Sunday, February 3, 2008

Which Bloggers Should You Invite to a Conference Call?

Last year, I compiled a chart showing which presidential candidates had hosted conference calls with bloggers. (Then, as now, John McCain toped the list.)

Yesterday, Mitt Romney joined the pack. Rob Bluey runs down the good and the bad in his typically comprehensive and fair-minded way:

Jennifer Rubin of Commentary, who reports daily about the presidential race, thought Romney’s outreach to bloggers stood out in stark contrast to McCain’s operation. McCain holds calls every other week, invites a variety of bloggers (some of whom openly disagree with the candidate) and usually takes every last question.

“It seems apparent that McCain’s team has a far more sophisticated and more inclusive new media operation,” Rubin told me. “The frequency of the McCain calls, the length the calls, the opportunity for substantive follow-up questions and the number of invitees dwarfs anything the other campaigns have done. Perhaps it has something to do with the results McCain is achieving.”

In fairness to the Romney campaign, I asked [Stephen] Smith [Romney's online communications director] to explain the campaign’s rationale for limiting the number of participants on the call.

"The selection process was more art than science,” Smith said, “but we considered factors such as the size of the blogger’s readership, the geographic location of that readership, and the amount of influence that each blogger has within new media generally or within more particular audiences (former supporters of Mayor Giuliani or Senator Thompson, for example).”

The result was 14 bloggers who called in to chat ... [most of whom] have either endorsed Romney or are publicly working against McCain. Romney’s outreach strategy appears to be somewhat similar to the approach of Huckabee’s blogger calls. The last time I attended one, I was the only blogger who wasn’t backing Huckabee.

Here’s how Soren Dayton of described the Huckabee calls: “Every question, except mine, started with an expression of support or love. This is not how it works for Rudy Giuliani or John McCain. The people on those calls are high-traffic national blogs focused on politics. The people on the Huckabee call were, at least, local blogs, often focused on things other than politics.”

Romney’s campaign was apparently trying to find something in the middle: high-traffic blogs favorable to Romney. Apparently, it worked. Smith told me “the invited bloggers asked meaningful questions and gave fair reports of the call.”

Kudos to Romney for finally doing a call with bloggers. It’s just too bad the campaign limited its impact by selecting such a small group of participants.

My take: Obviously, and rightly, candidates will invite their biggest supporters and fellow-travelers, so the real question is, Who else should you invite? Stephen's criteria—readership, geography and influence—offer excellent parameters.

To wit: Phil Klein, one of the participants, has written posts that have broken news, has written articles that RealClearPolitics has linked to on its home page, and writes for a blog whose Technorati authority is 1,799.

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