What we learned from the Dean team

It’s fascinating to sit in a class taught by one of the online team that catapulted Howard Dean to a leading position in the presidential race of 2004. Whether one liked Dean or not, we must admit that this team did something new, unprecedented and enormously portentous, not only for politics, but for many other forms of human organizational activity.

Garrett Graff, Howard Dean’s original webmaster and a member of the presidential campaign team in the 2004 campaign, has made some very significant points about what the campaign showed us.

  1. The team did not know what would work – they tried a lot of things. Most did not work, but when something did, they capitalized on it – immediately. There is nothing new in this basic strategy. What is new is the speed with which a group can try things, find out what works and adjust and try another thing. In traditional marketing/campaigning that takes weeks or at best days. Online it can be done in hours or minutes.
  2. The resulting ‘buy-in’ from many of the ‘crowd’ online taught the campaign quickly that they had to adjust and accept the crowd that showed up, not the crowd they imagined. They had to really become the representative of those who elected to be a part – and there were many.
  3. The meet-ups were powerful, and the Internet and cellphones were able to organize a throng of people to a meeting virally, within a very short time. It was one of the first practical uses of an emerging phenomenon in use today around the world to organize rallies, protests, and marches.
  4. The viral nature of the Dean campaign was huge. According to Zephyr Teachout, of the campaign, quoted in Edward Cone’s report: “The Marketing of a President“: “The Internet is moving from information technology to organizing technology,” she says, sitting in a windowless conference room at the campaign’s offices. “I e-mail you that I like Dean, maybe you’ll tell your wife. If I tell you face to face, you’ll tell everyone.”

All of these lessons are something of a picture of our future as a society. Chances are we will be mobilized quickly, wirelessly and digitally, to meet or move personally and actually. Things will speed up. Our reactions will be tested much more quickly and re-engaged much more quickly.

And when we do show up in mass, those who call us will have to accept us – as we are.


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