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Local Politics Wins: PdF Network Call with Rob Willington on Scott Brown '10

BY Nick Judd | Friday, March 5 2010

When Scott Brown's campaign was winding down, his web/political strategist Rob Willington — a former executive director of the Massachusetts Republican Party — bought massrecount.com. Just in case.

Obviously Brown didn't need that particular URL this year. But it was one of the strategies Willington explained to PdF Network members on a conference call yesterday, to wit: Be an early adopter of social media memes, like relevant hashtags (for Brown, it was #MASen); on social media, build personal connections with people, rather than just blasting on-message comments and repeating press releases; use developing technologies like the ability to geotarget Google search ads; and when you meet a voter, always get their data.

Willington explained that the campaign urged people to RSVP to events even if there was no question about a venue's capacity — the point was to collect names and e-mail addresses beforehand. Rather than put the campaign website's URL on yard signs, the Brown campaign's promotional materials exhorted readers to send an SMS opt-in to the campaign's shortcode.

"It's not 1996 anymore," Willington said on the call. "The power of search is amazing ... I wasn't really concerned about people not finding Scott Brown's website. I wanted to use the limited real estate that we had to inform people about something they didn't know."

When advertising new video to people already on the web, the campaign didn't send people to YouTube to watch videos posted there. Instead, Willington said, he embedded the YouTube videos onto donation pages. (YouTube, he said, already had enough traffic, whereas a fundraising page can never get too many hits.)

The online campaigner was nice enough to share a slideshow with us during the call and post it for public consumption:

Micah Sifry also asked Willington about the campaign's Ning network, The Brown Brigade. Couldn't it have been ratfinked, to prettify a political vulgarity, by members of, for example, Martha Coakley's team?

In fact, said Willington, the Ning social network created for the Brown campaign was largely self-policing, with inappropriate content quickly getting flagged for Willington's attention by users.

That kind of deputizing of supporters extended into the real world. Willington said that the Brown campaign's much-discussed GPS-smart walklist-generating iPhone app was created by a volunteer, for example. Willington also brought on a Final Cut Pro-savvy volunteer to do all the campaign's web video as the election drew near.

"In this new world where people can bring a lot of skills to the table, find out who they are and put 'em to work," Willington said.

There was a lot more in the hour-long call, including a detailed explanation of how the Brown campaign made sophisticated use of geotargeting to place different Google ads with different calls to action depending on location, both in different parts of the state and outside of the state, which Willington says generated lists of volunteers for regional offices throughout Massachusetts.

You'll be able to listen to the call when it's up in our PdF Network Call archives, which should happen around March 8.