January of last year, I
blogged about
the Obama 2008 campaign’s success online, calling it the
watershed event for the Internet in electoral campaigns. Since then, we saw at
least one major upset in the 2009 elections (Scott
) owing in large measure to the Internet. And, more upsets are sure to

While electoral politics is in the throws of evolution, the
broader world of public affairs has yet to see a similar type of watershed
event and, given the less transparent nature of the field, may never actually
experience one in such dramatic fashion. To a technophile like me, this is
unfortunate as these poignant movements are great catalysts for change and

Be sure, the Internet is creating significant and lasting
changes and while the goals of public affairs remain the same (building
coalitions, influencing policymakers and impacting public perception/regulatory
environment) the tools and methodologies necessary for continued success are
evolving all around us. To help our public affairs clients take advantage of
the opportunity inherent in these changes, we developed 10 "New Rules" for the
Internet and social media age (outlined below).

prepared for asymmetric conflict

In January of this year, Arianna Huffington
launched a new site called Move Your Money
encouraging ordinary citizens to switch their bank accounts to local community
banks and away from larger, "too-big-to-fail" banks bailed out by TARP. Since
then, tens of thousands have taken up with Huffington’s cause, including
at least one member of congress
calling for more regulation on those
financial institutions. This sort of David v. Goliath activism (or as we term
it, asymmetric conflict) where larger interests are targeted by small, but well
organized online groups is a very real and rapidly growing phenomenon made
possible by the Internet. And, as in a military engagement, a conventional
response to a non-conventional threat will, at best, look foolish and could
result in disaster. Going on a broadcast media offensive in this instance would
be very much like carpet bombing a village to neutralize a lone insurgent.
Instead, organizations must answer a grassroots attack with an intelligent
grassroots response.

2.    Mobilize a grassroots army

To continue the Move Your Money example, mobilizing
a grassroots army might consist of a few strategies for the besieged financial

a) Inoculate
customers against these types of attacks by building loyalty and strengthening
bonds with them (here the Internet provides a number of customer-centric
relationship-building techniques such as: regular/useful email communications,
highly engaging Facebook fan pages and real-time, Twitter-based

b) Locate
and enlist ideologically aligned online activists that can be activated or act
independently to come to the defense of these institutions in the face of
future online attacks, and

c) Galvanize
built-in supporter groups such as customers, shareholders and employees via
online communities built and maintained for each of these groups.

A grassroots army can be deployed
defensively (counteracting online assaults, such as the Move Your Money
movement) or offensively; for example, to voice their support to elected
officials for a key piece of legislation. However, building a grassroots army
takes time; the next rule addresses this challenge.

3. Start
running a perpetual campaign

Unlike a traditional short-duration,
high-intensity broadcast media campaign turned off and on as needed to shape
public opinion, public affairs in the Internet context is less like a series of
sprints and much more like a marathon. 
It is also more proactive and less reactive. The bottom line is that an
effective long-term online strategy requires time to build relationships and
credibility with true grassroots supporters. In the world of broadcast
communications, waging a perpetual paid media campaign would simply be too cost
prohibitive for all but the largest players. However, as we’ll cover in the
next rule, the Internet provides a much less expensive alternative available to
all players large and small.

4. Shift
spending from broadcasting to targetcasting

In contrasting broadcast communications
with the Internet, I don’t mean to insinuate that broadcast is obsolete. It is
not. We regularly run online campaigns alongside major television or radio
efforts and have developed great techniques for maximizing the interplay
between online and broadcast. However, most communications budgets are
seriously out of alignment when it comes to balancing broadcast vs. online
spending, with a disproportionate allocation to broadcast. The main reason for
this imbalance is fairly clear to us: the Internet is newer and therefore
"unproven" (though, probably more accurately, not fully understood) in the eyes
of those who’ve grown up using the broadcast template. The basic difference
between broadcast and what we like to call targetcasting is that your message
can be delivered to only those whom you wish to directly target. This
difference for public affairs professionals provides a huge advantage. Every dollar
spent on targetcasted messages goes directly to the intended audience. And,
perhaps more importantly, the risk of blowback from opponents or other outside
groups is virtually eliminated as targetcasted campaigns fly very low on the
radar. There are a dizzying number of communications technologies available for
targetcasting online and the rate of innovation continues at a galloping pace.
Building the right mix of communications technologies is the focus of the next

5. Sort
through newtech hype using the tool
choice matrix

One of the biggest challenges we face in
the online world is sorting through the continual hype surrounding the latest
and greatest thing online. While this can feel a bit overwhelming, it is
crucial to remember that hype and value are not the same things. The tool
choice matrix was developed by our team as a powerfully simple way to
illustrate this point AND allow our teams to make the best decisions about
which technologies to use and which to discard or ignore. The matrix consists
of two dimensions (Value and Maturity) to create four categories or "quadrants"
of tools:

a) The BOG – Tools that were once valuable
but have since matured and declined in value fall into this category. These
tools should be ignored or eliminated, as they are a drain on resources.

b) Too Soon to Tell – New technologies
that have yet to prove their value generally fall into this category. These
could move into any one of the other three quadrants, so we keep an eye on
these technologies as they do eventually mature.

c) Experimental – Relatively new
technologies that have demonstrated their value early fall into this quadrant.
While they have value, they are also new and could be unpredictable or have
unintended consequences. Our suggestion is to use these technologies with
caution and avoid placing them in a mission critical position.

d) Core Tools – Highly mature and highly
valuable tools form the basis of online communications. They should occupy
75-80% of the online campaign’s resources and overall focus.

This post has already exceeded a blog-friendly length, so
we’ll stop here and continue with a second part covering the other five new
rules, which are:

6) Build
(and own) custom technologies using an assembly

7) Cultivate supporter

8) Throw out that press release and build a viral amplifier

9) Build an online
monitoring system

10) Get ready for digital democracy