Five essential tips for the YouTube campaign trail

It’s no secret to readers of this space that uber-popular video-sharing website, YouTube, will remain one of the top tools used (and misused) on the campaign trail. This website is not just a place to share your videos but also an opportunity to earn money online – one of the many as you could also trade using the Brit Metohd or sell the stuff you don’t need on eBay.

Since my company is the first to offer high-quality, affordable web videos to our clients which will largely be distributed through the site, I wanted to give five essential tips on how campaigns can and should be using web video and the site more effectively on the trail.

This essay takes a close look at the following five techniques and strategies for use on campaigns which face a decent challenge and have a reasonable budget:

1. Two-camera strategy at all times.
2. Watch the footage. Archive well.
3. Monitor opponent’s channel / organic search results.
4. Prepare known hit responses early / “flood the zone.”
5. Several different campaign YouTube accounts.

Let’s dig in…

1. Two-camera strategy at all times.

This is the new “First Rule” of effective campaigning in the modern world. As I blogged recently, liberal general Daily Kos is charging his readers to take action by screaming, “Every appearance by a top Republican official or candidate should be recorded. Every one of them.” As I said then, Republican campaigns need to follow this same advice by recording every single public event by their opponent. This is the first camera.

The second camera needs to be trained on your own candidate — at all times. The reason for this is two-fold: 1. Identifying problems before they break, and 2. In use for response to vids or MSM articles that get it wrong.

Let’s take a closer look at George Allen’s “macaca” moment to better explain why this strategy is vital. The original video was uploaded on August 14, 2006. However, the opening title of the video shows us that the actual event took place on August 11, 2006. This 72-hours was a gift that the Allen campaign could have used had they known what they know now.

Playing a little “Monday Morning Quarterback,” the first thing that should have happened seconds after George Allen made this statement is an email should have been sent from the Allen political operatives on the ground to senior campaign officials noting that Allen slipped up on the trail and that they’d need to watch the video (which Team Allen should have been recording) to make a better assessment of the situation. Hours after the event, the communications director would have watched the video and then pulled in the campaign manager for an analysis. Realizing that the MSM and Webb campaign might use this video snippet on YouTube to help draw the narrative that George Allen is racist, they could have either put the video out on their own terms first to own the issue, or likely waited to see what the Webb campaign did with the video.

Either way, having a camera on their own candidate and then watching the video before it went public/viral would have given them a better opportunity to respond.

Two other reasons to have a camera on your own candidate is, 1. In the event they say something particularly effective which would be good to upload to the YouTube channel or send to the media firm for possible inclusion in a spot, and 2. To help clarify a misquote by the MSM covering the event. We’re all human, even reporters, so if they pull a quote out of context you’ll have footage of “what the candidate actually said.” Video is always more powerful than printed words and you’ll win the argument.

Having a two-camera strategy is going to require resources, which means most campaigns won’t invest in the strategy. This is good news for those campaigns that do find value in being effective.

It’s going to require two reliable staffers responsible for each camera/target. The actual staffer’s don’t have to be senior campaign officials, but they need to have A-type personalities. In other words, they have to have the attitude to own this space. Walking in to Democratic campaign events as a Republican can be pretty intimidating. It’s also going to cost quite a bit of money buying the cameras and hundreds of DV tapes, external hard drives, or DVDs.


2. Watch the footage. Archive well.

By the end of a campaign, campaigns will have hundreds of hours of campaign footage both of their own candidate and their opponent. Unfortunately, having those tapes/DVDs/files will be worthless unless there’s a great record of what was said on each video. It’s more work than you’d think to watch a video and take notes, especially if you’re just getting back from a three-day tour of the state.

In a perfect world, proper viewing and archiving of the videos would fall on another staffer who has a better grasp of the issues and will be more involved with the implementation of the communications plan. I can’t put in to words how much a campaign will benefit by having two-sets of eyeballs on each video. Regardless, the campaign managers needs to make the viewing and archiving of all video footage a top-priority.


3. Monitor opponent’s channel / organic search results.

This essential tip resides in the commonsense category but it’s worth pointing out since it’ll be largely ignored at the peril of Republican candidates.

Back to our George Allen case-study, one way the Allen campaign could have had a jump on the storm of the “Macaca” video would have been to better monitor the WebbCampaign’s YouTube channel. Doing so is easy. Simply create an anonymous YouTube account (so the WebbCampaign won’t recognize the account) and press the yellow “subscribe” button on the channel. By subscribing, you’ll be notified minutes after a campaign uploads videos instead of waiting for it to go viral.

The other dynamic which campaigns need to pay attention to is what videos are added organically/anonymously. To find this out, campaigns should do basic searches on YouTube for the name of their candidate and that of their opponent. Also look for other searches in case the user didn’t “tag” the video very well. For example, along with searches on “George Allen” and “Jim Webb,” you should look for videos on “Virginia” and “Senate.”

Further, when you identify a video which discusses your candidate or the opponent, subscribe to that channel. They’ll likely keep trying.


4. Prepare known hit responses early / “flood the zone.”

One of the first things a campaign does is assess the strengths and weaknesses of both their opponent and their own candidate. Effective campaigns usually know what their own candidates’ weaknesses and vulnerabilities are and a campaign should expect to get “hit” on those issues at some point.

One way to better prepare for the storm is to make hours of responses to those attacks BEFORE the attack happens. By doing so, media consultants and the modern media operation will have loads of footage, already taped, that they can cobble an effective response with. This footage should be taken early in the campaign, before the storm, and while the candidate has free time not being spent at back-to-back campaign events.

At worst, you’ll never use the footage. At best, you’ll have the perfect response when a response is needed.

In the modern world, timing matters almost as much as the message.

“Flooding the zone” is a term introduced by Chuck DeFeo, former Bush-Cheney eGenius and current force behind the revolution.

The idea behind “flooding the zone” is to virtually take organic search on YouTube out of the picture as effectively as possible. It’s practically a last-resort tactic which will hopefully never be needed. If the decision is made by your campaign that a YouTube video, like “Macaca” is crippling the campaign, pull the trigger and “flood the zone.”

To flood the zone, upload dozens and dozens of random videos which have absolutely nothing to do with the clip you’re trying to make “disappear.” The real strength of the clips you’re uploading isn’t to respond directly to the video, but to confuse the YouTube user and make it impossible for them to find the video they’re looking for. The one thing every campaign can count on is that any web user has a slight case of undiagnosed ADD (attention deficit disorder). If they don’t find what they’re looking for seconds after the search has begun, they’ll tire, and give up the search.

One way George Allen could have done this is to upload video after video using tags and titles like “macaca,” “George Allen,” “listening tour,” “Virginia,” “Senate,” “Webb,” etc.

Finding the appropriate tags is easy. Just use the exact same tags and title as the video you hope people never find.


5. Create several different official campaign YouTube accounts.

One of the most important things I’ve learned about the YouTube community is that watching YouTube videos and subscribing to YouTube channels is a very personal experience. I’ve subscribed to channels because I like a certain “type” of video, but when that content quits showing up, I unsubscribe just as quickly.

One way to effectively avoid this is to upload videos based on the content of the video. Here are a few different channels every campaign should have:

*Generic official campaign channel – positive / TV spots / web videos for the site

*Official campaign news channel – TV clips pulled from news outlets

*Official candidate channel – personal to YouTube community

*Clips about the opponent – e.g., “The Real XX” or “Liberal XX”

Personally, I now have several different YouTube accounts which all have different content:

*DavidAllGroup – Videos I produce about my company.

*DavidAllSpeaks – My personal YouTube vlog which isn’t necessarily related to my company.

*DomeNation – The YouTube TV show that Jerome Armstrong and I produce.

*TechRepublican – Content specific to technology + politics.

This fifth point is one that NO Presidential or other campaign yet grasps. They upload every single campaign clip to one central account. The problem with that is that I could care less about 90 percent of what they’re uploading, especially the clips of their candidate on CNN or Fox News or whatever. I merely unsubscribe or quit paying attention to anything they upload because it’s just too darn much.

The strength of having different channels is that campaigns will – for the first time – be thinking less about their top-down tactics and will be thinking first and foremost about me – the consumer. They’ll actually understand how we – the YouTube community operates and grows: trust that what we see and say we want (by subscribing) is what we’ll continue to get.

Another way to think about YouTube subscriptions is like RSS feeds. I don’t subscribe to every blog at sites like because I know that I can pick and choose the authors I want to receive content from. The chances that I read anything increases because I know what I’m getting from the feed.



My five tips are merely what I consider the most essential elements for a modern campaign. As you might expect, this is only the tip of the iceberg but it’s a strong start which will help Republicans get ahead in the modern world.


UPDATE June 11; 4:11 PM: Politico’s Ben Smith calls my tactics “dirty.” Hardly Ben, hardly.

UPDATE June 11; 4:34 PM: A blog behind the New York Times’ “Select” firewall, called the OPINIONATOR, links up to this essay and writes:

Mastering the YouTube Campaign

By Tobin Harshaw

* The Internet is a mixed blessing for political campaigns, as Barack Obama and John Edwards have found out to their chagrin. Still, the potential of a site like YouTube is very tempting. Can it be controlled, made to stay on message? The Republican media consultant David All thinks so, and offers candidates these simple tips:

1. Two-camera strategy at all times.
2. Watch the footage. Archive well.
3. Monitor opponent’s channel / organic search results.
4. Prepare known hit responses early / “flood the zone.”
5. Several different campaign YouTube accounts.

UPDATE June 11; 6:17 PM: The New York Times’ political blog, The Caucus (which is open to the public), has linked up to this post and drafted a thorough report. Here’s an excerpt:

Working the YouTube Moment

David All, of TechRepublican and DomeNation and the DavidAllGroup, has posted tips for candidates to work the YouTube environs. It’s instructive, certainly, but also illuminating.

We know we’re not the first to link to this; Ben Smith at The Politico called our attention to it as did one of our sibblogs, The Opinionator, albeit on the Times-Select side.

But pay close attention to Mr. All’s extensive explanation of how to “flood the zone” in the event of a “macaca” moment. It’s not only good intel for oppo action, but he describes the ways in which a campaign or its supporters can manipulate, or we might suggest, “tube-bomb” ala Google-bombing of the last cycle, the system.

UPDATE June 12; 10:47 PM: This essay continues to make the rounds. TechPresident picked up on it. NPR too. The Political Realm jumped in for some commentary. And Tagean Goddard’s Political Wire ran with it.

If you liked this essay…

..You might like one of my first pieces on George Allen’s “Last Game of Poker,” which de-constructs the “macaca” incident.

And don’t forget to add my feed to your daily reads.

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