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Online, campaigns take advantage of 'You lie!' storm

  • Story Highlights
  • Republican Rep. Joe Wilson drew fire for yelling "you lie!" at President Obama
  • After comment, money poured in for both Wilson, his likely Democratic opponent
  • Both candidates take advantage of Twitter, other social media
By Eric Kuhn
CNN Audience Interaction Producer
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- When Rep. Joe Wilson yelled "You lie!" at President Obama, the South Carolina Republican's political team quickly launched an online strategy to capitalize on the incident.

Rep. Joe Wilson, R-South Carolina, shouts "You lie!" during President Obama's speech to Congress.

Rep. Joe Wilson, R-South Carolina, shouts "You lie!" during President Obama's speech to Congress.

Wilson's heated outburst came on the House floor as Obama addressed a joint session of Congress about health care.

Within 12 hours, Wilson media consultant Brian Donahue had sketched out a plan that included buying ads on Google, cutting videos on YouTube and using Twitter and Facebook to raise money and counter the congressman's critics.

"We knew that influencers and news outlets would want to find out more information about what happened and what Joe Wilson's response was, and they would be looking for this information online," Donahue told CNN. "The events were happening by the minute and by the hour. Online was where we needed to be to respond and provide new information from Congressman Wilson. Traditional print media couldn't keep up with the pace of this issue."

At the same time, Democrats and liberal organizations seized on the incident to raise money for Wilson's likely Democratic opponent in 2010, Rob Miller.

Leading the effort was liberal fundraising site ActBlue, which launched a campaign on Twitter and other social networks to raise money for Miller. Twitter was responsible for 11,000 clicks to ActBlue's portal for donations to the campaign online.

While Miller wrote blog posts for Web sites such as the Huffington Post and Daily Kos, his campaign focused on the South Carolina press corps. National fundraising efforts were mostly left to outside groups. Video Watch more on what happened after Wilson made the comment »

"He really stayed focused on what he needed to do in South Carolina and what his plan was as a candidate," said Jennifer Crider, communications director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

South Carolina political operative Wesley Donehue handled the state and local political strategy for Wilson.

The morning after Wilson blasted Obama, his campaign purchased Google AdWords, with search terms applicable to the previous night, that would lead searchers to the congressman's campaign Web site.

"The campaigns of both Joe [Wilson] and his opponent, Rob Miller, leaped to place AdWords ads on searches for 'Joe Wilson,' " Google spokesman Galen Panger wrote in an e-mail.

Panger noted that it was "one of the fastest responses we've seen to date" for an individual or organization to purchase AdWords after a breaking news event.

Panger added that other political advertisers included the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and the House Conservatives Fund.

In addition, the Wilson campaign bought advertising on approximately 25 different Web sites including Google, Yahoo, Bing, DrudgeReport, Town Hall, Red State and a handful of sites with a South Carolina focus, the campaign said.

Within 24 hours of Wilson's outburst, Donahue hired the David All Group, a conservative consulting firm known for its expertise in weaving together politics and social networking.

By 4:07 p.m. ET Thursday, @CongJoeWilson, Wilson's campaign Twitter account, sent out its first tweet.

"Thank you all for your understanding and support," Wilson wrote. "I'm on Sean Hannity radio now. Listen in."

Wilson also used Twitvid, a Twitter-based video sharing platform, to share information.

Miller's first tweet went out at 9:54 p.m. Wednesday, moments after Obama's speech concluded. @RobMillerUSMC tweeted a link to the campaign Web site.

Throughout the rest of the night, it updated followers with tallies of money raised and also linked to the ActBlue site. His official Facebook account was providing similar updates and increased by more than 2,000 "fans."

The Miller campaign did not return several calls or e-mails to discuss its online strategy. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Jessica Santillo, calling on behalf of the Miller campaign, said, "The campaign does not discuss strategy."

As for Wilson, David All said the congressman has picked up 10,000 followers on his Twitter account and 16,000 new Facebook "friends."

"Twitter is not the end all, be all, but it proved to be another tool to help us achieve our online goals," All wrote in an e-mail. "We used it to share information with influencers, help shape the debate, listen to the conversation as a real-time focus group to gauge our response, set the tone that we were fighting back with social media, and to essentially get our side of the story out."

Wilson's campaign team created three YouTube videos and released them September 10, 13 and 15. In total, the videos have been viewed more than 284,000 times.

"People needed to hear directly from Congressman Wilson," Donahue said. "So we created Web videos which carried Congressman Wilson's responses, from him directly speaking to online audiences. These videos were quickly picked up by several major TV news outlets [and] had a massive impact online and on traditional mediums."

Miller did not use his YouTube account. As of Monday, the last video update made by Miller's campaign team was about a year ago.


Barbara Dybwad, senior editor for the social media news blog, said the nation has reached a point where politicians need to factor social media into their strategic thinking.

"It leaves the candidate a choice: either engage [on social networks] or lose," Dybwad said.

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