Creating the Tipping Point - Blog

State legislators using technology to engage the public

March 23, 2007

Recently, the Minnesota State Legislature solicited pubic comment on a number of important pieces of legislation.  What is newsworthy about this story is that they used the Internet to collect the public’s opinion and distribute the results to all committee members.

Legislators received over 15,000 responses to their survey on smoking ban legislation by the end of the open comment period.  The Chair of House Commerce and Labor committee Rep Atkins said, “This survey was used as a tool to provide for those not able to attend the public hearing an opportunity to contribute to this discussion. This survey was not intended to be scientific, but rather an easy-to-use way for Minnesotans to participate in the legislative process.”

Legislators are always trying to gauge where the public stands on controversial issues.  State legislatures around the country will increasingly use this tool to collect citizen input, as will segments of the government. 

In fact, the Governor of Minnesota used these tools almost two years ago as a way to help him develop the state budget.  At that time, the University of Minnesota Legislative Network engaged its advocates to take the survey and urge the Governor to increase funding of higher education.  [Disclosure – I was coordinator of the University of Minnesota Legislative Network at the time.]

The results of the survey found that 62% of respondents wanted an increase in funding for K-12 education and just over half wanted an increase in funding for higher education.  Now at the time, polls said that higher education was about fourth or fifth on people’s priority list.  Yet the Governor’s survey found that it was a close second on the publics priority list.

“Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said the governor did consider the feedback when putting his budget together.”

The U of M faired well in the governor’s survey because it directed between 3,000-5,000 people to take the survey.  This is a good lesson for any group doing work at the Capitol - legislators will increasingly rely on these online vehicles to collect public input and they will actually listen to that feedback. Advocacy groups will need to develop online supporters that can engage legislators using these types of online tools.

Wondering What Web 2.0 is?

February 13, 2007

Read this article about the video -

The Rise of the Internet in Politics

January 21, 2007

The Pew Center released a new study last week describing how Americans used the Internet during the 2006 midterms.  To no surprise, Americans got more of their political information from the Internet compared to the 2002 mid-term election.  Take a look at the chart below to see how things break down:


Television is still the dominant player, but the trend is that people are moving away from T.V. and newspapers and moving to the Internet.  These trends will continue, especially when 35% of younger audiences (36 and under) said that the Internet was their main sources of news about the election. 

But this report just confirms what many people have been saying over the last two or three years.  What was most interesting from this report is that there are a large number of online activists using the Internet.  The study estimates that 7% of the US population could be designated as an online activist.  They define an online activist as someone who “created and shared political content.”

This shows how the Internet is really the place to engage activists.  That is why in the last few weeks many of the Presidential candidates (Edwards, Obama, Clinton) have launched their campaigns through their web sites, instead of formal press conferences or press releases.  The candidates are doing this because it provides a great opportunity to communicate directly to the public and recruit potential activists that may help build support for their candidacy.

Engaging activists through the Internet is not only pivotal for candidates, but for anyone that wants to effectively get their message out.

Creating a community

July 21, 2006

There is a great article in BusinessWeek about how many companies are creating online communities as a way to strengthen the bond with their customers. In an age where it is so difficult to get messages through to customers, a small group of companies have developed customer community to develop stronger ties with the customers and help them sell their products.

This is a good reminder to higher education institutions throughout the country of the value of alumni programs. The article also provides a case study on how institutions can better engage alumni, faculty, and staff to strengthen an institutions brand and reputation. But often, alumni associations and institutions do not effectively tap into these groups. Alumni should be viewed more than just athletic boosters and donors.

Higher education institutions should identify ways to engage this audience in non-traditional ways. Online communication provides a great opportunity to reengage alumni that are interested in more than just athletics. Some institutions provide ways for alumni to meet and engage through professional gatherings. These events provide a value to the alumni that will keep them engaged with the institution.

It is important to engage alumni in more than just asking them to donate money. With budget cuts around the country, institutions are more dependent on alumni donations to pay for critical services. Institutions should not start asking alumni to donate while the ink is still drying on their diplomas. Instead, we should be identifying ways to keep them involved in institution’s community. Their engagement can be helpful in growing the alumni network, expanding the reputation of your institution, or even advancing your legislative agenda at the state and federal level.

The companies in the BusinessWeek article identified ways to provide value and services to its customers. Once they created those opportunities they found that it was much easier to build a level of trust with the customer, which increase their bottom line. Higher Education institutions will realize that investing in its community will helps it bottom line too.

Truly on demand TV

April 09, 2006

The Washington Post has a great story last week about how, more and more, political campaigns are using online video as a way to distribute messages. Online video is an innovative way to disseminate online content for two reasons:

  1. Creates an emotional connection with the audience
    The emotional connection that online video creates can more effectively deliver your message to your audience. Online video is the convergence between television and the Internet. Online video will be different because this medium is more interactive. In order for this tactic to be successful you must actively engage and interact with the audience.

    Campaigns cannot just take their television advertising and place it on the web and call it an online video. This tactics should be used to complement and supplement e-mail and web copy.

  2. Targets
    Online communication allows visitors to get the information that they want and is thus a great tool for targeting. Gone are the days when you could produce a generic message and expect it to motivate people to action. Now, messages have to be crafted to specific types of constituents in order for the message to resonate.
  3. This targeting will make the public outreach campaigns more efficient and effective at reaching your intended audience.

Online videos are not just tools for political campaigns. They can also provide an easy way for many higher education institutions to distribute messages. These institutions always struggle to get covered by the mainstream media. Online videos would allow institutions to take their unfiltered message straight to the people.

Many higher education communication departments need to reorganize they way they communicate with the public. Their operations need to collect and distribute information to the general public now, not later. They can no longer rely on conventional media to distribute the information for them. By educating grassroots supporters (alumni, faculty, staff, and students), institutions will do a better job of getting their message out the public.

    The New Black – Consumer Generated Ads

    March 30, 2006

    Corporations, political candidates, and advocacy groups spend billions of dollars each year on television advertising. A recent survey of marketers found that four out of five believe that television advertising is less effective than it was two years ago.

    Tivo and video-on-demand are changing the ways that people get their information. Marketers are beginning to realize that they need to find other ways to get their messages out to consumers, constituents and stakeholders.

    That is why many non-profits have begun to develop consumer generated advertising as a way to more effectively reach their key audiences. Groups like were the pioneers of consumer-generated advocacy by engaging their members to develop creative ads. This tactic helped increase the loyalty of members by creating a sense of ownership of the organization.

    Now, many corporations are beginning to use this tactic to reach out to consumers. Chevy recently launched a contest to create the best Chevy Tahoe ad. This tactic is backfiring on Chevy because a few environmentalists have created their own ads criticizing the company for contributing to Global Warming. You can watch one example here:

    This demonstrates how consumer generated ads can be a double-edged sword for those that use it. It will force all groups to more accountable. Maybe these ads will help Chevy think about developing cars that are more environmentally friendly. It is a brave new world for every organization, institution, and corporation. We are all going to be held more accountable – will you be prepared?

    The Search for Collective Intelligence

    January 23, 2006

    NASA, in partnership with the University of California – Berkley, is using the power of the Internet to search for little green men. Well, not exactly.

    The Stardust Project is recruiting volunteers to scan through millions of images of comet and stardust collected from the Stardust spacecraft. Potential volunteers will be screened and trained to analyze the images, which they expect to take over 30,000 volunteer hours to analyze.

    This project is one of the first organized efforts to use collective intelligence to help analyze a large quantity of information. Collective intelligence harnesses the diverse experience and knowledge of a large group of people to connect/analyze information.

    One of the best-known examples of collective intelligence is how a number of conservative blogs uncovered false information presented by Dan Rather on a story about George Bush’s National Guard duty.

    The Stardust Project should become a good case study of how the Internet not only connects people together, but information as well. The Internet may not provide a solution to understaffing in your organization; it does provide a great way to engage supporters in a more meaningful way and gain insight that was not initially clear.

    Are there ways that your organization could use the collective intelligence of your members to help connect/analyze information? Some groups used this tactic during Chief Justice Roberts’ nomination process. They asked supporters with legal experience to help analyze and flag statements made and opinions drafted by Chief Justice Roberts.

    Read more about the Stardust Project here:

    Internet gives power to the people

    December 11, 2005

    A new study from the USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future says that the Internet is changing politics for the better. An increasing number of people now believe that the web can give them more political power; 39.8% of Internet users agree with that statement, up from 27.3% last year.

    “More than three-quarters of users who went online for political campaign information sought insight regarding issues and candidates about which they were undecided,” said Jeffrey Cole, director of the USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future. “Clearly, the Internet’s role in the American political process will continue to grow, and it could have a significant impact during the Congressional elections of 2006.”

    Some other interesting points from the report

    • Internet is a tool to learn about the political process 60.4% of Internet users and 30.4% of non-users agree that the Internet can help people better understand politics.
    • “The Internet provides a direct conduit through which office seekers can reach voters without the media gatekeepers sifting and interpreting politicians’ messages,” said Cole.
    • Increasing use among low-income people (61% up from 50% one year ago) and older Americans (74.9% up from 55% one year ago).

    Read a summary of the report here:

    Over the next few years the Internet will begin to affect the way that average people interact with leaders (politicians, business leaders and university presidents). As a result, there is going to be an increased demand by the public to have real interactions with these individuals. The public will no longer will be satisfied with just taking the media’s perspective of things.

    Leaders will need to identify ways to reach out and interact with people through the Internet. Without these types of interactions the general public will be less trusting and less responsive to your message.

    Creating a discussion to identify solutions

    October 04, 2005

    The last few months, oil companies have been getting beat up in the press because of high gas prices. To combat those issues Chevron has launched an online ad on inviting people to identify energy solutions.

    Check out the site here:

    This is a great tactic for Chevron to address the issue of this country's energy problem. It turns the issue back to individuals to identify solutions to the problem and provides an outlet for people to discuss energy issues. These issues are definitely on the minds of many. The general public is concerned about the problem but they feel helpless in their ability to deal with these issues. The forum creates an arena where individuals can educate themselves on the issues and then participate.

    This concept is a good example of how to engage consumers. It is successful because:

    1. Educates people on the issue
    The site starts off each discussion by having an expert express his or her opinion. This accurately frame the discussion and helps define the parameters of the discussion.

    2.Engages and listens
    Marketing and public relations are changing. It is more and more difficult for corporations, institutions and the government to control their messages. Messages will need to lead people to their own conclusions, not make conclusions for consumers. That is exactly what this site does.  The public, however, may not always move in the direction you want them to.  It is important to listen and adapt.

    3. Interactive
    The site makes the reader feel immersed in a personal conversation. It may not be a real time conversation, but it is a real dialogue. This encourages people to visit the site on a regular basis.  Importantly, the site has built in controls that keep the discussion topical and civil.

    Overall the site does a creative job of engaging consumers and increasing the transparency of the corporation. It is a tactic that should be used by other corporations, non-profits and government institutions.


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