Over the last couple of years I've become a bit of a political junkie. And like any good junkie, I spend half my time dosing up on Fox, MSNBC, Politico and Huffpo and half my time looking for my next fix. With ever-increasing frequency, I'm seeing one politician after another get bitten and mauled by video and social media. Just like you're supposed to hold out your hand and let a strange dog sniff you out before you make it go fetch a stick, politicians still have a lot to learn about both respecting and harnessing the power of video and social media.
In the depths of my last shaky, desperate search for a political buzz, I came across a story about potential presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman. Who? You know, former Governor of Utah, Former US ambassador to China... Jon Huntsman! Who?
The former this-and-that decided not to appear at the CNN-hosted New Hampshire Republican Presidential Debate on June 13th. My hunch is that Huntsman wasn't ready to be crushed by the other, more prepared, presidential hopefuls. Which is worse, a bad answer or a stray comment during a debate that gets memorialized on video for the world to see forever, or a controlled, one-on-one interview with CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley on why you aren't going to be there in the first place, a video in which you can spin the questioning and inject your own agenda? I vote for the latter.
Meanwhile, hopeful Huntsman is traveling around taking shots at the Obama administration on everything from the economy to the war in Afghanistan... and getting press! He is controlling the conversation his way, through video. Huntsman will also likely be skipping the Iowa Caucus in 2012. Hmmm.
A World Waiting To Pounce
We are witnessing an age of video and social media where politicians have to be more mindful than ever about where they appear and how they measure the potential risks involved in exposing themselves to opportunities to say and do the wrong things.
Look at the dive good old Newt Gingrich took after referring to Congressman Paul Ryan's proposed Medicare plan as social engineering on Meet The Press. If you didn't already know, Newt is also a Republican and that didn't sit well with the base. Many of his top staffers have since left his campaign and many believe he is finished as a presidential contender.
Going back to the 2004 Presidential Primaries, who could forget the timeless January 19th 2004, Howard Dean "I Have A Scream" speech that pretty much put the kibosh on his plans to be the POTUS?
Keep in mind that this event pre-dates YouTube and most other video sharing sites but as USA Today reported on January 21st, Dean scream gaining cult-like status on Web. In the months and years to follow, the speech was remixed, parodied and now you can find video everywhere. Dean went on to serve as the DNC chairman but has not run for the top spot since.
In 2008, the infamous Katie Couric interviews with Sarah Palin had a devastating effect on the McCain - Palin ticket.
In all of these cases, relatively minor actions were the focal points around which a dizzying array of video and social media attention was drawn.
Not Just Live Events
Even a typically-trending President Obama doesn't seem to be making as many appearances or statements or granting as many interviews as he normally does. This could this be because his administration is falling under scrutiny over the economy and he would rather lay low and not offer up fresh opportunities for anyone to strike. The top results under a Google search for "Obama" at the time of this writing include Obama courting Puerto Ricans at home and abroad and Michelle Obama Leaves For Camp David In $29.99 Gap Dress. Not exactly world-changing stuff.
Better Yet, The Story Doesn't Even Have To Start With, Or End With, A Video
Even scarier for politicians, is that the original story doesn't even have to be a video. Everyone from mainstream news outlets to bloggers to everyday YouTubers will make their own videos on the topic. Then, once you factor in all of the conversation and messaging that happens around each video, you have a saucy recipe for fail after epic fail.
Remember when Republican Mark Foley sent a topless photo to someone on Craigslist? Just enter his name into Youtube. That's where he lives now, forever.
Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner actually sought out and used video to defend himself claiming he had nothing to do with tweeting the now-famous photos of his congressional staff.
These many appearances and resulting videos would work against him after he finally admitted that he did tweet the pics. His flippant, joking and even confrontational demeanor appears ridiculous now that we know he actually did the deed!
In response to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's stance on Weiner's activities, a Twitter user going by the name of @RickSantorumPR tweeted:
The Pros and Cons of Risking a Video Attack
Let's take a careful look at both the pros and cons to be considered in a politician's decision of where and when to expose themselves to the rabid video masses just waiting to attack.
Appearing at nationally televised events, on staged talk shows, in interviews can bring an enormous amount of exposure and publicity via networks, news outlets, bloggers, vloggers and fans of politics making their own (UGC) videos.
Appearing at nationally televised events and on staged talk shows and interviews brings an enormous amount of exposure and publicity via networks, news outlets, bloggers, vloggers and fans of politics making their own (UGC) videos.
So really, it all comes down to how confident the politician is in handling his or her business. And by business, I mean his or her brain and his or her mouth. We all say and do dumb things, but, if you are in a position of leadership where you get to make decisions on behalf of the rest of us, be prepared to be under a microscope... a big microscope that magnifies every little thing you do... and it can replicate stuff too, like a big magnifying Xerox machine.
Video and Social Media as the New Water Cooler on Steroids
When you cross the water cooler with the rumor mill, throw in the peanut gallery and shoot it up with enough steroids to make Christopher Mintz-Plasse look like Arnold in his Philandering heyday, you have what video and social media have become. And like any steroid-induced juice head, the web can be unpredictable, unforgiving and looking for the slightest opportunity to fly into a rage. For politicians, the question may not be if they will be bitten, but when.
5 Ways Politicians Can Use Video to Their Advantage
Politicians can use video to effectively control and tell their own stories.
- Schedule or produce one-on-one interviews in which they can hit the points they want to hit.
- Produce and release entertaining, funny videos that either promote themselves or poke fun at their competition. Supporters and opponents alike love to share good viral videos.
- Optimize the videos for search to counter negative video search results. This is a great method of damage control.
- Seed the videos, engage the existing fan base and motivate them to enlist new supporters.
- Encourage supporters to produce and spread their own video content via contests or other incentive-based initiatives. This could be as simple as offering opportunities for wide recognition.
Politicians have always been at risk for the things the say and do. That comes with the territory. There have always been newspapers and reporters and radio television have been around for awhile. There have always been political biases and shows and publications that will take sides. But, never before has the public had the ability to take one tiny action, statement or video clip and spread that message, positive or negative, to so many people in so little time. More often than not, the negative is what moves faster and I believe that's what politicians should fear most.
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