Sites like BlueNC, Facebook, Pam's House Blend, DailyKos and Twitter have helped open up a whole new avenue for reaching voters and many candidates are taking advantage of these new tools - tools that are newer to some than to others. Lately, though, I've overheard more than a few local people claiming to be experts in social media and online campaigning - people I've never heard of - and they're claiming that new media and online social networking play a more important role in successful campaigns than they actually do. Candidates will do well to remember that any middle school student can network a facebook page.
As important as BlueNC has been in spreading the news about several North Carolina candidates, the last thing you will ever hear any of us say is that we won a campaign for someone by blogging about them or running their ads. We have played a fairly large role in raising hundreds of thousands of dollars, we have connected hundreds of volunteers to campaigns and candidates and we have helped shine a brighter spotlight on issues of importance. We have networked with other blogs and political sites to make this happen but we have never been the sole force behind a winning candidate.
Political blogs, social networking sites and other online resources have earned a spot in the modern political campaign. We are affordable and we are effective when used to complement traditional grassroots efforts. In a low dollar campaign nothing beats knocking on doors, candidate phone calls and live caller phone banks - not even the fanciest political blog or Facebook page.
In the early days there was little strategy. We wrote blog posts and sought out candidates, activists and voters. We proved our value and our relevance to the modern campaign. We continue to earn our place as more candidates become open to the importance of online efforts.
Some campaigns are using blogs and social networking sites appropriately. Jake Gellar-Goad with Mark Kleinschmidt's mayoral campaign has done a great job combining Facebook and multiple blog sites to help organize volunteer efforts. Gordon Smith and Jay Ovittore are both running for City Council in different cities and are both old hats at blogging. Based on the alerts I'm receiving from both campaigns, they also understand the value of traditional grassroots campaign efforts.
I'm not trying to diminish the importance of new media and social networking but I think it is extremely important that candidates not get dazzled when someone waxes poetic about the importance of all the new online tools in the box. We've worked hard to secure a place among the other campaign techniques, but nothing replaces good old fashioned hard work and direct voter contact.