Friday, November 9, 2007

Did the Internet matter in Loudoun's Elections?

Briefly judging from our scan of the online activity, representation and reputation of candidates focused on the Loudoun electorate, it did. But both in positive and negative ways.




Our first observation deals with page rank. Yes, a site's page rank in Google is only an indicator, and a much delayed one at that, but we'd think aggressive link-campaigning and establishment of the online community of referring sites, social tags and articles would have started early in the year, leading to decent exposure heading to the polls. The page rankings for lead Senate candidates appeared to pick up late in the game, ending at "4's" for the winner and lead candidate, with a "3" and "2" for the relatively unchallenged incumbent (Herring) and heavy loser (Phillips) respectively. Likewise, the Chapman (4) vs. Poisson (3) rankings in the House races show the "newness" of candidates and their messages in the news can rapidly increase online exposure, something the incumbents need to get out in front of early. We'll point out that significant rankings improvement only happened once the local and regional papers, like Loudouni's Vote2007 site, began offering direct links from their own higher-ranking sites (predictably, most high-ranking site were fairly well designed, though with limited SEO, while low-ranking sites were designed with little to no SEO input). For the most part, county-level sites had very low page ranks, and most winners were higher than losers - with a couple of noted exceptions where the blogosphere seems to have contributed a number of well-rated backlinks. Most interesting dichotomy: Eugene Delgaudio's site with a Page Rank of "0" is the first candidate site to come up when searching in Google for "Loudoun County Candidates", and not until page 3!. Key point: online link-building and Loudoun County Search Engine Marketing and Optimization (SEO/SEM) needs to start much, much earlier and with significantly better strategy.

Social networking sites were basically unused for most of the County candidates, which drives the observations that candidates have basically ignored the typically un-interested younger electorate, who can more often be reached with entertaining content and offers through these venues - including Myspace, Meetup, Facebook, etc. Some did very limited blogging, though tightly controlled with no comments, and a few (like Stevens Miller) showed up on some local discussion boards (at the newspapers sites and local HOA boards) - but certainly not enough online discussion opportunities nor outreach to the younger elements of the online population. We'd have to believe another 5% turnout of young adults would've been possible with just a few months of concerted and engaged online discussion, in Web 2.0 forums.

One bright spot on the Web 2.0 front was use of Google Videos - Loudouni.com's use of Google videos for candidate interviews was hugely popular and visited. Underutilized, though were other popular multimedia social outlets such as Flickr, and YouTube (a few interesting videos, mostly from venues like the convention and candidate debates).

Social Bookmarking was likewise largely ignored (i.e. Delicious, Furl, Reddit, Stumbleupon, etc.).

Online advertising was likewise underutilized, or ineffectively utilized - note Feretti's advertising monopoly on Leesburg Today, with little SEO value - just big graphic banners. A few late entrants in advertising (Snow, Miller, York) on Loudouni's Vote2007 may have turned a few heads (judging by the "flash traffic" in the 2 days before the election), but most candidates didn't bother even establishing reasonable anchor text links on well-read candidate directories such as Dulles South Online's politics page. We'll note that Loudoun's newest advertising venue at Loudounextra.com wasn't yet setup for political advertising (or, the candidates simply didn't offer enough money!).

(Update - forgot to add that pay-per-click or PPC advertising was basically not leveraged at all, except for a persistent, long-running smart-growth, environment-driven platform campaign by the advocacy group "Campaign for Loudoun's Future".)

"Get out the vote" communication campaigns we believe were fairly rigorous, though, the largesse of signs, placards, doorhangers and mailers was probably overspent by half. The email campaigns were very effective and active - though with little coordination to online site, blog and/or press release activity. (Candidate press releases were also mostly under-managed, with releases harbored mainly by a few local papers and some candidate websites - Internet press release capabilities through venues such as Prleap, Digg and Topix were rarely leveraged outside of the occasional political junkie.)

Speaking of political junkies, the blogosphere (collated on BlogNetNews.com) was very active with 3rd-party supporters, reviewers and commentors - though far more often with negative information or criticism than positive - plus the "activist" crowd from both a publisher and reader perspective was a fairly tight-knit group. This speaks to lack of online reputation management interest or skills on the part of the candidates and their staff - it's not too difficult to get out ahead of bad news with good news, and dilute online attacks to image and reputation. Just searching for "Steve Snow Loudoun" in Google yields 4 negative news/comment items on the very 1st page! Same with Michael Firetti (they both lost by a wide margin). An early, consistent, and observant camapaign to manage online reputation with SEO/SEM principles is essential in all races.).

There's obviously a lot more evidence and analysis to be done (our views here are mostly very educated analysis, not scientific fact), with more thorough inspection and allocation of the facts, but our ultimate summary is that Loudoun County, for all its "technological leadership" promotion, is essentially a backwater with respect to effective utilization of the Internet for political gain and engagement of the online electorate.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

sounds like this would be the case across all of America's "exurbs"...the real national election breakout on the Web was last round of Presidential races, now it's got to trickle down to the locals

November 10, 2007 at 5:40 AM  

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