Matt Bai, who is starting a new political blog next week covering the U.S. election campaign, has a piece in the New York Times today about what might loosely be called Politics 2.0 — the use of blogs and Facebook and other social media as part of a campaign. He says the major parties have tried to adopt the tactics first used by the Howard Dean campaign in 2004, but have missed the point on a number of things:
“It seems clear that the candidates and their advisers absorbed the wrong lessons from Deanâ€™s moment, or at least they failed to grasp an essential truth of it, which is that these things canâ€™t really be orchestrated.
Deanâ€™s campaign didnâ€™t explode online because he somehow figured out a way to channel online politics; he managed this feat because his campaign, almost by accident, became channeled by people he had never met.”
Bai describes how Ron Paul supporters — who had nothing to do with the official campaign — organized their own online fundraiser for the candidate on Guy Fawkes Day and pulled in more than $4-million and over 20,000 contributors in a single day, which turns out to be the largest one-day haul of any Republican candidate to date. Even Ron Paul’s campaign probably doesn’t have a clue how or why it happened.
The point Matt Bai is trying to make is related to my point about online community: You can’t create one, just as you can’t create a “viral” hit, or in fact an online sensation of any kind. You can create what you think are the right conditions for such a thing to grow, and hope to encourage one that already exists to adopt you, but other than that you have very little control. Anyone who claims otherwise is selling something.