Political influencing just had a major shift

In the blogosphere, you’ll always hear talk about how people who write blogs or otherwise use social media can wield some influence in affecting the opinions of others.

There is plenty of evidence to indicate that social media does have influence on not only the opinions but also the actions of others.

The recently-completed New Media, New Influencers and Implications for the PR Profession study from the Society for New Communications Research think-tank (disclosure: I’m an advisory board member) provides some credible new information on how influence patterns are changing and how communication professionals are addressing those changes.

Influence patterns are indeed changing and nowhere is this more apparent than in the field of politics in the USA.

Campaigning, debate and passionate discussion are in full swing as the country marches towards the election of a new president in November 2008.

The US is the home of political bloggers and anyone with an opinion about American politics is also in full swing.

Now comes a new entrant into this influencing space, and it’s not one you’d naturally think of.

Which makes it all the more interesting for the implications it has on the future of influence and who wields it.

Michael Arrington, founder of the TechCrunch group of tech-oriented blogs, has started TechCrunch Tech President Primaries, a new blog that could have a significant impact on shaping the opinion (and, so, actions) of some voters:

[…] We no longer live in an industrial economy – the future is information and the Internet. Our president must carefully consider her or his policies on key tech issues, something they’ve never really had to do before. What is their position on net neutrality? How will they bridge the digital divide? How do we handle technology sales to China and other countries using that technology to perpetrate human rights abuses? Should the Internet be taxed? How do we curb identity theft on the Internet? What is the future of intellectual property protection? How do we handle immigration issues for tech workers? How do we catch up with the rest of the world in the mobile Internet space? And what will we do to encourage research and productization in renewable energy?

These are issues that get little attention from mainstream press (with the exception of renewable energy policies), but we think that they deserve to be considered as part of this election. Technology workers in Silicon Valley and elsewhere tend to donate a lot of money and time to campaigns, and they are more frequent voters than the average citizen. The candidate’s positions on technology and related issues impact how they spend their time, money and votes.

Powerful objectives – and Arrington could pull them off.

Check out the primaries blog and you’ll see there’s already a wealth of information about all the main candidates’ positions on those issues Arrington talks about.

Arrington has already appeared on prime-time US television in the past few days to explain what he’s trying to achieve (massive exposure for TechCrunch).

Look at the main TechCrunch blog and you’ll see transcripts from interviews with those presidential candidates. And there’s more to come.

Could Arrington and TechCrunch influence the course of American politics?

Consider this:

  1. Mainstream influencers like Wired magazine and the Wall Street Journal rate Michael Arrington very highly indeed.
  2. TechCrunch is consistently in the list of the top 10 most popular blogs in the world.
  3. As of today, there are more than 614,000 subscribers to the blog’s RSS feed. That’s more than the circulation – and even readership – of some mainstream media.

I think Arrington’s direct entry into the world of political influence just changed the game, probably forever.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. David Wescott

    Thanks Neville – While I think this is good, I think we need to be careful before we declare that TechCrunch has changed the American political landscape utterly and forever. For example, you’ll notice that Ron Paul currently dominates the TC poll for either party – well over 80 percent of the republican vote, while he polls at less than 3 percent nationally.

    The political blogosphere is remarkably isolated from other online communities. I’d strongly recommend taking a look at a project I’ve been part of – virtual vantage points – to see what I mean. We track political online communities in the US and the UK, and we use text clouds to do it – and then we apply analysis from political thought leaders. Former aides to Tony Blair, George HW Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and so on. http://www.virtualvantagepoints.com

    Tech Crunch can make a valuable contribution to the political discussion, but just because it’s huge in one community doesn’t mean it’s ready for major crossover. Yet.

  2. neville

    David, let me clarify what I meant.

    I’d agree that TechCrunch hasn’t changed the political landscape itself (not yet, anyway), but I do think what Michael Arrington is doing has changed the nature of political influencing.

    Now, I’m not a political blogger and I don’t pay close attention to the detail and nuances of who’s saying what and who’s doing what, whether it’s in the US, the UK or anywhere else. (I am aware of Virtual Vantage Points, incidentally, so I do pay attention in general.)

    Yet what Arrington is doing grabbed my attention simply because he and his blogs do wield an awful lot of influence in areas of attention outside politics – technology and business primarily – that have now entered into the political attention area. That’s what I mean by changing the game.

    What you say about the political blogosphere being isolated from other online communities adds more to my belief as I think Arrington’s entry can and probably will force people to pay attention to what he’s doing, especially if his interviews with all the presidential candidates ands the voting attract more mainstream media attention, which I suspect it will.

    Interesting, too, that all those candidates are willing to give their attention to Michael Arrington. That’s a kind of reverse-entry recognition of his perceived level of influence.

    And to your final point, agree, it’s not yet at a crossover point.

    Clearly, though, the operative word is ‘yet.’

  3. David Wescott

    Thanks Neville. It is indeed very clear that Arrington has the ability to mobilize a fairly sizeable and cohesive community around important issues, and he’s clearly doing it in a relatively new and innovative way. We’ll see more of this in the future and TC is clearly a leader.

    I touched a little on this in an essay I contributed to Iain Dale’s Guide to Political Blogging in the UK called “The American Political Blogosphere in 2007 and Beyond.” Important political discussions will no longer be the sole property of political blogs – they will take place on Tech Crunch, on “mommyblogs,” and even in places like Twitter.

    People like Arrington are definitely going to show political types the most innovative and effective ways to leverage social media, and we’re only getting started. So I think we’re certainly in agreement on that.

  4. Rob Safuto

    Neville,

    You’ve written a very intelligent post but I disagree with your analysis. 99.9% of the voting age people in the U.S. will not vote based on the issues mentioned on the TC Primary site.

    Also consider that 120,000,000 people voted in the 2004 Presidential election. That puts TC’s audience (of which probably 70% can vote in the U.S.) at half of one percent of the popular vote.

    This is designed to raise traffic to TechCrunch so they can boost page views and get their advertisers more value.

    I’ll expand on my own blog. Merry Christmas Neville.

    Rob Safuto

  5. neville

    Thanks for that pointer to Ian Dale’s book, David. If I were really into political blogging, I’d buy a copy :)

    Good points on where discourse will take place. We’re seeing that in a very broad sense, so no surprise at all to think that venues such as Twitter will be a conversation medium in politics.

    Rob, I’d not actually looked at things from that viewpoint, ie, all to do with just driving traffic to TechCrunch. No doubt there are elements of that involved but I can’t imagine that the primary motivator for Michael Arrington to get directly into the political area is just that.

    I’m sure you’re right re those numbers. But in the social media space, it’s not about the numbers (as you well know).

    In any event, look forward to reading your thoughts! And Christmas wishes to you too.

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