MoveOn Learns to Herd the Cats of User-Generated Content

Much has been made about the wonders of user-generated video and other content that average people just spontaneously create for a candidate or a cause. But people in organizations and campaigns mostly think of these outbursts as random and impossible to initiate or influence. That’s why MoveOn’s “Obama in 30 Seconds” project is so important to watch. Once again MoveOn points the way towards how to effectively herd the cats of the viral world.

On Tuesday, MoveOn announces the finalists of the contest on the project’s dedicated website. The basic story, in case you have not heard, is that they asked average people to put together positive ads for Obama in the classic 30 second formula -- only via the web. In short order they had more than 1,000 submissions, which they then set up on a website that served up each of them one at a time for viewers to watch and rate. Each time you went to the site, you would be served up a different ad, or as many as you wanted served to you. Some were ok, as you would expect from any open contest (ever watch the early rounds of American Idol?), but some were terrific. Here is my favorite from my random troll.

The finalists in the voting will then be considered by an all-start panel of Hollywood types and other progressive heroes from Matt Damon to Moby and from Lawrence Lessig to Markos. The very top ad will be put on mainstream TV with MoveOn money. Already they have drawn 4.7 million votes, and they have not even begun the push that will come from having the top dozen examples or so.

The whole process is a deliberate attempt to solicit bottom-up media, structure a method to get to the ones with the most viral potential, and get everyone thinking about positive messages about Obama – and then sending them around the Web for their friends and family to see.

Other progressive organizations and campaigns should take note of this basic formula. It’s building on the truly innovative breakthrough that MoveOn did in the 2004 cycle with its “Bush in 30 Seconds” contest. That was a similar bottom-up video contest but done before YouTube even existed. It was truly visionary at the time.

This Obama in 30 Seconds does not have the breakthrough innovation, but it does refine and improve the process. And thankfully, they are encouraging not a negative spot on them, but a positive spot on us. It’s a much better direction to move towards. Congrats to MoveOn once again.

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute