Learning from political blogging

Knowing that I'm a supporter of the Howard Dean campaign (disclosure: I have the title "Senior Internet Advisor" with the campaign, which means much less than it sounds like), a friend of mine, a well-known blogger, complained that the Dean campaign's blog maybe isn't really a blog. This friend has in the past maintained that just about everything is a blog, so I was surprised. On the other hand, consistency is the hobgoblin of small blogs. (And with that, every cliched expression has been used at least once with the word "blog" inserted into it. We can all relax now.)

My friend is concerned that because the Dean campaign blog is flogging the Governor's candidacy, it doesn't really express any one person's honest point of view. Can Matthew Gross, the staffer who runs the multi-author blog, post criticism of Dean? Does the blog go through a marketing-like approval process? Is it really any different than some Procter & Gamble shampoo "blog" that is relentlessly upbeat about the product?

Now, in the particular case of the Dean blog, my guess is that Matthew Gross would not express criticism of the Governor on the blog; I don't read it expecting to hear him say, "Man, Dean's position on gun control is just so wrong!" even if Matthew feels that way. I don't even expect him to say, "The Governor seemed listless in his interview on "Good Morning, America" today," although it'd be oddly refreshing if he did. That the blog has gone as far as it has — preserving voice, linking widely, showing personal glimpses, having a sense of humor, opening itself up to the voices of ordinary citizens — is, I think, quite remarkable.

The point is that it's a campaign blog, and campaigns aren't individuals. Neither are corporations. So, I think this first, successful campaign blog points to what corporate, commercial weblogs will become.

The most significant lesson is, I believe, the importance of going off-message.

This is a tough thing for businesses — and political campaigns — to learn. We've been trained for decades to think that marketing is all about pounding a single idea into the warm, mushy brains of consumers...over and over and over until the consumers want to seal their ears with molten lead or maybe just buy a TiVo. We "consumers" are totally bored with the safe, bland jingles we've been fed. We're eager to hear some real voices. And we want to do much of the talking for a change. We want to connect...to one another and to partisans inside the organisation who share our passion. We want to talk about what we want to talk about, not about what the business keeps telling us is interesting. We don't want to be "messaged" to, we're not mere "consumers" of goods, and you may own the product/service but we own our conversation about it. We're going to talk about what we want to talk about.

Compare and contrast with the message-focused marketing mentality: Simple, uninteresting message. A one-way broadcast. Intense control of the communications. Keep it simple, stupid.

There's nothing wrong with any of that, except everything. What's appealing to us in a campaign blog and, potentially in a corporate blog, is precisely the lack of message discipline. And that's a lesson businesses desperately need to learn.

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