Social media hasn’t crossed the chasm in California politics

I had a fascinating conversation at EqualityCamp about the status of social media in California politics. Apparently, despite the dramatic upset success of the McNerney campaign, fed by “netroots” small donor fundraising and upstart blog-driven citizen journalism, oppo research and organizing, the political mainstream in California is still fixated on mass media politics. Big-block fundraising is used to fund mass media advertising campaigns with highly controlled messaging created by campaign consultants based on focus group research.
The collossal failure of this model in the NoOn8 has driven those of us who live in a social media, grassroots world absolutely bonkers. But apparently, even the dramatic Obama victory fueled by small-donor fundraising and grass roots, neighbor to neighbor organizing, hasn’t done much to change how the California political class thinks about campaigns.
The state of affairs smells like a classic early market, which in Geoff Moore’s classic taxonomy, hasn’t yet “crossed the chasm”. There are classic barriers, and some classic tactics for overcoming the barriers.
Barrier: There is a well established process for funding and running campaigns.
Opportunity: Identify a niche where social media tactics provide an advantage. Marriage equality is clearly in this category, since personal outreach is the best known way to change hearts and minds on the topic. There are likely other niches where a social media strategy can gain a foothold and win success.
Barrier: Costly tools and data
Opportunity: Blogging and social networking is very low cost. But until now, the data and tools needed to facilitate neighbor to neighbor get out the vote has been very expensive and inaccessible. Innovative business models with California Voter Connect could conceivably make voter data more accessible to the niche markets that would take the risks to innovate with social media grass roots strategies.
Barrier: Mainstream folk lack role models.
Opportunity: Politicians seeking to run for office look to their peers for models of successful campaigns. There are politicians who are “early adopters” of social media, who can integrate social media into their campaigns. Then those politicians can influence others personally, and their examples can be used as case studies.
Barrier: Mainstream politicians lack a mental model of social media campaigns.
Opportunity: Over the last few years, the business and nonprofit worlds have started to evolve a rich set of useful practices for the use of social media. Analyst houses like Forrester Research and independents like Tara Hunt and Beth Kanter have built consulting practices and spread knowledge. There’s a related opportunity to spread knowledge with writing and conferences The best time to build an reputation as an expert in an early market is before the space is crowded, when the topic is still unfamiliar to many people.
When a market is “in the chasm”, it can feel rather grim for the early adopters looking up at the high walls. But early markets are times of amazing potential. There is a wide range of tactics, and the universe provides a variety of opportunities to take one or more of the early market plays and take innovation mainstream.

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