Targeting undecided voters through social media and blogs was a key to Houston mayor Annise Parker’s successful political campaign last year, said campaign manager Adam Harris, who claimed that the mainstream news media didn’t cover the issues as much as he expected.
For instance, Harris organized a press conference to announce Parker’s Hire Houston First proposal, an economic plan to ensure that jobs funded by local tax dollars go to Houstonians first. Harris said that only KIAH-TV Channel 39 attended.
“The (Houston) Chronicle would not write about it so we went to the blogs,” he remarked. Key blogs covering the campaign were Off the Kuff, Muse Musings, Greg’s Opinion, Dos Centavos and Bay Area Houston.
Harris explained that mainstream media outlets with reduced staffs are relying on blogs to pick up breaking news. The targeted blogs posted news and commentary on the Hire Houston First initiative and influenced the way mainstream media covered that issue. Harris said that research showed that any one of the blog sites received 200 hits a day from Parker’s target audience.
Last July, every campaign released fund raising totals showcasing how much their candidates raised, spent and had in reserves. Before going to traditional media outlets, Harris invited bloggers to a luncheon to announce campaign finances, provide talking points and answer questions. The David Ortez blog and others posted news on Parker’s “impressive” fundraising totals. Traditional media followed.
Harris said that campaign staffers figured that Parker’s Web site would pull in 300 to 400 hits a day in traffic but did not advertise the site. Instead, they concentrated on pushing out the message through Facebook and Twitter. In May, Parker posted a link on Facebook to a short video on YouTube explaining her Hire Houston First policy.
Harris said that traditional media sources, such as TV and radio, don’t offer fine segmentation of audiences now but “cable (broadcasting) is coming where you will be able to target three of five houses in a block.”
The Parker grassroots campaign also contacted undecided voters and veins of Democrats in Republican areas through a door-knocking campaign. Database research where consumer information is merged with voter files guided campaign staffers in identifying key neighborhoods and households for door knocking and phone calling.
Harris said that he used a phone bank system developed by telemarketers in 2007 where live calls go through a computer. The system notifies available volunteers with beeps to pick up the phone lines and talk to live voters. That eliminates time spent dialing or listening to phone rings or recorded messages while maximizing talking time.
“In the old days, I hated phone calling, but now it’s a new world,” said Harris.
He made his remarks at the PRSA Houston luncheon on Feb. 3. The next luncheon is Wednesday, March 3. For more information, go to http://www.prsahouston.org/en/cev/545.
— Mike Wysatta, PRSA Houston board member