Could 2010 be the year that political campaigns on the federal and state level finally kick it into high gear with online video? I interviewed Corey Vale, the new Internet Marketing Director for John McCain's 2010 senate campaign. I asked him to tell us about their new user-generated video content feature – the "Video Supporter Wall" and how they believe it will create a "two-way conversation with the voters of Arizona."
This past week, a press release from the office of former GOP presidential candidate and Arizona Senate incumbent John McCain, announced a revamp of the McCain 2010 campaign website, with special mention of their new online video strategy – a "Video Supporter Wall." The Video Supporter Wall is what they consider their attempt at using the power of video to create a dialogue with the voters of Arizona, as well as influence people who may be on the bubble about who they're going to vote for.
Below is my interview with Cory Vale (also listen to my podcast at the bottom of the post), McCain's 2010 Internet Marketing Director, where Cory tells us about this new user-generated-content video strategy. Next week, I will provide my own commentary and review of McCain's website video strategy and their "Video Supporter Wall." Suffice to say, any start with online video for political support is a good start - but there is certainly much to improve on.
Meet McCain's New Internet Marketing Director
Grant: How you got to be involved with the McCain 2010 campaign and their new online video initiative?
Corey: I've worked in the tech space for 15 years; also worked in campaigns for 15 years - bounced back and forth between both marketplaces. Somewhere around the middle of summer 2009, I got a call from the McCain campaign, and they asked me to come down and talk with them about web strategy, and some of the things that they wanted to do. I eventually came on full-time with the McCain campaign. We set about doing a website refresh, and that's what went live [this first week of February 2010.]
Grant: What were the lessons learned from the 2008 Presidential campaign, and how might the 2010 strategy compare to 2008 – especially with online video?
Corey: I wasn't involved with the 2008 campaign from the Internet perspective, although I was definitely a supporter. You know, hindsight is always 20-20. I'm sure when the 2010 campaign is over, I'm sure there will be lessons to be learned on what we did and didn't do.
(Grant's comment: Corey didn't appear like he wanted to give any specifics on on where the McCain 2008 got it wrong with their online marketing strategy, but lets just say that our own coverage at ReelSEO showed that they got trounced by Obama's online presence with video.)
Corey: I think generally, my perspective on the 2010 campaign is just to do two things: 1) Make sure that Senator McCain's presence online is everywhere in the state of Arizona. Meaning, he's in all of the Web, blog, social media areas, via our web site and other websites – a full coverage of his presence across Arizona. 2) I really believe that a website and an online presence should be a dialogue. We're well past the stage of websites being online brochures. We now have the tools in place where we can really facilitate a two-way conversation and dialogue with the people of Arizona. That's really what we set up to do with JohnMcCain.com and the [website] refresh, was to create that dialogue where people feel that they can come to the site, they can leave their opinions, they can share their opinions, other people can see those opinions, and then the campaign can get a sense of where they're at and respond to those as well. That's some of the tools behind the site, and that's some of the philosophy behind them.
The McCain Video Supporter Wall – A real Dialogue?
Grant: It's interesting that you use the word "dialogue." On a few political websites out there featuring user-generated video content, people who can post their comments on whatever videos they're watching. But its not that often that people in the actual [political] campaign respond. So "respond," do you mean that they'll respond by email, or that they'll make their comments known to everybody else by posting them in the comments section or a special section on the website?
Corey: That's a great question. I think its all of the above, I really do. Some people feel more comfortable responding with the anonymity of an email. Some feel comfortable responding over video. Some people feel comfortable responding to a comment in a blog. Some people feel comfortable going out to Facebook and leaving a comment, or on Twitter or any other ways that people can do that. So we really wanted to open that up as wide as we could, and let people pick and choose what they're most comfortable with. It varies by person, as I'm sure you know. Some people aren't comfortable with video as an example, but some are. We just wanted to create all of those options for people, so they could interact with the campaign that's best for them.
(Grant's comment: Corey didn't really answer my question here, either. I was asking him about how the campaign members respond to submitted comments. I was inferring they should be publicly responding to at least some of the video submissions.)
Grant: Your press release says that your "video supporter wall" will eventually feature over 500 (maybe thousands?) messages highlighting key issues, famous supporters, and other UGC. First off, is this going to be a combination of both UGC what the McCain campaign submits for its own video content? (In other words, will there be a real "video dialogue?" between your campaign and users who submit video?)
Corey: It will be a combination of both. We've done that for a few reasons: Obviously the purpose of the wall is for people to show why they support John McCain. That can happen in a few different ways. People can come to the office, and we have the ability to record them – whether it be on a Flip Cam or an iPhone camera – and get that video up on the site. (That's something that we've done with the site so far.) But we've also created a feature and used our friends from Sorenson to do that as well, to have people be able to upload their own video, and that can be through a webcam, or it can be through their own Flip video camcorder at home and downloading the file as well. The bottom line is that it will include people that are both coming through our campaign offices, as well as people out and throughout the web in the state of Arizona, uploading their videos as well.
(Grant's comment: Again, I was asking if campaign members would be submitting video as well, and dialoging through video. "People coming through campaign offices" does not tell us whether or not campaign members are included.)
Grant: On your existing website, you have at the bottom of your home page that there is your McCain Supporter Wall – johnmccain.com/supporters.
Corey: Yeah, that is sort of the home page teaser for the supporter wall. So it highlights a few people. Obviously one of those is Steve Forbes, which is a well known name. Another one is a sheriff here in Arizona. Plus a few other folks who've had recorded videos. But if you click on "all videos" at the bottom of that page, you go to the full video experience – the UGC experience.
(Grant's comment: Is Steve Forbes a resident of Arizona now? Maybe celebrities get a pass on the residency requirements?)
Corey: That page is really where we're starting it again. We just launched that [the first week of February 2010], so It'll grow and it'll change and it'll adjust. As they're getting more and more videos, they'll have pagination so people can click through to different pages. It won't be one long web page of hundreds of videos. They'll be able to click through to different pages as they get through more and more. In addition, we've created – through the use of Sorenson Media technology (the online video platform and delivery network they use), a great search feature – where people can type in anything they want and it will pull up those videos.
Each of the videos have metadata layered behind them. That metadata includes the name of the person, obviously. But it also includes what they're talking about in the video. In some cases, if we know, we're putting in location (such as Phoenix or Scottsdale or Tempe), as well as occupation. For example, if you type in "sheriff," you'll pull up the videos of people who are sheriffs that are supporting John McCain. We're trying to make an environment where we provide a few searches (that are good searches, if you will), where it pulls up a number of videos. But we also wanted to give people the freedom to search on their own and just find what videos are important to them.
But is the McCain Video Wall for supporters, only?
Grant: Your site does say "Supporter Wall." Do you have to be a supporter to have your video included on the website? Can somebody who doesn't necessarily identify themselves as a supporter of John McCain submit a video and have it published on your site?
Corey: That's a good question. This is sort of "version 1." The site just launched. We wanted to get a sense of the experience and feedback from people on how it's working for them. I think that eventually we would like to extend this to other parts of the website. I would like to have an area where people can upload their video, kind of issue-by-issue; so there would be an area of the site that's called "issues" that highlight's Senator McCain's views on health care, the economy, immigration, etc. We would like to eventually have a place where people could upload videos as well that are issue-specific, rather than just why they support John McCain. But we thought that would be a good place to start, to just get a feel for the experience and how people interact with it.
(Grant's comment: This is where I got the impression that Corey was eluding some of the harder questions. I still didn't really get an answer on if they will eventually allow non-supporters to submit video and have it posted. I would think it would make more sense to include people who are undecided, or even detractors who they can answer questions head-on.)
Reaching out to where the people are?
Grant: You mention with your videos and your Internet marketing strategy that its important for you to get them in front of where people are at. Now I know Senator McCain has his own YouTube channel. Are these UGC videos also going to be available via YouTube, or just on this website?
Corey: That's a great question. We would love to do that. It's just been an issue of time. We've had so much to put together for this initial refresh of the website. We will absolutely get those UGC videos out on YouTube. I think it would be great for people to see them out there as well.
Guidelines for the McCain Video Supporter Wall
Grant: Have you established any guidelines for your video submissions? Content, length, etc.
Corey: Sure, we have. Again, they're not rooted in the technology. Meaning, we don't cut you off if you go over 30-45 seconds. What we've tried to do is put up a sampling of videos to start with, to let people get a feel for what we're looking for. On any UGC site, there's a sense of what that community is doing. In this case, we are looking for 30-45 second videos on average. But the context of this particular implementation is, as a McCain supporter, people who do support John McCain all over Arizona – tell us and your fellow Arizonians why. As this concept grows, and this wall grows, and we learn a little from it, we'll apply it to other areas of the site.
What can be learned from Obama's video activities?
Grant: When YouTube (CitizenTube) has done interviews with President Obama, a lot of it allows for users to submit a question. Can this also be a place for anyone to be able to submit a question to McCain and the McCain campaign (via video) and have it answered (via video)?
Corey: Again, those are all great ideas. We are absolutely committed to trying to get there. I'm a huge believer in allowing people to join the conversation with the campaign in the way that's best for them. I get hundreds of email questions throughout a day that people have for Senator McCain. Again, some will want to do that via a video. I think once we move from the supporter wall with the video wall to other areas of the site, it will open up opportunities for more and more engagement like you describe. So I'm excited to be able to get there. We're just going to take it one day at a time.
Stay tuned as next week, I will provide my overall review and opinion of this strategy - what they've done right and where things could be improved.
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