Dem Convention: The New New Media

The Dems are pushing their new media savvy—but what's the line between savvy and, well, boring?
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So the Democratic convention keeps going (forever?), I am even more thankful for the internet. I love Twitter and Facebook—I get to pretend I have lots of “friends.” Not to mention that the Twitter version of “friends”—”followers”—makes me feel like a powerful cult leader.

The lovely series of tubes has come up quite a bit amongst these Democrats. I know in the past few years, the Democrats have raised more money online and they’ve had a much larger blog presence. But this year, it’s certainly felt to me like the Republicans have had more candidates tweeting and Facebooking—and more often than not, being more memorable in their efforts. This weekend’s convention, the Democrats seem intent on trying to show they too are hip with the kids.

“Yes the Republican Party has been able to organize online, but they haven’t been able to out-organize [Democrats] online,” Matt Glazer told me.

Glazer, a Democratic consultant and an active blogger at Burnt Orange Report, had just come off this morning’s “New Media” panel, sponsored by Sen. Kirk Watson. Despite having reps from Google and Annie’s List in addition to Glazer, only a sparse gathering came out to hear about the best strategies for online campaigning and building blog readerships. The panelists emphasized the need for spontaneity and nuts-and-bolts questions like, WordPress or Blogger? (Answer, according to consultant Matt Glazer: WordPress, but only if you know code.) But the folks at the panel already seemed pretty savvy about the whole tech thing—the number of tweets from the event seemed to outnumber those in attendance.

After the panel, Watson told me the party is working hard to help candidates with their online presence and social-media folk get plenty of attention from the party. “I think there needs to be more of that effort,” he said. But still, he told me, the Democrats “are ahead, in some ways” of the GOP.

The convention is definitely giving “new media” good treatment. Last night’s “Blogger Caucus” party was packed, and the bloggers certainly seemed to get respect from the many candidates and officeholders who stopped by—including gubernatorial nominee Bill White himself. Dallas DA Craig Watkins specifically implored the attendees to blog about his work, while most just talked about how “this is the future.”

In the press area, bloggers like Farris and Martha Grimes of Musings blog and Rachel Farris of MeanRachel have equal access and wear the same pink passes that traditional reporters have around their necks.

“I think Republicans tend to take more risks than Democrats with social media,” Farris says, pointing to the Perry campaign’s Spanish-language Twitter account and reports that the Perry campaign has paid others to tweet and Facebook about the governor. Democrats, on the other hand, have generally have been more predictable.

At yesterday’s Tweet-Up caucus, the speeches felt pretty traditional. Most candidates seem to have trouble adjusting their stump speeches for high-tech audiences. In fact—bizarrely—I didn’t hear a single speech that included a campaign website by name. In fact, Jeff Weems, candidate for Railroad Commission, was the only candidate who even mentioned his Twitter name. But nonetheless, the caucus did arise out of demands from Democratic Twitter-ers, spearheaded by Farris. It made it onto the official agenda, and while many candidates took the predictable approach, they did, after all, show up to talk to a bunch of bloggers.

“This is the new grassroots,” Watson told me. He’s big on the pragmatics: To reach 5,000 people, “we’d have got to knock on 5,000 doors,” he said. Now you can simply send out a couple of tweets. Watson has been the most visible Democrat to experiment online. His “Monopoly Busters” campaign asked supporters to vote for which other Democratic candidates should get money from Watson’s PAC. It caught fire on Facebook, bringing people to Watson’s site and raising other candidates’ visibility.

“That’s the kind of thinking you usually see from Republicans,” says Farris.

But Democrats are big on playing it safe; many Democratic candidates keep their social media “business only.” Several—notably Van de Putte and Rep. Aaron Pena—tweet personal details, but more Dems seem to take a serious approach to their social media, primarily sending out information about campaign issues. (Bill White’s Twitter feed was a nice blend of work and personal, but he hasn’t tweeted as much since the campaign heated up.) Glazer says that’s a good thing.

Democrats are “doing it to talk about more than their hair products and their families,” he continued. “The Republicans that use these tools tend to just be noise. They have no signal.”

While a good Twitter account is obviously a balance between, personal and policy, Glazer’s adamant that Gov. Rick Perry’s approach—which mixes some policy with a lot of details about what’s for dinner and his morning jog—is too light. “He’s too cute and says nothing online,” Glazer told me.

Farris isn’t as sure. There’s such a thing as being too on message. “If it doesn’t seem authentic, then it’s not going to be a success,” she said. “It’s like having a friend that only tweets ‘I just ran 10 miles, it’s a great day to be an American.’”

Here, here. Maybe it’s just me, but I have to say, I really love the @GovernorPerry Twitter feed. I love the notes about his dogs and his favorite restaurants. I like knowing that Rep. Kelly Hancock is a jogging nut or that Rep. Aaron Pena drove to Corpus with “a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes.”

For me, the best parts of social media cast people as both professionals and, well, friends. It’s probably a little dangerous for the campaign when a candidate goes off message, but that’s when I feel like I know something cool.

Call me a marshmallow, but, I say it’s fun, and potentially powerful in letting people feel connected, personally, to their candidates.

What do you think?