Go Local and Win with New Media

As election day nears and electoral campaigns move into full gear, I’d like to take a look at a campaign I read about a few months ago on Its Getting Hot In Here which successfully used new media to force 20 candidates for city council to take its agenda seriously.

The Campaign:

Photo courtesy of Matt Dernoga

UMD for Clean Energy is a student group at the University of Maryland. Last fall they developed a campaign called ‘Green for College Park’ that targeted candidates in their local city council race (College Park, MD).

The goal of the campaign was to meet with every candidate for city council, evaluate them based on their environmental platforms, and then endorse and organize for their top picks for the nine open seats. The campaign made clear that any candidate hoping to receive their endorsement would have to, at minimum, support an energy efficiency loan fund.

UMD for Clean Energy began by creating a solid website. It has background, biographies, the campaign platform, photos and a blog. During the campaign, two students leaders were charged with maintaining and updating the website. Through this online hub they provided the public with a way to learn about and get involved in UMD for Clean Energy and Green for College Park.

Once their website was ready, the campaign promoted it through all their social media channels (and offline materials) and then ramped up their exposure by turning to popular local and statewide blogs covering Maryland politics. They were able to post to Maryland Politics BlogRethink College Park, and more.

Next the campaign reached out to national climate and environmental politics blogs. They were able to post to Climate Progress and It’s Getting Hot In Here. All this attention got them covered by the Washington Post’s blog.

The Results:
These new media tactics both significantly increased their recognition in the community and made the group a major stakeholder in the election. In the final analysis, five out of the nine open seats were filled by candidates endorsed by UMD for Clean Energy.

Campaign Manager Matt Dernoga recounts in a post on It’s Getting Hot In Here that many of those candidates acknowledged UMD for Clean Energy during their election night speeches. Dernoga added that a solid indicator of the success of the campaign is the fact that when they started out many candidates would not meet with them. By the end, they had met every candidate in the race.

Key Takeaways:
New Media is often used to expand the reach of a campaign. Organizers employ social media tools to recruit supporters and activists and give those supporters the tools to reach out to their personal friends and networks.  This is especially useful at the local level because:
  • Organizers,  due to the smaller size of the community, are able to use new media to quickly reach a large portion of their target audience and force candidates to take their issues seriously. Smart targeting of local blogs was key to this effort.
  • By reaching out to major environmental blogs, the campaign was able to bring outsize national attention to a local race.
  • Many local races do not receive the same attention as larger state and national elections, and because of this, with smart messaging on the campaign’s part, new media allows organizers to have a more substantial impact than on larger campaigns that are frequently covered by the mainstream media.
Campaign Manager Matt Dernoga is convinced this campaign would not have been successful without new media. He writes:

“I have a hard time imagining what our efforts would have looked like, and how they would’ve come across if we had not aggressively pursued the media, and relentlessly pushed our message.”

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