This is the last 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 and part two appeared last week, and part three appeared yesterday.

The greatest source of chaos in the political environment is the enhanced ability granted by the internet for people to connect with each other, in any combination, across time constraints, geographic boundaries and with the same array of tools available to campaigns. The potential for a single citizen with a focused effort to steal the attention from a candidate or mount an influential counter-campaign is ever present. And while many claim to be able to create viral campaigns, the truth is we have little idea what causes one idea to go viral and another to fizzle. The same network strategy employed by two different candidates or two different advocacy campaigns on the same issue cannot yield the same result. Different messengers, timing and context always create new dynamics. Like with chaos models, changing any of these variables will change the results.

The 3-D nature of digital networks gives an individual the ability to set off movements, even if small, through the polity. Consider the efforts of Eli Pariser and David Pickering, two college students whose email petition opposing a military response to 9/11 spread like wildfire as it gathered 500,000 signatures in less than one month. Their success helped to super-charge MoveOn.org when Pariser took his list and became its executive director. There are many more stories of students launching new advocacy groups from their dorm rooms and of just a few friends getting together to start a group that becomes a prominent voice in a campaign.

In a world where the power of the people is enabled as it is by digital and mobile networks, campaigns have to adjust how they view their supporters. Rather than viewing them as message receptacles and followers to organize, campaigns have to treat supporters as strategic partners. 

Regardless of whether campaigns treat supporters as strategic partners or not, many will implement some strategy to organize their own personal networks.  It is important to remember that the 2004 Howard Dean campaign discovered 7,500 voters already organized into monthly meet ups across the country on MeetUp.com. And like the Dean campaigns, all campaigns must monitor these types of developments and develop a strategy for incorporating them into the campaign plan—regardless of whether they become a formal part of the campaign or not. And as the 2008 Obama campaign showed, enabling new individual efforts to emerge and flourish is now a permanent part of the campaign playbook.

A New Playing Field
To thrive in this new playing field, advocacy and political campaigns must excel in all three campaign dimensions. And while campaigns must still focus on message and organization, broad access to digital networking tools make for much more competition for the campaigns coming from a multitude of sources. Today, it is all about managing chaos.

Intro: The Dimensions of a Digitally Networked Campaign
Part One: One-Dimensional Strategies
Part Two: Two-Dimensional Strategies