For Republican campaigns hoping to harness the Internet this November to propel everything from online fundraising to GOTV efforts, the campaign operation to emulate may very well be that of Scott Brown.
For Republican campaigns hoping to harness the Internet this November to propel everything from online fundraising to GOTV efforts, the campaign operation to emulate may very well be that of Scott Brown. The Massachusetts Sen.-elect bested the campaign of Democratic opponent Martha Coakley in just about every online metric you can measure, and in the process did something rare for Republican campaigns of late—offer an online model that actually moved the ball forward on a range of tactics. Brown’s campaign went up with a Google network blast a full five days before Tuesday’s election, blanketing Internet users with online ads, many of which were aimed at key Massachusetts towns the Brown camp had in its sights. For the most part, network blasts have been used as a last-minute GOTV tool, usually running in the 48 hours before Election Day. But the Brown camp expanded that window significantly and also used the early ads as a call for volunteers. The campaign’s online “money bomb,” which had a goal of some $500,000 in one day for the race, shattered those expectations and hauled in $1.3 million. In the following days, the online cash kept coming. In all, the Brown campaign raised an incredible $12 million online. The campaign used Google docs and spreadsheets to run field ops, and it took full advantage of Google’s new ad options for YouTube videos. The campaign also developed a canvassing app for iPhone and Blackberry, which allowed volunteers to download walk lists for their neighborhoods right to their phones. But perhaps most importantly, the man who headed up Brown’s new media efforts, Rob Willington, says he always had a seat at the strategy table and a say in every aspect of the campaign—from fundraising to field ops. “It was great because I wasn’t just the Internet guy,” says Willington, the former executive director of the Massachusetts GOP. Willington played a role in developing the traditional media strategy, too. He was even in the studio when the campaign was cutting TV ads. “When you’re that involved, you ensure that you’re online messaging is in sync with everything else,” he says. In the process, the Brown camp was also able shed some of the top-down management style that tends to define Republican campaigns. It readily accepted the sort of bottom-up grassroots initiative that GOP campaigns rarely, if ever, embrace. “They opened it up to volunteers and said, ‘You want to make a video? Go ahead,’” says Mindy Finn, a partner at the new media firm Engage. “The control wasn’t all in campaign headquarters. It was spread across the grassroots.” And, for what it’s worth, the raw numbers on social networking sites favored Brown big time. The Republican tripled Coakley’s followers on Twitter and had five times the number of fans on Facebook. Brown’s YouTube videos also garnered more than nine times the number of plays that Coakley’s did. As for what it could mean this November, one thing seems clear: The past year has done away with this idea that online tactics and tools are somehow less able to motivate and mobilize conservatives. “And the willingness to innovate is there now,” says Mindy Finn, who worked on the Brown campaign’s online fundraising efforts. “There are still some Democrats who think that because Obama so effectively used new media we have some natural advantage, but we don’t,” says Will Robinson, a Democrat and partner at The New Media Firm. “I think it shows that anyone in a marginal race this year ignores new media at their peril.”Shane D'Aprile is senior editor at Politics magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org