The Viral Campaign: People "Just Ran with It"
The official Brown online presence spawned independent online activity. "What was missing is that they were getting local supporters but there was no [broader] visibility," says John LaRosa, an independent Boston-area business and political consultant, and a Brown supporter. LaRosa began his own active Brown tweeting, as @jslconsulting, creating the Twitter hashtag #41stvote, a reference to the fact that Brown's election would break the Democrats' 60-vote filibuster-proof Senate majority.
"The 41stvotew hashtag crystallized things, I think, nationally," LaRosa says. "That created urgency. Without urgency, you have no sale." A Tweetstats analysis of @scottbrownma, shows that 41stvote was one of the top five words in that tweetcloud and one of the top five hashtags.
LaRosa also began leveraging his own online connections and networks on behalf of the Brown campaign. "I had personally followed some conservative bloggers, and I started commenting on their blogs, pitching the idea that Brown is the '41st vote,'" he says. "Several of them, with big [online] followings began blogging and tweeting." They also contacted mainstream media, such as conservative radio talkshow host Laura Ingraham
"I did not have interaction with the campaign staff," LaRosa says. "I just ran with it. Lots of people like me just ran with it."
In early January, several events crystallized Brown's candidacy and brought national attention. On Jan. 5, a Rasmussen poll of likely voters found Brown trailing Coakley by only nine points, an unexpectedly narrow margin. "Rasmussen is on Twitter and that poll got spread by everybody who follows politics," LaRosa says. "Every political junkie said 'wow, this guy has a chance in the most liberal state.' They all became reporters."
On Jan. 9, Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-affiliated polling firm, reported that Brown was leading Coakley by one point. On Jan. 11, the Brown campaign launched a one-day effort to raise $500,000 online, a project dubbed the moneybomb.
The "Moneybomb" Detonates
Campaign workers tracked the contributions, reaching the goal by noon, and then topping $750,000 by late afternoon. "We were kind of watching on Twitter, and Facebook, and the blogs, and the volunteers were saying, 'I think we can go to a million,'" Luidhardt recalls. In response, the campaign chiefs set a new goal of $1 million. By midnight, the total was over $1.3 million. The next day, the campaign raised the same amount again, and nearly $1.7 million the day after that.
"You can't say social media made this happen," LaRosa says. "But without it, it couldn't have happened….It was the network set-up online that responded."
Over the entire campaign, more than $12 million was raised, with Twitter being one of the largest fund-raising channels, according to Luidhardt. The influx of funds made it possible to pour a flood of money in the campaign's last 10 days on conventional campaign tools such as TV, newspaper and radio ads.