Book Review: “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”

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At first glance, the book The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is about the early use of the internet in funding, connecting and organizing political campaigns (specifically the rise and fall of Howard Dean in the 2004 Presidential election).  It’s really two stories. It’s about the use of the internet in political runs. It’s also about Joe Trippi, a battle worn political organizer and campaign strategist who was one of the first to identify the constraints of traditional media and bring his history of terrestrial organizing to the internet.

Let’s break it down.

The Dean Presidential campaign was one of the first campaigns to utilize the internet. Heck, it was one of the first campaigns to use a computer. According to Trippi, he helped fund renting one to hold the earliest online and snail mailing lists.

The campaign started small and communicated with its base via a blog.  Several staffers, and ultimately Dean himself, would contribute to the blog daily. Through the course of the campaign, Trippi and his team were able to issue calls to action and leverage their message in a way no other campaign has done before.  Instead phoning hundreds of people over days to organize rallies and events, they were able to identify their evangelists online and used these supporters to organize in their local areas and spread the word in a few simple clicks.  They immediately received feedback from their audience. The potential voters felt an instant connection with the campaign and even individual staffers through interactions on blog posts.

Trippi and the team worked with, to connect Dean supporters in local areas. These meet ups began as once a month events, but began to grow in audience and frequency as people connected with and supported Dean.

The team used this online presence to raise millions of dollars for the campaign. While other campaigns (we’re looking at you GW) would hold big, fancy dinners for supporters at $2K a plate, the Dean campaign would ask for small donations from middle to lower class folks who were already engaged with the Dean team online.  The campaign once raised over 15 million bucks in just one quarter (including online and offline fundraising).

While the campaign was plagued with challenges (servers crashing under the weight of unprecedented traffic, hackers, trolls to name a few) it was the first campaign to successfully organize and raise money from future constituents online. While the book was published in 2004, and focuses on the Kerry vs. Bush election, Trippi’s trailblazing is far more evident in Barack Obama’s successful Presidential bid several years later.

Joe Trippi wants you to know he is awesome.  In the first 100 pages of the book, Trippi barely touches on the Dean campaign.  He focuses on his start in politics as a college kid, his work as an early political operative and how he’s orchestrated successful campaigns for multiple political candidates.

He segues into his longstanding frustrations with traditional media (ie the guys with the most money pay the best teams to make the most compelling commercials and win the campaign), and his use of the net for Howard Dean… and his success and frustrations with the Dean campaign. Joe Trippi paints an amazing story of the life of a political strategist and his fascination with the power of the Internet.   Whether you love him or hate him, by the end of the book you definitely feel like you went on the journey with him.

Ultimately, Trippi left the campaign after Dean’s much publicized concession speech in Iowa and following defeat in the New Hampshire primary.  Ironically, the video was not just played repeatedly on air, but later became an online viral hit.  The version below has over 1.5 million views on YouTube.

The book came out in 2004 in the midst of the Presidential election. At that time, Trippi had a serious medical scare and vowed not to return to Presidential politics.  He joined the John Edwards campaign in 2007.

IMPORTANT TAKEAWAY: We can no longer spoon feed audiences messages through transitional media.  Success, whether it is for a brand or campaign, lies in connecting, feeding and empowering the appropriate online community/audience.

MOST SALIENT QUOTE: When people know they are being heard, they will speak up, and when they speak up, they will offer ideas that never occurred to you or your $60 million-a-year marketing team or your billionaire board of directors.

RESOURCES: Want to learn more? Check out all of Trippi’s thoughts and musings by following his online profiles.
Official Website

Do you think Trippi’s right? Will people continue to be motivated online or will the blogsphere and online media become polluted by big money just like TV did? Give me a shout in the comments section.


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