A Look at Dean’s Online Campaign

In Exiting Deanspace, Clay Shirky offers various reasons for why Governor Dean’s campaign failed despite its extreme, but brief, success. Frist, he claims that the novelty and innovativeness of the campaign garnered a lot of press coverage which gave him recognition and the illusion that he was a frontrunner.  Secondly, simply having support, fervor, money, and effort doesn’t lead to votes. Instead, they all imply that the internet has made group forming and participating in politics easier, but don’t indicate how many people will actually vote. In fact, all of those measures only have an indirect effect on votes. Lastly, the campaign “believed their own press” (Shirky) which kept Dean out of touch with what was really happening.

The reason Dean’s campaign failed was probably because he relied heavily on what David Karpf defined as tactical measures of success as opposed to strategic ones. For example, the campaign had many online supporters (640,937), but those numbers, though tactically successful, are a strategic failure because it does not signify the number of people who will actually vote. Furthermore, the blog that gathered fervor for the campaign also generated a lot of online traffic because many people were reading the posts and commenting. And so the campaign felt, mistakenly, that this traffic was representative of the amount of people who would actually vote. But it only measured tactical success, and that alone, is not good enough for the campaign to be successful. Lastly, the amount of money garnered through online donations was also only tactically successful. It didn’t measure true success because donating money online is so easy that there is no way for it to show how much support or how many people will actually vote for Dean. The campaign’s flaw what that it thought that these tactical successes would reflect strategic ones.

To be more successful, Dean’s campaign should have defined its success based on strategic measures, like persuading people to vote, and using the Internet as only a resource to do so. For example, the campaign could have used the blog as a tool to reach out to Independents/Republicans and try to convince them to vote for Dean or to have the campaign raise money so that Dean could finance more trips to give talks in battleground states. This way, the blog and online donations would have been a step to success, rather than being defined as the success. Do you think the campaign’s failure largely arose from their definition of success? What do you think the campaign could have done differently?

This entry was posted in Fall 2012, Week 8. Bookmark the permalink.

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