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What Businesses NEED to Learn from Romney’s Project ORCA


Project ORCA was supposed to be the saving grace for the Republican presidential campaign. In a race that came down to the wire in many states, this new way of organizing Romney’s league of enthusiastic volunteers to monitor voting across the country could have been responsible for swinging the votes his way. Obviously, that did not happen, and in a post entitled “The Unmitigated Disaster Known As Project ORCA” one would-be volunteer, John Ekdahl, outlined exactly  how this project failed. Another disgruntled would-be volunteer shared similar experiences with Brietbart News here.

Now that how has been answered, the remaining question is why. And, importantly, what can we learn from this mess?

Simplicity, Defined

Project ORCA was designed to be extremely simple. Using smartphones, volunteers were supposed to be able to easily report who had voted and who had yet to show up at the polls. That way, registered Republicans could be contacted and encouraged to come out to vote.

While the system was fairly uncomplicated for volunteers, the introduction to it was not clear. This is where Project ORCA fell short, and this is where many businesses fall short as well. Simplicity marries design and implementation. One without the other, and you risk failure.

With Project ORCA, volunteers’ questions were not adequately answered during conference calls. They didn’t receive their packets until the night before, and the term “app” confused people (Project ORCA used a mobile website, not an app available on the Android/iPhone store, but they called it a “mobile web app”). Volunteers were not instructed properly about the information they needed to take to their polling location, so many were turned away. Questions to the help line went unanswered.

When you introduce a new technology to your customers, is the implementation as simple as the design? Is your audience prepared for the changes? Are you ready to provide customer support? Have you taken the process out of the users’ hands as much as possible?

Timing is Everything

More important that simplicity perhaps, is timing. The Republican party waited until the last minute to implement this new system, causing mass chaos on election day. Ekdahl reports attempting to reach out for help so he could still fulfill his promise as a volunteer, but it seems as though the system was overwhelmed with people having problems, so he never received a response. Undoubtedly, many others found themselves in a similar situation.

Despite conference calls about Project ORCA in the weeks leading up to election day, too much was left to the last minute, with no real Plan B in place if problems ensued. The timing was just wrong. Had the kinks been worked out in October or better yet, even earlier, through beta testing and mock election day run-throughs, this initiative might have instead been a success. It may have even changed the course of the election.

I’m sure the Republican party did some testing before the big day. I’m not suggesting they just threw this together and crossed their fingers that it would work. But they didn’t also allow their volunteers to be part of the testing. If you’re introducing a new technology to your audience, whether it’s a brand new ecommerce site, a new interface for a digital product, or something else entirely (like a new way of counting votes at polling locations), you have to give people a chance to test out the system before they need to use it.

Half-Truths and Problems Ahead

What I find most troubling about the reports I’ve been reading from Project ORCA volunteers is that they all seem to have been reassured that problems were localized. Even before election day, it sounds like frankenspeak talons were tightly grasping this entire project. Writes Ekdahl,

“From the very start there were warning signs. After signing up, you were invited to take part in nightly conference calls. The calls were more of the slick marketing speech type than helpful training sessions. There was a lot of “rah-rahs” and lofty talk about how this would change the ballgame.”

Never underestimate your audience like this. People don’t want to hear half-truths and false flattery. They want answers to their questions and help with their problems. Nothing will sink a business faster than their customer base feeling like they’re being fed lies.

No matter where your political loyalties lie, I think we can all agree that Republicans have some rough roads ahead. It’s arguable whether the success of Project ORCA could have changed the tide, but it’s inarguable that it’s failure is making many uneasy about party management. This is perhaps the most important lesson businesses need to learn from the Republican party and the downfall of Project ORCA: the seas won’t always be smooth sailing, but when problems arise, how you manage your audience, especially through online channels, will set the course for the future.

Where is your business headed?

Image credit: Gage Skidmore

Will Social Media Users Determine Who Wins the White House?


The United States presidential election is heating up, and both incumbent Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney are turning to the Internet to garner support for their campaigns. But are they using social media correctly?

And will it matter?

Check out this video from Voice of America:

In the last presidential election, Obama had a huge presence online, and his following has grown since then. Romney has a smaller following when you compare his Twitter followers and Facebook page likes to Obama’s, but that is in part due to the fact that he didn’t spend the last several years as president.

This isn’t just about tweeting and sending out Facebook status updates, though. Both campaigns are attempting to get a little more personal with their social media followers. For example, the Democratic National Convention hosted a tweetup for Obama supporters and the Republican National Convention confirmed that they have several staff members dedicated to reaching out to online voters, according to France 24.

That in-person touch is what will really make the difference, not Facebook likes.

In 2008, I was an Obama supporter (I am currently undecided for the upcoming election). I followed him on social media, but I wasn’t a strong fan and I certainly never considered giving money to the campaign until I attended a rally in Scranton, Pennsylvania, near where I was living at the time. Seeing him speak in person and getting to shake his hand were what really convinced me to vote for him.

Yes, he blew John McCain (the Republican nominee in 2008) out of the water with his online presence, but he only won because he was able to connect with those followers in an emotionally-charged way.

Social media is great, but neither candidate has the time to send individual replies to followers. These accounts are run by staff members. If you look at either candidates’ streams, you’ll see little interaction. They’re just methods for broadcasting, like political ads on television. It’s not a two-way conversation.

That’s not to say social media has no impact on political elections, but it’s important to realize the power of personal communication. In my opinion, that’s why Obama won in 2008. It wasn’t that he had more fans online; it was that he got out there and spoke to those fans about issues they really cared about. Social media is just a tool for finding people who could potentially vote for you, not a method for convincing them to cast their ballot in your favor. In 2008, the candidate who was best able to connect with the people outside of social media was the candidate who won.

Ultimately, I think that’s who will win in this upcoming election as well – whoever can better connect with people about their needs, not whoever gets more retweets.

Do you think social media matters in the presidential race?

If Only We Could Vote Via Facebook – Likester Analyzes Republican Presidential Debate


I’ve said this for a while now … it’s too bad we can’t vote for politics the way we vote for American Idol contestants. I think a lot more people would show up to support their faves! But even though we can’t text our votes, people are definitely Liking their candidates on Facebook, as proven during the first Republican Presidential Debate featuring all of the candidates last night in New Hampshire.

Likester, a global popularity engine that analyzes Facebook “Likes”, kept a close eye on the event – where the seven candidates debated Medicare, the national debt, abortion, gay marriage, immigration, and more.

The site says their goal is to predict something “meaningful” – the 2012 Republican nominee – and they’re starting with an analysis of the debate results:

Winner: Mitt Romney. Prior to the debate, Romney had 936,090 likes. During and immediately after the debate he had 19,658 new likes, for a total of 955,748.

2nd Place: Michele Bachmann. Prior to the debate, Bachmann had 326,225 likes. During and immediately after the debate she had 9,232 new likes, for a total of 335,457.

3rd Place: Ron Paul. Prior to the debate, Paul had 382,228 likes. During and immediately after the debate he had 8,717 new likes, for a total of 390,945.

So, even though Paul is ahead in Likes, Likester gave Bachmann the second place slot because of her overall percentage gain.

The remaining candidates (in order) were Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum.

While Likester successfully predicted the winner of American Idol a full six weeks before the finale, I have to wonder if the same can be said for the presidential race. I think the AI audience is more vocal, and more involved with social media, than many of the political voters. What do you think? Will social media predict the winner?

Get an ‘I Voted’ Badge on Foursquare for Voting!


Heading to the voting booths on November 2nd? Don’t forget to check in on Foursquare as part of the I Voted Project for your I Voted badge!

A variety of organizations partnered up for this project – including Foursquare, Rock the Vote, Pew Center, Google and the Voting Information Project. Data will be collected for 107,000 polling places and users that check in, and include #ivoted in their hashtag, get the I Voted virtual sticker. Voters can also check the official website (elections.foursquare.com) to view interactive real-time maps and get breakdown data such as demographics.

Eric Friedman, director of business development at Foursquare said in a statement, “We’re excited to work with such an amazing group of partners to harness the power of Foursquare to drive civic engagement through the ‘I Voted’ badge. With over 4 million users, Foursquare is now at the scale where checkins communicate a larger trend and we’re excited to make this data more accessible to the public.

Jordan Raynor, president of Direct Media Strategies and founder of the I Voted Act.ly Petition, said that the project had three purposes: “To encourage civic participation through the distribution of the “I Voted” foursquare badge; to increase transparency by visualizing how many voters are checking-in, and at which polling locations; and to develop a replicable and scalable system to use for the 2012 presidential elections and beyond.

Will you be claiming an I Voted badge? And how long do you think it will be until we can just vote from our phones?

Social Media Shrinks the Planet and Enlarges Our Lives


Social Media has so many facets; it’s impossible to cover them all in any one blog post, or even any one BOOK.  Yes, we make friends online.  Yes, we run businesses online.  Yes, we ask and get advice online.  Yes, we make purchases online.  The list goes on and on.

For me, personally, one of the most awesome things the internet – and I hang out mostly in the Blogosphere and on Twitter – has to show and teach us is that this earth of ours is populated by real people, the vast majority of whom are very nice people.

Not only that: the internet makes us all better people by giving us living proof that even though people might be of different cultures, ethnicities, political stances, races, and any other category that might come to anyone’s mind, we all have something to give each other and teach each other and show each other that will enhance and enrich each other’s lives.

The Blogosphere also proves to us that people whose lifestyles are different from ours, even to the extreme, are really still just people who have more in common with us than either of us thinks.

By peeking through each other’s windows, via social media, we can see that we are all just, well, nice people with much to offer each other, different though our personal viewpoints on certain issues might be.  We make each other smarter and better and nicer by reading what other people have to say.

In our “real” lives, many of us don’t have the opportunity to meet people who are “different” from us.  In the Blogosphere, however, we are all sitting on each other’s sofas and there is much we are all learning from each other.

I think one of the main things we are all learning is that we really aren’t THAT different from each other, and that no matter what kind of opinions and occupations and lifestyles we might have,  we are all trying to make a living, have fun, raise children, deal with problems, pay bills, and deal with life.

I firmly believe that the more we know about each other – the more interaction we have with people – the more we will realize that we are all much more alike than we are different, and this is a very good thing indeed.

Blogs Receive More Clout Than Ever in 2008 Presidential Campaign


Presidential candidates began courting political bloggers before the 2008 nomination race even got started. Virtually every candidate hired bloggers on staff. Some successfully and some not so much. Many set up conference calls with bloggers (McCain has excelled here). Both the RNC and DNC are allowing bloggers access to the show floor during their national conventions.

For those who are able to navigate the many minefields of the Blogosphere these efforts result in millions in online donations and of course turning voters out to the polls and caucuses.

Arguably the two candidates most attuned to the Blogosphere during this presidential campaign were presumptive nominees John McCain and Barak Obama (notice the video?). Obama has certainly benefited the most from social media having raised $45 million dollars online in one month!. He has more followers on Twitter (31,000+) than anyone including Bloggerati Rock Stars like Robert Scoble and Jason Calacanis. Mommie and Techy bloggers regularly tweet and post on his behalf. Obama has near 850,000 members on his Facebook fan site and a huge presence on MySpace (though many of those friends may not be old enough to vote). Who can forget the Viral Videos from Obama Girl (nine million views!); which had more than a small part in raising national awareness and elevating Obama’s candidacy to legitimate contender status.

McCain on the other hand has a distinguished military career, has made many trips to Iraq and constantly praises the men and women serving in our armed forces earning him the respect of Milbloggers.

Now the McCain campaign in following with it’s overall strategy of reaching out to voters beyond his base is reaching out to left leaning blogs and even non-political blogs. Here is an excerpt from a Washington Times article on Friday.

Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign is trying to tap a new audience of potential voters by taking his campaign message straight to liberal and nonpolitical issues-based blogs, which reach millions of readers but don’t often delve into conservative politics.

The strategy was in full swing yesterday when Mr. McCain invited non-conservative bloggers to join his regular blogger conference call, just hours after he delivered a major speech previewing his war strategy and other priorities for a first presidential term.

These candidates are both going to continue to seek the support of the Blogosphere and their tens of millions of readers. They are wise to do so. Bloggers and their readers vote. For the candidate that does it right, it just might mean the difference between winning and losing the Presidency.

PS. A couple of months ago I was joking with someone that Obama might be the first President to Tweet the State of the Union Address. I might not have been that far off.

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