Fred on the Web (or not)

If the Internet existed when the late President Ronald Reagan first entered the political arena in the 1960s, those trying to learn about the aspiring politician might have responded similar to Dr. Emmet "Doc" Brown in Back to the Future, "Ronald Reagan? The actor? Ha! Then who's Vice President, Jerry Lewis." President Reagan, the once sports announcer, actor, T.V. host, and later politician campaigned in a very different era, where he still had some control over people's first impressions of him.

But today, there is the World Wide Web.

In the age of broadband Internet, YouTube, and Wikipedia, hopeful elected officials might not be as lucky as President Reagan. A voter's first encounter with a candidate may not be hearing the stump speech or any of the campaign's message for that matter.

Potential presidential contender Fred Thompson recently spoke to the Council for National Policy. And the new word on the street is that social conservatives are gravitating towards a Thompson bid.

The former Senator from Tennessee shares commonalities with President Reagan but will campaign in a very different time. Google "fred thompson" and the first results you will see are from Wikipedia and the Internet Movie Database (IMDB). The latter chronicles Mr. Thompson's T.V. and movie career. While it is great to known that Mr. Thompson starred in Die Hard 2, IMBD is not saying much about his views on the Iraq war or his stance on the immigration debate.

Of course, Mr. Thompson is yet to announce a presidential run and launch an official campaign website. And he has used the web to this point. For example, he recently responded to Michael Moore via YouTube and has a radio blog / podcast on the ABC Radio Networks website. Neither of these efforts show in the top five Google results. Without an official web presence in sight, those googling Mr. Thompson have to piecemeal what he states about his policy positions and agenda.

Interestingly enough, the rest of the field is very aware of Mr. Thompson and this vulnerability. Again, turn to Google and query "fred thompson". Take a peak at the "Sponsored Links" in the right-hand sidebar and you will likely see "Mitt Romney in  2008." The Romney campaign is utilizing Google's Pay-per-Click service, which allows them to bid on keywords of their choice, with the intent of winning (and paying for) Google traffic.

Buying competitor keywords is a common web strategy and one that other campaigns (and many businesses) are also employing (e.g., "John McCain for President" is a sponsored result for the search "mitt romney"). Yet it is one that, at a minimum, requires a definitive home on the web - something that Mr. Thompson still lacks.

While it is still early in the presidential season, if Mr. Thompson does proceed on the campaign trail, he is going to have some catching-up to do with his web initiatives. Google and other search engines, which act as the primary gatekeepers for information on the web, often must be convinced of the credibility and usefulness of newly launched websites. Even if his team launches an official site, it will take some time and effort to combat the present search results and gain a prominent position on the search engines (my advice would be to purchase and utilize the www.Fred08.com domain, which is now owned by the Draft Fred Thompson 2008 Committee and ranks second for "fred thompson" on Google).

Can today's candidates win elections without a prominent web presence? The answer is highly dependent on the candidate's name recognition (obviously amongst other things). For example, google "arnold schwarzenegger". The "Office of the Governor" comes in a distant third to his Wikipedia and IMBD entries. The Governator has done just fine. I would argue that President Reagan's search results would probably have been the same had the web, as it now exists, been around back in the infancy of his political career.

So, what about Mr. Thompson? Although he is known for his role on Law & Order, he does not quite possess the Schwarzenegger "brand" to the general populace.  If he is planning on running, hopefully his campaign has thought through the Google effect and how to deal with communicating in an age where if you do not get your message out on the web, others will do it for you.

Ken Yarmosh is the proprietor of the blog Technosight.
If the Internet existed when the late President Ronald Reagan first entered the political arena in the 1960s, those trying to learn about the aspiring politician might have responded similar to Dr. Emmet "Doc" Brown in Back to the Future, "Ronald Reagan? The actor? Ha! Then who's Vice President, Jerry Lewis." President Reagan, the once sports announcer, actor, T.V. host, and later politician campaigned in a very different era, where he still had some control over people's first impressions of him.

But today, there is the World Wide Web.

In the age of broadband Internet, YouTube, and Wikipedia, hopeful elected officials might not be as lucky as President Reagan. A voter's first encounter with a candidate may not be hearing the stump speech or any of the campaign's message for that matter.

Potential presidential contender Fred Thompson recently spoke to the Council for National Policy. And the new word on the street is that social conservatives are gravitating towards a Thompson bid.

The former Senator from Tennessee shares commonalities with President Reagan but will campaign in a very different time. Google "fred thompson" and the first results you will see are from Wikipedia and the Internet Movie Database (IMDB). The latter chronicles Mr. Thompson's T.V. and movie career. While it is great to known that Mr. Thompson starred in Die Hard 2, IMBD is not saying much about his views on the Iraq war or his stance on the immigration debate.

Of course, Mr. Thompson is yet to announce a presidential run and launch an official campaign website. And he has used the web to this point. For example, he recently responded to Michael Moore via YouTube and has a radio blog / podcast on the ABC Radio Networks website. Neither of these efforts show in the top five Google results. Without an official web presence in sight, those googling Mr. Thompson have to piecemeal what he states about his policy positions and agenda.

Interestingly enough, the rest of the field is very aware of Mr. Thompson and this vulnerability. Again, turn to Google and query "fred thompson". Take a peak at the "Sponsored Links" in the right-hand sidebar and you will likely see "Mitt Romney in  2008." The Romney campaign is utilizing Google's Pay-per-Click service, which allows them to bid on keywords of their choice, with the intent of winning (and paying for) Google traffic.

Buying competitor keywords is a common web strategy and one that other campaigns (and many businesses) are also employing (e.g., "John McCain for President" is a sponsored result for the search "mitt romney"). Yet it is one that, at a minimum, requires a definitive home on the web - something that Mr. Thompson still lacks.

While it is still early in the presidential season, if Mr. Thompson does proceed on the campaign trail, he is going to have some catching-up to do with his web initiatives. Google and other search engines, which act as the primary gatekeepers for information on the web, often must be convinced of the credibility and usefulness of newly launched websites. Even if his team launches an official site, it will take some time and effort to combat the present search results and gain a prominent position on the search engines (my advice would be to purchase and utilize the www.Fred08.com domain, which is now owned by the Draft Fred Thompson 2008 Committee and ranks second for "fred thompson" on Google).

Can today's candidates win elections without a prominent web presence? The answer is highly dependent on the candidate's name recognition (obviously amongst other things). For example, google "arnold schwarzenegger". The "Office of the Governor" comes in a distant third to his Wikipedia and IMBD entries. The Governator has done just fine. I would argue that President Reagan's search results would probably have been the same had the web, as it now exists, been around back in the infancy of his political career.

So, what about Mr. Thompson? Although he is known for his role on Law & Order, he does not quite possess the Schwarzenegger "brand" to the general populace.  If he is planning on running, hopefully his campaign has thought through the Google effect and how to deal with communicating in an age where if you do not get your message out on the web, others will do it for you.

Ken Yarmosh is the proprietor of the blog Technosight.