sort of political agenda present.........

You "GL" politicians will never get it.

You figured me out, ETP. My agenda is to take over the world one tweet at a time... ;)

Don't worry Waymon, ETP has become our resident troll this week.

Everyone - activists, bloggers, authors, all of us - are nothing but elitist snobs who don't care about the every day person. (Nevermind the fact that not all 70 of us are wealthy, in positions of power, or whatnot!)

Bill Vayens | March 13, 2009 5:01 PM

Everyday transperson seems to think that somehow the purpose behind your grassroots organizing is was to gain "political notoriety".
The purpose of grassroots organizing is to get good candidates elected to positions where they are able to make a difference by implementing change.

Shouting at the wind without making a difference at the ballot box is totally empty and meaningless. We seem to sometimes forget in the LGBT community that we have to have a seat at the table if we are going to be truly effective. And in the real world, this means electing our own to political office. That is where the decisions area really made.

I'm not sure what you expect "creating change" to actually be if it's purpose isn't the ultimate election of candidates.

To me it seems that Waymon and Anthony have achieved the holy grail here by getting their message out there AND motivating the electorate to respond to that message by casting their votes for their candidate. And I believe that the city of Oakland Park and the LGBT community will truly be the beneficiaries here.

Everyday Transperson | March 13, 2009 10:31 PM

OK, you all can laugh, snicker, throw jabs and call me what you will, but I still believe that the main message I was trying to get across is still one that is always suppressed and never seems to be brought to the surface for meanungful discussion or debate, whether it was in this instance or any other like it with the same underlying theme.

I must disagree BV concerning your view of grassroots organizing......Yes, it is true that it is wonderful to have our own GLBT folks elected to office and such, but it is also a wonderful thing to go out to the community and bring people together as a community by getting them directly involved so that they can directly benefit from the involvement....

From what I have been seeing these days by the normal GLBT organizing "model" , if you will, is that everyday people from the community are to some degree recruited to help do the legwork to get people elected, or in the non-profit case, voted in or appointed, but all of that hard work is quickly forgotten after those folks come into power..........The everyday community folks are rarely, if at all given recognition for their contribution and seldom receive even a simple thank you for their help. The result is of course the alienation of the everyday GLBT folks and many times the resentment for being used and forgotten, while on the other end, those in their newly acquired power positions are spending their days showboating how wonderful they are.

So such a great divide of status isn't really a good example of community building or grassroots organizing, because if it were a true grassroots effort then there would be more everyday faces and names in the GLBT spotlight rather than the same old faces who just happen to join the ranks of the GLBT elitist political/corporate/media boys and girls ONLY club. Grassroots means everyone and not just those in that club. Unfortunately this is a concept which is obviously not well recieved these days.

Lastly, just because one of our own in the GLBT community is elected to a position of power, doesn't necessarily mean that the individual will be good for creating change in our community.......... Again, I am not discounting the possible contributions of Anthony here since he just took office, but historically we have seen this happen time and again. I know many GLBT folks who were appointed positions in the GLBT non-profits and promoted in corporate America and all they did was sell out the rest of everyday GLBT folks so that they could strut around every year at Black Tie and other esteemed GLBT events and shout to the world "I have "arrived" in gay corporate/political America".

Grassroots organizing ??? I say that depends on which side of the club you come from. As far as a truly inclusive community effort, we are certainly not there yet......

I'm not going to get into your debate on national orgs, non-profits, or all of that. This post isn't about that and we all know where you stand.

I will take exception to how you discount getting people from our community (and people with proven, grassroots backgrounds) elected to office. All you have to do is look at not only Anthony's past actions withing our community, but how he used the election to push forward important issues in our region (like employment protections for transpeople or insurance sharing for domestic partners of city employees). Many candidates, heck many politicians in office, shy away from these kinds of issues. He didn't. I think that helps put to rest some fears like the ones you express.

This is not about anything other than trying to make a difference at a local level. Don't let your anger at others cloud what should be good news and small victory.

And I know you aren't a fan of technology, but we can't ignore it as a movement or as organizers. If we do, we risk losing a huge part of a new generation of potential supporters and voters. It is a supplement to more traditional outreach efforts.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | March 15, 2009 1:05 AM

Having gone to and assisted in sponsoring "Black Tie" events for AIDS fund raising I take exception to your characterization. While people are networking and planning it is not about "me, me, me" it is about accomplishment. It was also about the thrill of each new "anti retro viral" achievement and meeting those "living with Aids" in the early 90's onward, learning from them and encouraging them. I would add being inspired by them.

Few things are perfect, particularly not technology, but it is the progression of what we know. It is the process of how we learn by example and perhaps shine a light on the too fleeting moments of accomplishment that help build community.

Everyday Transperson | March 15, 2009 12:55 PM

Well, obviously I have opened up a can of worms by those who have appeared to have their feathers ruffled by my previous comments, but I will address each of those separately.

Mr. Hudson, as I had stated in my initial comment, I do not "discount" anyone from the GLBT community who first becomes elected to office. I only question the "system", if you will, that such politicians have to follow to either get elected to office or to stay in office.

The fact is, with local and national politics, there is always a "status quo" which is usually followed by political people and most politicians newly elected to office eventually succumb to this status quo or they often times face getting weeded out or ruined by the political powers that be. How many times have we seen this in history. A promising politician comes up through the local ranks with great ideology for change and after a few years, they don't deliver. I'm sure much of it wasn't intentional, but nevertheless many would rather suppress their ideology and efforts of change rather than facing the implied system of "follow the political status quo, don't rock the boat and never offend your financial "donor/sponsors" and you will fit right in, otherwise watch out"............. After all, that's really how the political system works doesn't it, local or national ?? Again, it is not feasible for me to conclude the effectiveness of Anthony's work without tangible examples of positive change and a proven track record of results, however, I am a bit surprised by your apparent defensiveness as to this topic. As a wise old political reporter told me once "If a politician is unable to accept critical political commentary without taking it personally, then he or she is in the wrong business"............

And Mr. Ganshorn, while its notable of your efforts to "sponsor" events such as "Black Tie" I am surprised that you didn't explain how the system REALLY works. From what I have seen year after year, the majority of funds which are received from "sponsors" (usually large corporations and national non-profits), only a fraction of the proceeds go to the very people they claim to support !! The bulk of the proceeds go to leaders of community organizations (many of whom are on the Black Tie steering committee also.......MAJOR conflict of interest) to pay for their 50-100K salaries. Also a large portion goes to grease politician's palms through extensive lobbying efforts. Lastly, a great part of those funds goes to the planning of future "esteemed" events at fancy hotels and to the cost of professional advertising of their beloved "sponsors" (many who are more interested in gaining notoriety in the "sponsor" pages than to actually care for the cause they claim to support. Mr. Ganshorn, when was the last time someone from "Black Tie" or say any other GLBT organization ever invited an everyday person from the community who is dying from AIDS to deliver a keynote address at those events to share their story.............I didn't think so.

So gentlemen, everyday stories expressed via inclusion in your events and in your reporting of them gives a lot more credit to what you all are doing, otherwise in my opinion it just becomes another case of, as Mr. Ganshorn put it "me,me,me".

Thank you for your time.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | April 20, 2009 9:11 AM

You are welcome dear, and you are far too bitter. One person Living with Aids not only spoke, but was one the receiving line. True, I was a Chicagoan, I do not know what bubble you live in that gives you the right to throw stones without regard to where they land.

Gerri Ladene | March 15, 2009 2:27 PM

Not everyone can be a Harvey Milk! I thought Waymon gave a very good outline on how to modernize a political process with the use of Social sites in particular. Very much in the way our current President made use of the Internet. The question that you seem to be asking EDT, will Anthony be the Milk of Oakland Park or just another schmoozing bureaucrat! Anthony, "Got Milk"?

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | March 13, 2009 2:42 PM

Great job Waymon! You definitely earned my new nickname for you "Michelle Obama of Florida."

I am helping Dana Beyer, a LGBT candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates, build her online presence. I lot of what you wrote are things that I have in mind for Dana.

You know, a lot of what we did was very "let's try it and see what happens." I was very surprised by the online response and how effective it was as a supplement to other, more traditional campaign tactics.

You've hit the nail on the head here. Pushing your brand online, as well in traditional ways, is a very smart and modern strategy. There is immense power in social media that is just there for the taking.

Social media is a tool. It's not a silver bullet. It doesn't solve all of your problems, but it's vast reach helps everyone who knows how to tap into that well of support.

It won't make your whole campaign (or business, or blog, or whatever) but it could make the difference between being #1 and being #2.

And isn't that the ultimate goal?

I couldn't have summed it up better! :)

I'm curious about a couple of things. Eventually I'll sum them up with, "and how do you know this?"

You mentioned leveraging global support. One of the things that bugs me about our local Green Party is that is expends an inordinate about of energy developing platforms that address national and global issues. For you guys, what does global support mean? In a local election how does it help in ways that don't include fun raising? In ways that do include fund raising, why do your global supporters care?

When you use social networking strategies, how do you break through the noise? How do you know you're breaking through the noise? Is there enough time in a campaign to "fall back and regroup" when you see you're not breaking through?

Which social technologies gave you the most bang for the dollar/effort? How do you know?

Did you have a metric for measuring return on investment at the beginning of the campaign?

What would you use more / less? Based on?

I get the sense that you instinctively "know" how to work new media. Trust me, lots of activists and wannabe political operatives have no clue. Their approach is Wow! we have a website we're cool, they'll flock to our message.

So the question out of all this is something like other than winning the election by a landslide, how do you know your strategy works? Could you have won without any of it, without parts of it?

And again,Congrats on a victory well done.

Let me try and answer your questions as best I can. :) Sorry if this goes on for a long time.

For you guys, what does global support mean? In a local election how does it help in ways that don't include fund raising? In ways that do include fund raising, why do your global supporters care?

Global support means interest, funds, and helping further spread the message that the campaign was trying to get out. Social networking is viral, so when someone become interested in whatever your cause is (campaign, issues, etc), they can spread the word to friends, which grows your base of supporters. That can means things like more funds, more volunteers (we had people phone banking from other states), and more "buzz." AS for why they care, in our case it could have been many things- being LGBT, progressive, having known some of our back story, caring about some of our issues (environment, adoption/fostering, etc). by having a broad platform and message, it provided many points of interest for people.

When you use social networking strategies, how do you break through the noise? How do you know you're breaking through the noise? Is there enough time in a campaign to "fall back and regroup" when you see you're not breaking through?

You can tell by the rate of your expanding universe of "friends" and supporters. You'll know certain things are moving through online communities by how fast you suddenly see people adding themselves to your online lists. Regrouping is always an option. We did more of a broad approach from the beginning- targeting parts of our message to certain groups, like environment to green groups, LGBT issues and actions to our community, etc. It's easy to shape your message slightly to your target audience or include many things that might click with lots of people in one message.

Which social technologies gave you the most bang for the dollar/effort? How do you know?

I would say Facebook was our biggest bang for the buck. It was where we got much a lot of our donors and volunteers. It's also where most of our website traffic came from-which was a main goal. If people come to the site to learn about the campaign, then part of the goal has been met. Twitter was also great for that. Web traffic and general feedback from the online community you build is a great way to find out what is most successful to you.

Did you have a metric for measuring return on investment at the beginning of the campaign?

At the beginning, out metric was webtraffic (which meant getting the message out). Towards the end it was fundraising, then voter turnout.

What would you use more / less? Based on?

I think perhaps we would have started our campaign blog earlier. by the end we were using it effectively, but could have done more from the very first moment. Maybe less focus on Myspace- which is a dying tool with less capabilities than Facbook, although some folks still swear by it, so it depends on your target audience.

I get the sense that you instinctively "know" how to work new media.

That's true. I'm a total tech geek, so we had an edge. But we also had no staff or anyone doing this besides Anthony and me. So nit does show that with one or two dedicate folks who know what they are doing, you can make an online impact. That could mean getting a volunteer (maybe a college person who believes in your cause) or something along that line.

So the question out of all this is something like other than winning the election by a landslide, how do you know your strategy works? Could you have won without any of it, without parts of it?

The million dollar question! Yes, we could have won without it. Our ground game (door knocking, direct contact, mailers, etc) was strong enough to pull out a victory. How big of a victory? Who knows. The opponent had name recognition and political experience. The online tools gave us an edge and more ways to reach the voter pool that even he couldn't match. We knew the strategy worked because of the feedback. When we where at the polls during the day (online is no substitute for face to face meeting, just a supplement), the feedback about the online efforts was amazing. We also saw the success in the volunteers we got (lots of younger, college kids who answered our calls to help out from online) and the funds.

Hope this helps! Let me know if you have more questions! Whew!

Thanks Waymon,
Your comments were quite helpful. I don't know what I'm going to do with them, buy you got me thinking about it...