The swearing-in this week of Republican Scott Brown as the junior U.S. Senator from Massachusetts caps a dramatic, come-from-way-behind election campaign that owes much, though not everything, to a shrewd use of online information technology and social networking.
Brown himself, even in his campaigns as a state senator from Wrentham, was an early and enthusiastic adopter of online campaigning, as opposed to merely using the Internet as an electronic brochure or an e-commerce channel for contributions. In doing so, his lieutenants borrowed much from the example of Barrack Obama's successful presidential online organization.
For his run to fill a U.S. Senate seat held by Kennedy for decades, in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 3 to 1, Brown invested early in an online campaign that drew supporters, turned them into active volunteers, contributors and advocates, and laid the foundation to exploit a tidal wave of excitement and enthusiasm that rose unexpectedly in the last weeks of the campaign. The image of Brown taking time to shake hands with every single supporter who showed up at his victory celebration the night of the election is an image of how he sees the online campaign: as a way of meeting and connecting with people who want to be involved.
Brown, then a state senator from the small town of Wrentham, about 40 miles southwest of Boston, had been considering a run for the Massachusetts governorship, but Kennedy's death on Aug. 26 put the U.S. senate seat in play. The obstacles were formidable: Brown, with very limited name recognition, had to first win a primary, and then mount a six-week election campaign in a state where Republicans are as rare as New York Yankees fans. His likely Democratic opponent was state Attorney General Martha Coakley, whom polls showed comfortably leading the pack of lesser-known Democratic candidates as early as September.
Brown declared his candidacy on Sept. 12. His chief of new media, Canadian native Rob Willington, with a background in Mitt Romney's presidential bid in 2008, promptly called on a new media consulting firm for Republican candidates, Prosper Group. (Willington didn't respond to requests for an interview for this story.) Its job was to put together a campaign Web site and do it fast, says Kurt Luidhardt, a Prosper founder and principal.
Key to Success: Online Organization
Brownforussenate.com was ready in less than a week, and it was designed with specific goals in mind, says Luidhardt, who provides his own glimpse inside the new media efforts here, and details of the "moneybomb" online fundraising project here.
"Rob and I both understood if Scott was going to be successful, he was going to have to organize effectively online," he says. With an initial budget of just $1 million for the entire campaign, "they wouldn't win via a TV ad blitz."
But Brown had a different kind of capital. "Scott had [already] invested in online media," Luidhardt says. "He had about 4,000 Facebook fans and a decent-sized e-mail list already."