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TechPresident's 2007 Campaign Web Index

BY Editors | Thursday, December 20 2007

TechPresident presents our 2007 Campaign Web Index, a year-end study of which campaigns are best at using the various elements of the web. For the survey we've tapped the very brightest minds working in tech and politics, who happen to be our own bloggers and other friends (some respondents have asked to remain anonymous). Check out their votes and opinions for who's best at online video, advertising, social networking, rapid response, and much more. Some of their responses may surprise you, and some may be entirely predictable. And the overall winners are...TechPresident presents our 2007 Campaign Web Index, a year-end study of which campaigns are best at using the various elements of the web. For the survey we've tapped the very brightest minds working in tech and politics, who happen to be our own bloggers and other friends (some respondents have asked to remain anonymous). Check out their votes and opinions for who's best at online video, advertising, social networking, rapid response, and much more. Some of their responses may surprise you, and some may be entirely predictable.
Our panel judged Ron Paul and Barack Obama to have the best overall web presences, and they also led their respective fields in the most individual categories. Mike Huckabee and John Edwards followed, with each earning strong support from our panel. But while these four campaigns were the leaders, there were many surprises in specific categories. For example, Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney scored the most points for their online rapid response work. Why would that be? Go here for more.
Enough with the talk. On with with the list!

Question 1: Which campaign has made the best use of online video?
Question 2: Which campaign has made the best use of email?
Question 3: Which campaign has made the best use of online social networking?
Question 4: Which campaign has made the best use of its blog?
Question 5: Which campaign has done the best work engaging online political activists?
Question 6: Which campaign has made the best use of "Web 2.0" techniques like RSS, widgets and tagging?
Question 7: Which campaign is doing the best work spending money on online advertising?
Question 8: Which campaign is making the best use of mobile technology?
Question 9: Which campaign is doing the best work raising money using online tools?
Question 10: Which campaign has done the best job of informing voters about their candidate's position on issues?
Question 11: Which campaign has done the best "rapid response" work online?
Question 12: Which campaign has made the best use of the web to decentralize power?
Question 13: Which campaign has the best overall web presence?

Question 1: Which campaign has made the best use of online video?

According to our panel, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have been producing the strongest online video, though with a respective six and five votes, they hardly swept the field. Hillary Clinton garnered four votes, and John Edwards and Mike Huckabee each received three.

Some panelists were impressed by Obama’s tactic of highlighting videos by his supporters, or by featuring them in his own. “Barack has been smart to use video to tell stories about his supporters and show the lucky supporters actually having dinner with Barack. I feel like I could have a beer with Barack (if I work hard enough for the campaign),” says one panelist. Ari Melber agrees, saying that “BarackTV offers a great array of videos, from short tidbits for supporters to substantive addresses for voters seeking more information about the candidate.”

Romney won accolades for his contest inviting supporters to create official campaigns ads. “Of all the Republicans, Mitt Romney has dipped is toes in the 2.0 water more than his opponents. Romney’s video contest on JumpCut wasn’t fantastic, but he gave his supporters a voice,” said Michael Whitney.

Mike Huckabee and Hillary Clinton were praised for producing funny, offbeat videos that went viral and helped shape their images. Zephyr Teachout liked Huckabee’s willingness to let his supporters to do the talking. “Huckabee’s site features funny, irreverent and smart user-created videos several times a week, which then encourages other supporters to create video. This not only gives people power, which is a good thing and creates more serious civic involvement, but gives them power in a medium which tends to be completely and jealously owned by candidates: video.” About Huckabee’s own videos, Micah Sifry wrote that “Huckabee just comes across well, the intimacy of the web is perfect for him.”

One panelist actually thought that “while almost everyone else has to define themselves, Hillary has used video to redefine herself as funny (Soprano take off) and family person (Chelsea and Mom video).”

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Question 2: Which campaign has made the best use of email?

Our panel tilted strongly toward Paul and Huckabee on the Republican side, and Obama and Dodd on the Democratic side, with McCain, Clinton and Biden all getting at least one vote. But hardly anyone was enthusiastic about how the campaigns were using email. Zephyr Teachout said, "Emails this campaign season have largely been disappointments....used just for list growth, not for comparing candidates, sharing policy positions, or sharing the records of the candidates. Patrick Ruffini agreed, saying, "To paraphrase [RedState's] Erick Erickson, they all suck." He went on to praise Huckabee for having interesting things to say and signing his own emails, and Clinton for effectively tapping her celebrity. Our email guru Michael Whitney also praised Huckabee for being "consistent, timely and unobtrusive," while he cited Obama for being "respective of his lists, [having] the most genuine voice and consistent messaging." Dodd won points with Josh Levy for setting the standard "for informal, personal-seeming emails that were different from the others in both form and function." And as we all know, those emails worked--they got people's attention and other campaigns started copying Dodd's innovation. As for Paul, Teachout said, his supporters "successfully created a massive email-driven network, which included some content, and proved--in a way in which we all benefit--that candidates can raise enough money to compete on message alone, without a scintilla of mainstream media support. Whether or not you agree with Ron Paul, this is a good thing for democracy."

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Question 3: Which campaign has made the best use of online social networking?

Barack Obama and Ron Paul were the overwhelming winners here. As Ari Melber puts it, “Obama obviously became ‘the brand’ on Facebook,” and Josh Levy agrees, saying that “despite the unfortunate incident between the Obama campaign an Joe Anthony, who created their original MySpace page, Obama has continued to cultivate friends online and to stay cool with hip young Obama fans.”

Given his enormous fundraising success, it’s not surprising that Ron Paul was judged the Republican social networking king. Michael Whitney says simply, “Ron Paul owns the Republicans on social networking - practically half of Digg is Ron Paul stories.”

Not all panelists went with the super social networking duo. Patrick Ruffini selected Rudy Giuliani, arguing that “after a slow start, or non-start… They have the best Facebook application and made the LinkedIn jump.” And Liza Sabater reminds us that “Ron Paul is everywhere but John Edwards started being everywhere MORE THAN A YEAR AGO. That takes more than commitment, it takes a real keen strategic vision of how this ever-growing new platform of the web can serve as a broadcasting network for people who don’t have the bucks of a Murdoch.”

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Question 4: Which campaign has made the best use of its blog?

Our panel split its votes between Edwards and Obama on the Democratic side (with Edwards winning by a nose), and Huckabee leading Romney and Thompson on the Republican side. Dodd did get one mention. If you've been reading techPresident, you already know why Huckabee is winning this category. As Patrick Ruffini put it, he "has made his community come alive through his blog by given them frequent action items and ways to interact and get involved." Zephyr Teachout said, "Huckabee's blog is hands down the most fun. You can tell its only edited after the fact, whereas the majority of sites have a 'Stepford site' feel about them, where you can be sure that the blog content is edited beforehand, or so controlled and limited in terms of language that it sounds prescribed." Thompson also won kudus for initially writing his own posts and even starting to lay out his policy framework by blogging. The high personal "Five Brothers" approach is what earned plaudits for Romney. As for the Democrats, Josh Levy praised Obama blogger Sam Graham-Felsen for attentively "following Obama from state to state, posting profiles of supporters, and regurgitating press releases. That last part has, unfortunately, become part and parcel of campaign blogging. But Obama's team does it better than his competitors." Longtime blogger Liza Sabater gave the edge to Edwards: "... because he started way before everybody else. Not just a blog but a whole online community. That takes a vision of where and how the candidate wants to be in the public eye no matter what the outcome of the elections." In the end, Edwards's community blogging platform was seen by the majority of our panel as promoting the most content from supporters. As Michael Whitney put it,"More than any other candidate, Edwards emphasizes what his supporters have to say."

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Question 5: Which campaign has done the best work engaging online political activists?

When asked about the somewhat ineffable metric of “engaging online political activists,” respondents almost uniformly thought of Ron Paul for the Republicans, and the majority selected John Edwards on the Democratic side. “Is it even close on the GOP side?,” asks Patrick Ruffini. “Ron Paul has engaged tens of thousands of new online political activists, so he takes this one,” says Michael Whitney. Ari Melber pointed out that for Paul it’s not really about strategy. “In an interview he emphasized that they didn’t plan a national ‘strategy; to tap these people, they simply welcomed their ideas when they showed up.” The voters seem to respond to straight-shooting. “People respond to candidates who are candid and sincere. Paul says what he thinks, not what his pollster tells him to say, and his folks have reacted to that,” one voter said.

For Edwards, online outreach has been essential to his campaign. “I think Edwards would be dead right now—would have been dead long ago—were it not for the blogger outreach from the beginning,” Zephyr Teachout said. Part of his strategy has been access, especially to his wife Elizabeth. “The Edwards campaign has invested heavily in cultivating online activists, giving access to the candidate and his wife unlike any other campaign,” one panelist argued. Jeff Commaroto agreed that “Elizabeth Edwards probably scores the most credit.”

Chris Dodd has flown beneath most voters’ (and panelists’) radar, but two people fingered him has conducting the best outreach to bloggers. Despite failing to rise in the polls, he has been “consistently drawing bloggers and other online activists into the work he’s doing in the Senate on game-changing stuff like habeas corpus and telecom immunity,” Nancy Scola said.

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Question 6: Which campaign has made the best and most innovative use of "Web 2.0" techniques like RSS, widgets and tagging?

In general, our panel saw more innovation on the Democratic side than the Republican side. On the Republican side Paul was the clear winner, with Romney second and Giuliani earning one mention. The vote on the Democratic side split evenly between Edwards, Obama and Dodd, with Clinton and Gravel each earning one mention apiece. Clearly, the Republican field has done less to use the web as a platform than the Democrats--with one obvious exception. Josh Levy praised that exception, Ron Paul, for releasing his donor information in real time: "It enabled supporters to create dozens of graphs showing fundraising information, which in turn rallied other supporters to the cause." Romney earned kudos for his successful experiment with user-generated ads. Edwards was credited by several on our panel for basically trying every tool under the sun, though one person said the result was a "Web 2.0 mess." Michael Whitney said Obama is all over widgets - for Google, for personal sites, and a Facebook app to boot. His team understands the value in spreading content around the web." Nancy Scola praised Dodd's debate clock for its overall value to supporters of every campaign who wanted to judge how their candidate was being treated in debates, as well as for being the only candidate to submit a video question to the other side's YouTube debate. Michael Whitney noted, "Dodd has been out early and often with new techniques, like live streaming of events. His campaign is not afraid to test the water at all."

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Question 7: Which campaign is doing the best work spending money on online advertising?

Of those who pay close attention to this more obscure aspect of online campaigns, Barack Obama and John McCain won the most votes for their online advertising operations.

 

Barack Obama’s “banner and text ads are very creative - instead of just engaging on the race, issues, or other candidates, they focus on Barack. ‘Meet Barack Obama!’ ‘See Barack in Person!’ They know what they’re doing,” Michael Whitney said. Patrick Ruffini agrees about Obama’s adverising strategy, noting that “Obama did some very impressive PointRoll ads targeted at NH.”

For Jeff Commorato, it comes down to money spent. “[John] McCain is hands down a big spender and his ads are always well produced even though their placement on the Web needs better control,” he said. But one panelist said it’s money well spent. “John McCain’s team has made a very smart us of Google AdWords and has even publicly noted that they’re getting a 4-1 ROI.”

But most candidates simply don’t seem to utilizing advertising much as they did in previous cycles. “Nobody has, for instance, used advertising to play up a debate appearance the way Kerry did in 2004,” said one panelist. The same might be said for the Democrats.

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Question 8: Which campaign is making the best use of mobile technology?

Our panel had little to say about this question, a sign of how Big Telecom continues to stifle and stunt innovation in the mobile marketplace. Obama and Edwards were the only two candidates whose use of text messaging and short codes earned them any points from our experts. Michael Whitney noted, In addition to ringtones and wallpapers available on his website, Barack twitters pretty consistently. John Edwards is a very close second here." Josh Levy gave the edge to Edwards, noting "he has been consistent with sending updates about appearances and mentioning his short code in speeches, including when he announced his candidacy in New Orleans." As for the GOPers, "No major Republican has rolled out a mobile program that I know," said Patrick Ruffini.

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Question 9: Which campaign is doing the best work raising money using online tools?

Barack Obama and Ron Paul are on top when comes to online fundraising.

Most panelists chose Paul because of his radically decentralized approach. Nancy Scola praises him “for getting out of the way and letting his supporters run wild with their online fundraising efforts.” One panelist isn’t as concerned with actual money raised as he is with the strategy used to bring it in. “I give Paul the win based on the amount of data he has made available and the transparency his campaign has been willing to grant. Not only can you see how much he has raised, you can literally watch it as it comes in. Nobody else even comes close,” the panelist said.

The same voter applauds “Barack’s use of fundraising to capitalize on key moments, together with his use of the tools available (e-mail format, video, etc) to enhance the ask.” Many panelists agree that Obama’s success at tapping his many online supporters for small donations contributed to his large fundraising haul.

But one vote went to John Edwards, who “really tapped into the ActBlue crowd —the campaign has worked hard to get the endorsement of the netroots,” as Liza Sabater points out.

Patrick Ruffini voted for Mike Huckabee. “If you mean which candidate is doing the best work leveraging their site to raise money, I would say Huckabee over Paul only because Paul’s energy is on the outside.”

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Question 10: Which campaign has done the best job of informing voters about their candidate's position on the issues?

The only campaign that really rose above the pack on this important metric was that of John Edwards. Paul, Thompson, McCain and Richardson each garnered a handful of votes, but they were all behind Edwards in terms of sharing detailed issue information with voters. "Can we really say any of them are doing a good on this front?" asked Patrick Ruffini. With equal skepticism, Michael Whitney noted that "Giving a response here assumes that any candidate's strategy emphasizes issues - so maybe Ron Paul, but no major candidate should be lauded for its attention to issues." A little less cynically, Nancy Scola commented, "Even those of us not overly engaged in the '08 race know that Ron Paul wants to do away with the Federal Reserve, that John Edwards is focused on fighting poverty and rebuilding New Orleans, and that Chris Dodd is working to protect habeas corpus. Those campaigns have used the web to define their candidates, while some of the other campaigns seem happy to use the Internet to deflect attention away from where they guy or gal stands and towards their online fan base." Fred Thompson and Dennis Kucinich each earned a star for the depth of their policy papers on their sites, while Bill Richardson got credit for using the net to very effectively differentiate his positions on education and Iraq, and likewise Dodd earned kudos for how has used the net to highlight his support for restoring Constitutional protections during some current Senate battles.

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Question 11: Which campaign has done the best "rapid response" work online?

Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney were on top here, in what were perhaps the most telling results in our survey. Both candidates — especially Clinton — are known for their top-down campaign styles, so it makes sense that a desire to control the message would translate to well-honed rapid response machines.

Perhaps Patrick Ruffini put it best: “Romney’s team is all over the debates, posting updates in real time, and their 500+ YouTube videos are mostly TV appearances that push their message. They are relentless. Clinton’s ‘Fact Hub’ and ‘Hillary Hub’ are pretty innovative developments that show a focus on busting myths before they get out of control.

Michael Whitney praised Chris Dodd’s campaign, saying that “engages bloggers like no other campaign. Dodd is always out with statements and leading a lot of the online organizing around actual issues. No other candidate comes close.

But Zephyr Teachout isn’t convinced that any candidate is conducting rapid response as well as past campaigns. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but none of them have developed the level of sophistication developed by the ‘Rapid Response Network’ created by Dean supporters, or the Kerry version (managed by Amanda Michel),” she said.

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Q12: Which campaign has made the best use of the web to decentralize power?

The only question to yield a unanimous response from our panelists. Every panelist chose Ron Paul for the Republicans, calling the choice “obvious” and saying that his actions speaking for themselves. One panelist goes so far as to call Paul “the Howard Dean of 2008.”

On the Democratic side, Barack Obama and John Edwards were tied with four votes each.

Most panelists didn’t have a vote for any Democrat, but Ari Melber did vote for Chris Dodd, for having “gone into the weeds with the citizen whip count and other efforts to give people the tools, information and ability to directly influence legislation — with him backing up the effort,” and one vote went to Mike Gravel.

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Question 13: Which campaign has the best overall web presence?

When push came to shove (and we pushed), our panel came to a clear consensus around both Ron Paul and Barack Obama having the best overall web presences of their fields. But Huckabee, Edwards, Clinton and Romney all earned some minority support from our judges. For example, while Patrick Ruffini gave his vote to Team Obama for having the most innovative effort overall, he noted that "Team Hillary's meticulousness and focus on 1) giving access to their celebrity candidate, and 2) pushing back against attacks, should serve them well in a general election." Jeff Commaroto also noted that Clinton's team doesn't get enough credit for the quietly effective work they do talking to bloggers and integrating mainstream media with new media. Michael Whitney offered that "Huckabee's campaign is the best overall, for making good use out of a number of tools. Ron Paul has the best candidate presence, but that is not the doing of his campaign." As for the Democrats, Whitney said, "I really want to say Chris Dodd has the best web campaign, but I can't say he has the best web presence. By sheer size Obama has the best web presence, because he has a large staff of extremely talented people. But Dodd's smaller team is the most creative." Liza Sabater explained her vote for Edwards by arguing, "I can actually see JohnEdwards.com still thriving after he is elected (or not)." As for Paul, one person commented, "Ron Paul's Revolution is very real and his supporters never stop. Good or bad, the presence is felt by all." And another added, "Obama's campaign understands that the campaign needs to drive the train if it plans to reach its goal. Paul's campaign seems much more like Dean's in that they seem more caught up in their success than in their strategy. They're letting the people drive the train, and as Dean learned, that can be dangerous."

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