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Hillary’s Misguided Foray into User Generated Content

Hillary_for_presidentOne of my favourite things to do is watch political parties and candidates – or companies, or TV networks – jump on what they think is a bandwagon and then misapply the principles that made it a success in the first place. That’s why next season’s network television lineups are full of Heroes-themed supernatural content and freaks.  What audiences have responded to in Heroes is a fantastic concept, great characters and a propulsive narrative, not the fact that the characters on the show have cool powers.

It’s much the same with user generated content. Just because it’s a tactic doesn’t mean you should use it. Especially when your strategic application actually succeeds in reinforcing a major perception liability.

For those of who you haven’t been following along, Hillary Clinton is currently running for President of the United States. Her critics say that she lacks a clear vision and that she tends to leap on the bandwagon. On her website May 21,  she launched a poll to allow visitors to choose a fairly major part of her campaign.

I don’t want to be overly harsh, because there are a number of great things about the fact that Hillary’s running and that she is trying to integrate her audience into her campaign. It’s the topic she’s chosen for her foray into UGC that’s troubling and, unfortunately, it highlights some deeper issues with her public persona.

Hillary wants you, or at least the US  public, to pick her campaign song.

Yes, you too can help craft Hillary’s campaign by picking her campaign theme song!
(And no, you don’t have to be in the US to have your say! I voted!)

Now, I’m all for research and understanding your audience and engaging them in helping build and evolve your brand. But your audience has to already have a clear understanding of what your brand is; what your values are and what you stand for. How does Right Here Right Now, that extremely tired Jesus Jones chestnut that anyone who has been to a sports arena in the past fifteen years would die happy never hearing again, articulate Hillary’s vision for the country and for her campaign?

A campaign theme song is one of those things that helps a voter understand or relate to your campaign values as an extension of  yourself. It’s like a logo, a tagline, a purpose, a mission or  vision statement, and should be part of the leader’s articulation of their vision. Otherwise, what are people buying into? Are we going to be creating her platform next? Hillary – who are you? Jesus Jones, Smashmouth or the Temptations?

Asking your community or audience for feedback and input is important and incredibly valuable. But how and why you do it is just as important. Never compromise your expertise – if you’re in  software development, you don’t ask your audience to vote on what  language you should be using to write your software. Asking your audience for input at the right juncture can pay hugely powerful dividends, but selecting a key  part of your identity or contributing user generated content too early in a program, without context, meaning or rationale, can backfire. Especially if your bid for UGC feels gimmicky or stuntlike. If you’re not careful, you might be saying:

  • I want to engage you in the surface of what this campaign stands for rather than the
  • I’m trying to do something that sounds cool without really understanding what
    it means
  • People, I have no ideas. I’ll live with whatever you pick because that’s what you’ve told me you want me to do.

Any one of those points speaks a little too directly to some of the criticisms of Hillary’s campaign thus far.

A much better use of this media would have been to invite prospective voters to nominate any song for the campaign and to submit their song nomination along with a 25 word statement on why they picked that song and how it relates to Hillary’s campaign and platform. Then Hillary’s campaign team could have chosen the most compelling song and rationale and done a great deal with the content generated by that program, providing a real, meaningful  statement on the song selection – and a great backstory for an  election night victory.