Scalable Intimacy in Politics

by Holland-Mark | March 31, 2010

I live in Sudbury, a dreamy little hamlet about 20 miles west of Boston. It’s very nice; we like it a lot.

Sudbury has the highest concentration of households with school-aged children of any town in Massachusetts, which makes for a very family-oriented town, and also puts a lot of focus on the quality of our schools. Each year the town sets a budget and struggles to live within it – like most towns, families, and people I know. When it can’t, the Town Fathers propose an “override,” meaning a right to raise taxes to cover expenses of the town over and above those that were budgeted.

Each year the proponents of this tax use the same slogan for this override: “Support Sudbury!” Each year they say that to maintain our first-class schools, fire, and police, we need to reach into our pockets and give a little more for the team.

Since 1999 the good people of Sudbury have “Supported Sudbury,” and this well-intended philanthropy has led to a series of challenges for the town well documented in this video highlighting some rather daunting facts and figures.

Anyhoo… I’ve had just about enough of this. And I met a like-minded denizen of the town, Bob Haarde, who’d decided to run for Selectman, and do something about it.

I met Bob for dinner at the local hangout, and we talked about how I might be able to help his campaign through the addition of a social marketing program. I offered to help, but told Bob that in the end, the program would succeed or fail not based on my talents, but based on his willingness to contribute substantive content to the channel, and to engage with the people drawn to that content. I agreed to get him started, and he agreed to create and post three pieces of original content to the system in the next 72 hours. This was important since time was short… the election was a week and a half away.

That night at my kitchen table I created and customized accounts for him on Posterous and Twitter, connecting them to each other and to a Facebook Fan Page I created from within Bob’s own Facebook account.  I took the Posterous e-mail and sent it to him, with instructions to publish whatever he wanted to share with voters, described in a casual and personal way, along with whatever anecdotes he cared to share about the journey of a regular guy into his first elective office.

He began to do so, and after he’d added three or four posts I began following our fellow Sudbury-ites on Twitter, and sharing the page with my own local friends on Facebook. By the election this week – 10 days after they launched – we’d amassed 25 Twitter followers and 60 Facebook fans, collectively connected to hundreds more. The Posterous entries were being published to both channels, and being viewed natively between 50 and 100 times.

Bob Haarde is now Sudbury’s newest Selectman. He has the seeds of a coalition to deliver on his campaign promise (“Cut waste, not teachers.”), and a direct and ready channel to the network of local voters that got him elected.

And he won by 36 votes.

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