This is the second in a four-part series in which Alan Rosenblatt, Ph.D., explores various "dimensions" of online campaigning and the strategies that each dimension requires. Part one appeared yesterday. The series will continue tomorrow.

Optimists would say the new tools offered by the Internet and social networks will transform E. E. Schattschneider’s under-represented masses into an organized political force—even if it's in a swarm fashion. The multiplication of online communications channels is already creating a voter-driven challenge to campaigns seeking to distribute its message. One-way broadcasting is being supplemented—and at times replaced—by narrowcasting, distributing messages to targeted and micro-targeted audiences. While many voters still rely on email, many others are moving to other channels—like Facebook or text messaging—for their primary mode of online communication. Others are compartmentalizing their channels, preferring personal communication through some channels, work communication through others, consumer and political communication through others.

Given this proliferation of online channels to reach people, campaigns are already finding new challenges when using network technology to deliver their message. In the early days of online campaigns, before 2000, setting up a website and building a modest email list was the extent of how one reached online voters. Websites were seen as informational storefronts and email lists were focused on sending out campaign messages. And a candidate or advocacy group’s website is still an essential front office. But disseminating a message can no longer rely on the centralized, limited channels if a campaign wants to reach citizens, activists and voters. Respecting communication channel preferences is essential for campaigns seeking to develop deeper relationships with constituents.

The optimal 1-D campaign strategy uses all available channels, each targeted to the appropriate audience, to get the message out. Just as the early days of TV had three networks, in the early days of the internet there were relatively few channels and only a couple dominant ones: websites and email. Today it seems there are too many channels to track, whether online or on TV. In addition to websites and email, people also communicate via social network sites like Facebook.com and MySpace.com, mobile/internet networks like Twitter.com, social media sites like YouTube.com, Flickr.com, Digg.com and Eventful.com and via instant messenger online and SMS text messaging over mobile phones. And it is likely that there will be new channels in time, just as some of these existing channels may die off.

Increasingly, the challenge is to rise above the noise to deliver campaign messages to voters is not just about delivering the right message packaged the right way, but to deliver the message in a respectful way, a way that will be received positively. Activists and voters have preferences for how they wish to interact with advocacy groups and campaigns. The receiver increasingly is choosing the channel for getting their messages, whether they are political or personal. If campaigns do not deliver to the right channel for each voter, that message may never be seen—or worse, it will be seen as a sign of disrespect because the campaign is not sending it through the preferred channel.

Intro: The Dimensions of a Digitally Networked Campaign
Coming Next: Two-Dimensional Strategies


Alan Rosenblatt, Ph.D., is the Associate Director of Online Advocacy for the Center for American Progress Action Fund.