You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

Betray Us: A Missed Opportunity?

BY Patrick Ruffini | Friday, September 14 2007

The controversy over MoveOn's General Betray Us ad reminds us that the best online strategy is still about getting the basics right. In this case: tapping into the visceral reaction to an event within the first 12-24 hours and inviting your supporters to participate to respond in ways that count. And you'll primarily use the most unglamorous, Web 1.0 club in the bag: e-mail.

An outrage like General Betray Us doesn't come along very often when you're the party in power. So I was pretty disappointed when, in the maelstrom that unfolded on Monday, the Republican candidates for President chose to respond by press release, rather than by writing a personal note of disgust to their email list. By sending a well-crafted email, not only could the candidate have gotten his initial response across to a larger audience (the essential principle of "Big Seed Marketing") but he could have more effectively stayed in the news cycle with an action item he could follow up on over the next couple of days. Most reporters are on your email list, so they won't miss it if you break news through the medium. And for those that aren't, you follow up with a press release announcing the email. This is basic blocking and tackling.

Of all the major GOP players, only the Republican National Committee -- my old stomping ground -- used the medium to respond in a timely manner, sending an appeal for money out on Monday night. While I expect that this email and others like it did quite well, I think the opportunity to list-build was even greater. Fundraising is generally a one-off. The people you sign up using a petition or who co-sign a letter stay with you for an entire campaign -- and beyond.

The key to being effective in this operational window is building an action item with actual news value. And it could have been as basic as asking your supporters to sign on to a letter to Hillary Clinton asking her to denounce the MoveOn ad. When she doesn't -- you get to send another email telling people she's ignored the voice of the people and asking people to take further action, like donating to defeat Hillary Clinton, or doing letters to the editor, or emailing Pinch Sulzberger about the New York Times' "family discount." Either way, the candidates would have gotten an automatic story out of this.

The one candidate who fundraised effectively off the controversy was Rudy Giuliani, who devised his own New York Times ad using MoveOn's dramatic discount as a hook to re-enter the discussion. Rudy engaged the medium effectively by asking people to participate in his response, rather than just donating to fight the generic MoveOn/Hillary bogeyman. Now, I don't quite get how spending $181,000, or $167,000, or even $65,000 on one page of newsprint is cost-effective -- unless your message is explosive like MoveOn's -- but if there is anything this has controversy has shown, it's that a spread in the Times still has a certain aura about it.

Still, I was hoping the Republican candidates would use this moment as an opportunity to dramatically beef up their email lists by signing up tens of thousands of outraged conservatives.