With the midterm elections coming up, most everyone has politics on the brain, and media contribution to our collective mindset is huge. Obama's on Oprah. O'Reilly's on Letterman. And I can't turn on the TV without seeing a spot for my next state governor.
The scene is similar online, where consumers flock for information about the candidates and the issues they support. According to a recent Burst Media survey, nearly 27 percent of Internet users believe the Web is the best place to find such information (less than 21 percent said the same about TV). Forty percent of voters have already visited a candidate's site this election season.
Of course, sites designed to promote specific candidates are far from the only political information sources on the Web. Last month, two new properties carved a place in the online political landscape, one by facilitating political conversation and the other by providing information that's both informative and entertaining.
HOTSOUP.com only launched in mid-October, but already it's drawn over 40,000 visitors to form an "issues-based online community." The multimedia-rich social network was developed for American consumers who want to voice their opinions not just about politics but also about business, religion, and popular culture.
Included in the site are sections like Hot Issues, in which panelists such as John Ashcroft and Lance Armstrong address pressing social questions. Site members can engage these well-known personalities in conversation through discussion boards and by posting their own opinion pieces. Panelists and issues are rotated frequently to keep discussions fresh.
RSS news feeds from MSNBC.com furnish the Breaking Now section, about which site users can initiative "Loops" (micro-communities) and debate their stance. Users can also gauge the outlook of the HOTSOUP community through the Polls & Opinions channel, which divides the results by state, gender, age, and political affiliation.
With no membership fees, HOTSOUP is relying on advertising to keep it in the race. The site features 300 x 250 medium rectangles sold on a CPM (define) basis, and offers a ticker placement, section sponsorship opportunities, and placements in its direct e-mail messages to site members. All advertising is sold directly, and traffic is building quickly thanks in part to the frequent appearance of HOTSOUP's laudable cofounders on NBC and MSNBC programs.
A second site to appear on the political scene isn't a political site at all, but it will have you assessing party lines. At the beginning of last month, HotPads.com, a map-based rental housing listing service and property search engine, introduced a nifty neighborhood search portal that allows users to assess neighborhoods based on demographics. Available criteria include inhabitants' age and income distribution, as well as popularity density and, yes, party affiliation.
In a special 2006 Election Edition of the tool, users can view the distribution (ahem, division) of Democrats and Republicans in each state. Maps are delineated by district and come complete with lists of the U.S. Representatives and candidates, allowing users to search for more information about both. If you're shopping for housing based on the political affiliation of your potential neighbors (not so far-fetched, given current circumstances), this tool is just what you need.
HotPads's advertising is currently limited to Google paid search ads, which appear next to full property listings, but the site will be launching a more comprehensive advertising platform for real estate and listing companies in the coming months. The upcoming ability to pay to upgrade to a "Feature Properties" or "Feature Management Companies" listing may be more reminiscent of online classified advertising than conventional Internet advertising. But word is the listings will appear on maps in a banner ad format (regular free listings are text-based with the option of inserting an image), and the visual nature of the site is likely to attract a sizeable user base that will make the buy very worthwhile.
Regardless of your political affiliation, there's a bounty of online properties actively involving themselves in the upcoming race. And whether you're advertising this election season or not, it's nice to know there are great sites where you can watch it all unfold.
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Tessa Wegert is an interactive media strategist with Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy and services agencies, serving such brands as Bioré, Bratz, Food Network, illy, Hunter Douglas, Jergens, and Olympic Paints and Stains. An industry veteran, Tessa has worked in online media buying and planning, marketing, and online copywriting since 1999. She is an active freelance writer specializing in interactive marketing who has contributed to U.S. and Canadian publications, including "USA Weekend Magazine," "Marketing Magazine," "The Globe and Mail," and "The Montreal Gazette." She is frequently quoted as an industry expert and speaks regularly at industry conferences and events.
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