Some see Palin's online effort lacking

Though former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is known as one of the country’s biggest political celebrities – online as well as off of it -- several GOP new-media strategists believe she has significant room for improvement when it comes to her web presence.

After resigning as governor in July, many wondered what Palin’s (R) next step would be. Will she run for president in 2012? Will she stump for candidates across the country? Will she remain an influential media figure?

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With Palin now on tour promoting her memoir Going Rogue and back in the media spotlight, these questions have begun to creep up again and some Republican new-media strategists are questioning whether or not her online effort can convert the energy and enthusiasm surrounding her tour into political action.

Nearly all online political observers agree Palin has the ability to generate a tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm among her supporters online. Google searches for Palin far outpace searches for President Barack Obama, according to Google Insights for Search, a tool that allows users to track the popularity of search topics.

Palin also has a significant footprint on the social networking site Facebook. The 2008 vice presidential nominee often publishes Facebook notes, or mini op-eds, about topics such as healthcare reform and the war in Afghanistan that instantaneously reach her roughly one million “supporters” and members of the news media. Palin used Facebook to make her controversial “death panels” charge about healthcare reform in August that sent ripples through the debate.

"She is a political celebrity,” said Florida-based Republican new-media consultant Jordan Raynor. "She has built a significant new media space in the last year.”

But Raynor, who claimed to be an “agnostic” regarding Palin, said that she has struggled to make a mark on web platforms other than Facebook.

"What I don't like about as far as an online strategy is that she puts most of her eggs in the Facebook basket. She should be extending her online cachet into other strategy,” he said.

Raynor and other consultants claim that her e-mail list of supporters could be larger considering her political celebrity.

Online political strategists have come to see an e-mail list as the essential tool of a web campaign. Raynor, who works for a firm that works with a statewide candidate and a congressional candidate, noted that the Obama campaign raised two-thirds of its funds through its enormous e-mail list of around 10 million backers.

Obama’s list of grass-roots supporters was such a powerful tool that, after the election, the Democratic National Committee adopted it and renamed it Organizing for America.

“Even with this web 2.0 and social networking, we still see that one of the most powerful tools is a really good e-mail list,” said a former campaign co-manager for former Sen. Fred Thompson’s (R-Tenn.) 2008 presidential bid who declined to be named. 

The former co-director and self-professed Palin fan estimated that her list was less than the liberal group MoveOn’s, which is thought to contain around five million addresses. The official suggested that Palin’s book tour could be a golden opportunity to grow the list.

"Building up a good e-mail list would be a good tool to influence 2010,” the former co-director said of next year’s midterm elections.

“She needs to monetize those e-mail addresses,” Raynor added about her fundraising efforts through her political action committee SarahPAC.

The former co-director said by gathering and sorting supporter’s e-mail addresses by category such as location and policy interest, Palin could also create more sophisticated clickable web ads that could help direct web surfers to political candidates she supports in their area, her personal events, or her latest Facebook note on a hot political topic.

Palin already has a number of web ads on search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing as well as sites conservatives frequent such as the news aggregator Drudge Report and the Hot Air blog.

"She could tailor messages to each interest group,” said Thompson’s former co-director. "If I was in the same region she was going to be having an event, [the ad] could tell me where the event would be."

Others, such as Alabama-based GOP new-media consultant Jeff Vreeland, lamented Palin’s decision to create a new Twitter account instead of changing the name of her gubernatorial account to keep her follower base of over 150,000, though it’s not clear that she was allowed to keep her old one.

“It was just a complete failure for the people who support her,” Vreeland, who said he “still [has] questions” about Palin before he could consider voting for her should she run for office.

Palin’s new Twitter account has almost 30,000 followers.

Senate Republican Conference online communications director Sean Hackbarth lobbed this charge at Palin’s online presence this week: “I'm sorry, Sarah #Palin has one of the lamest online efforts of any national political figure.”

Palin spokeswoman Meghan Stapleton did not reply to a request for comment on this story.

Questions about her ability to mobilize her large base of supporters accompany questions within the Republican Party and the county regarding her political future.

"If I was making a conscious effort to make a run for president, I wouldn't do it like this,” said Soren Dayton, a new-media consultant who has worked on Capitol Hill and on Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) presidential campaign. “She’s not taking that next step online. She's not asking people to give money to candidates.”

But Dayton -- who said Palin has “a lot to admire” but is undecided about her as a candidate -- said that she may not be crafting a presidential-like web strategy because she has not yet decided her next step in politics.

“It is a little unfair to make the criticism that she is not doing more,” he said. “She has to take a lot of time to figure out who she is; she'll have to flesh out if she wants to run [for higher office].”

Dayton pointed to her Facebook and Twitter posts, which now contain a disproportionate amount of material about her book tour than national issues, as evidence that she is not yet serious about running for higher office.

"She not converting her online energy for anything other than book sales right now,” he said.