The impact of 2008 presidential campaigns is starting to take effect on the next crop of political candidates. Barack Obama’s candidacy became synonymous with social media and online community building, but his campaign’s efforts have gone beyond influencing fellow Democrats. Republicans and Independents are also looking to the Web to engage potential supporters through social media outreach.
Among them is former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, a Republican candidate for California governor. Like the Obama camp, Whitman has gone straight to the source of social media platform development to build an online community. Her campaign is working directly with Tokoni, a firm founded by two of her former eBay colleagues, Alex Kazim and Mary Lou Song. The company, established in 2007, has built a platform for sharing stories and ideas and connecting with others through those stories. The platform could have commercial applications.
Whitman’s campaign is putting the platform to use in the hopes of gathering ideas from Californians on how to “rebuild our Golden State.” The “New California” hub on the Tokoni site compiles posts on the subject, and is promoted on the candidate’s official site. “Your voice counts. Share your stories and hopes for California,” declares a link to the Tokoni hub on MegWhitman.com.
“Most of us have worked with Meg at eBay,” said Tokoni VP of Marketing Annette Goodwine, regarding Tokoni’s staff.
The Tokoni system allows members to create text and video stories, link up with others with similar interests, and notifies people when certain members post new tales. Users can also access their Tokoni profiles while logged into Facebook.
Though the Whitman 2010 campaign is the company’s first political candidate client, the firm has some experience in the political arena through work it did with WomenCount, a political nonprofit. The organization’s Web site links to a WomenCount branded section of Tokoni promoting a push to establish a Presidential Commission on Women.
“That was really our first entry into this space,” said Goodwine of the WomenCount relationship. “With Meg and the Web site, we’re really trying to take that a step further.”
The company could apply the platform for commercial brands down the road. “Meg Whitman is a brand that needs to be defined for Californians,” Goodwine said. “We’re hoping to extend that to other brands.”
According to Goodwine, the Whitman camp keeps in regular communication with Tokoni, which is assisting in content and design development for MegWhitman.com; the company is supplying a dedicated photographer, videographer, and editor to that end. The campaign conducts weekly meetings with Tokoni to plan editorial content and strategy, said Goodwine. “We’re working together to build a story through community messaging on the site,” she added.
The Whitman campaign’s close connection to Tokoni is strikingly similar to the relationship between Obama for President and Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, the campaign’s online organizing coordinator who helped develop the campaign’s acclaimed community site My.BarackObama.com.
Whitman herself had ties to Obama opponent John McCain, and served as McCain’s 2008 campaign national co-chair. According to Goodwine, Tokoni was too young a firm during the election to have been considered as a social media partner for the McCain campaign.
California gubernatorial hopeful Steve Poizner has also attempted to engage supporters through social media. In similar fashion to Whitman’s efforts, the Republican candidate has introduced a video contest aimed at fostering “Solutions for California.” His campaign is asking voters to post short videos to YouTube or other video sites that describe what they “love about California, how we can make it better.”
Both Whitman and Poizner have hundreds of followers on Facebook. Whitman’s campaign has also posted to the Whitman2010 Twitter account since late last month. The re-election campaign for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an Independent, has taken to Twitter and Facebook as well, and has also run ads on Facebook that link to his campaign site.
The Whitman campaign is taking a page from the Obama campaign when it comes to online video, too. Takoni is creating a “Meg Channel” À la BarackTV, the video-heavy section of BarackObama.com. “We want to use the site as a valuable media channel,” said Goodwine, adding, “We really want to use the Web site as a way for people to get Meg’s messages and access her 24/7.”