Sometimes it is exactly the opposite. This week I met in Milan the campaign wizard and the web content manager of the new Mayor Giuliano Pisapia. His campaign has been one of the most remarkable examples of participative web in Italy, a fascinating example of how the internet is affecting modern politics. Two lessons learnt: the internet and the neighbourhood can be very good friends. And "coordination" is NOT the key to success.
Milan, capital of the industry... and of the web?
Preamble: a very special atmosphere
As it often happens, communication deosn't do miracles. It accompanies and shapes a political process. But politics come first. In this case, the political situation in Milan was favourable to the emergency of a candidate from the "civil society". Giuliano Pisapia was a well known lawyer from the Milan "bourgeoisie", who defeated the candidate of the main left party in the primary elections, and that positioned himself with a strong non-party identity.
His political pitch was, from the very beginning, not based on the individual leadership but on participation and collective dimension.
This message has been credibly and coherently communicated by a campaign that, instead of centralising and coordinating, gave space and voice to the "collective intelligence", capitalising on it both on the web and in the real world.
Betting on participation
"The online dimension has been important but we shouldn't overestimate it. It wouldn't have produced the same effect if there wasn't a previous organisation and mobilisation on the ground, with committees and groups working for months. Internet added the real time dimension and the speed that we wouldn't have achieved otherwise, but we shouldn't forget that Giuliano met at least 50.000 people in person" – explains Roberto Basso, the campaign manager.
The most successful post on FB: almost 10.000 interactions
"We had to make a choice in the beginning: either we proposed a coordinated and centralised campaign, or we encouraged the enthusiasm and energy of the people, supporting and re-launching their initiatives. We went for this second option, firstly because we didn't have the money for the first one, secondly because it matched better the spirit of the candidate and the demand of participation that was there. This meant taking risks, of course. But it proved successful", Roberto continues.
and other platforms were organised to encourage participation: a Google map
where everybody could share his experiences, an agenda
for local initiatives and a strong presence on social media (FB, Twitter, Scribd, Flickr, Youtube, blog).
But nobody expected the dimension of the "spontaneity of the net", as Michele Bergonzi, Web content manager of the campaign, puts it.
From the "Fabulous World of Pisapie" to #morattiquotes: the irony runs on the web
"The most clicked videos and famous tweets are not ours", says Michele with a certain pride. "Thousands of people mobilised, professional and not, and they produced content that we relaunched from the official platforms".
The most successful examples? The video
on "the Fabulous World of Pisapie
", a parody of the famous Amelie's movie, playing on the fears evocated by the opponents on what would happen if the leftist candidate would win (more drugs, more insecurity, immigrants everywhere, more thieves…). The video got over 650.000 views. Other virals got 450.000, 280.000 views, etc.
The other main source of buzz was #morattiquotes, born on Twitter after opponent Letizia Moratti accused Pisapia of participating in violent political actions in his youth (accusation later withdrawn). People started making fun basically saying "Pisapia is responsible of all the bad things in this world": "Pisapia is responsible for the Ozone Hole"; "Pisapia opens the parking meters with a screwdriver to steal the coins"; "Pisapia is the guy who rings your bell on Sunday mornings to sell you a vacuum cleaner" …. thousands of tweets in few days, cost zero.
"Pisapia stole the image of my profile": a picture adopted by many on FB
The buzz passed onto Facebook
where some fans opened the page "It's all the fault of Pisapia
", that collected the best quotes and counts almost 70.000 likers. Pisapia's campaign managers have "capitalised" the success of this initiative by asking people to vote for their favourite "quote" and then produced a graphic kit of the most voted, so that people could print them on t-shirts, bags, etc.
"When we were asked, we suggested employing at least an element of recognition of the campaign, for example the colour orange. Otherwise, we were picking on the web things born spontaneously and spreading them trough the official channels. It was just me and another guy managing the social media and the website, can you imagine?", continues Michele.
The mistakes of the opponent
When it became clear that the web was playing a role in the campaign, the opponent tried everything to be "as good", employing "questionable methods, such as FB ads advertising a football team or some shoes, and then bringing the likes to her page
", tells Roberto.
But for him the web is not a end in itself: "you have 30.000 fans on FB, so what? For us, FB was about real life. If we published 'today at 18:00 bike tour to support Giuliano, at 18:00 we had 15.000 real people there with their bike!"
Conclusion: web and neighbours make good friends
"Bikes and Facebook, markets in the suburbs and Twitter", wrote a journalist in June describing the campaign of Pisapia: "maximum of presence on the net, maximum in the streets, somehow always beyond the TV".
Somehow an obliged choice – considering the relative penury of the campaign – resulted in a winning communication strategy. Because both channels – the "street" and the "internet" are intrinsically democratic, and allowed the participation of the citizens, who became the real "creative" and "spin doctors" of the campaign.
"But you have to accept to lose control", concludes Roberto. Maybe a lesson for the European Parliament?