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Promoting Palin with Team Sarah

Since being announced as the vice presidential nominee for the Republican Party, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has brought crowds, by the thousands, to her speeches. But now, she’s bringing them online too — to the Team Sarah network.

The network, barely a month old, is a testament to the amazing growth potential of organic, grassroots social networks created by supporters. Created on Sep. 17, this social network supporting Gov. Palin’s candidacy now boasts almost 50,000 members. And with interest in politics reaching a fever pitch, members are loving all the features this social network on Ning has to offer.

What’s the most happening place on Team Sarah? Chat, of course! The network regularly has hundreds of members online, debating everything from campaign strategy to the Gov. Palin’s latest speeches. If you’re looking to take the pulse of the social network and get a sense for just how active its members are, Chat is the place to do it.

The network’s no. 1 goal, of course, is getting Gov. Palin and Sen. John McCain elected on Election Day and the network makes that clear. There’s a top-level navigation tab called “Act Today,” which directs members to a call-to-action page. And the network is plastered with text boxes instructing members to “BE the difference for McCain-Palin on Election Day.”

Team Sarah members are prolific bloggers as well. Combined, they’ve posted more than 4,000 blog posts. They talk about what classifies as “too far” when it comes to the nexus of politics and candy. And they’ve posted about Sarah Palin’s intellectual acumen.

One aide the network’s administrators have turned to — as they are running a large and politically charged network — is a custom “Terms of Use.” You’ll find a tab for the Terms of Use at the top of the network, and you’ll find helpful rules for how to have the best experience possible on the network. The Terms of Use serve as a “friendly reminder of the long-term existence and effects of what you post. You may, from time to time, find yourself in disagreement with someone else’s opinion.”

Network Creator Ralph Benko says Team Sarah has grown “organically, meaning by word of mouth, members of the community inviting friends to become members of the community, spontaneously blogging, and so forth.” And the media have taken notice of that growth, highlighting the network in this Fox News segment:

We had the opportunity to interview Benko, so be sure to check out the full interview after the jump.

Who are you and where are you from?
I’m Ralph Benko, from Capital City Partners, Washington, D.C., and author of The Websters’ Dictionary: How to Use the Web to Transform the World, publishing November 4, and its companion Web site — where the book already is available in full as an eBook edition for free. The book has been featured at creativecommons.org and lessig.org, among other leading blogs.

What made you decide to create this network?
The Susan B. Anthony List requested guidance in setting up a new kind of space on the Web for its community. I drew their attention to Ning and coached them in effective implementation of its simple, invaluable capability to use virtual space to create real community.

The SBA List and its leadership is an extraordinary group of brilliant, accomplished and capable women, whose strategic insights created the blueprint for such an impressive success. Their executive director, Emily Buchanan, gets primary credit for site design itself and deserves special recognition. My own very subsidiary role was imparting best practices to the SBA List leadership and the site team. Within this context, the community members themselves built this amazing virtual village and deserve the greatest credit.

What’s the network’s goal or purpose?
TeamSarah.org is a coalition of diverse women dedicated to advancing Sarah Palin’s Vice Presidential candidacy.  (Men are also welcome to join and participate.)

Your network has been around less than a month. How did it grow so fast?
TeamSarah has grown organically, meaning by word of mouth, members of the community inviting friends to become members of the community, spontaneously blogging, and so forth. This happened so fast! After about a month, once the community began to hit critical mass, between 5,000 and 10,000 members, the traditional and new media became interested in it — with articles in RedState.com, National Review, Human Events and appearances on national television by some of Team Sarah’s more celebrated members, such as Jeri Thompson and Northern Exposure’s Janine Turner. That really accelerated the pace of the community’s growth … but really is modest exposure compared with what could be ahead. Of course, the integrity, and phenomenal appeal, of Sarah Palin, to whom the site pays tribute, is an important factor.

Describe the most surprising thing that has happened on the network.
The team followed the simple principles set forth in The Websters’ Dictionary, so the vibrancy of this site did not come as much of a surprise. When one embraces an open source, bottom-up ethos, such vitality results. And by vibrancy, this means 44,000+ members enrolled in just six weeks. But much more than that. Over 3.2 million page views, more than 300 self-generated internal groups (one of them itself has more than 1,000 members strong), and members projecting Team Sarah into the 3D world — such as the New Hampshire Team Sarah group holding a press conference, involving their mayor, Frank Guinta, of Manchester, N.H., who also joined the community!

Properly handled, this is a very natural process of simply giving people an inviting space and then letting them step forward.

What makes the Ning platform well-suited for political networks?
Ning is an ideal platform for advocacy, and also for political, communities. The Atlantic Monthly reported that one of the great strategic assets that Barack Obama enjoys, especially significant in the early days of his campaign, is a social network called My.BarackObama.com, created especially for him by Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook.

Ning empowers any candidate, at any level, from dogcatcher to presidential ticket, to harness the power of building virtual communities — which is a much better description than “social network” — on the Web without the need for an in-house grandmaster like Hughes or a prohibitively expensive and lengthy site development project. Ning is at the cutting edge of Web 2.0, a simple way of building communities of people who can act in concert to project their idealism into the world, virtual and real.

How has your network allowed members to connect in ways that wouldn’t be possible without the network?
As noted, the community has built, with virtually no external guidance, 82 groups, as well as fostering more friendships than can be counted.  This is completely a genuine “people-powered” thing and represents a major breakthrough for democracy by making it so easy for people to come together to help support the causes and candidates who they champion.

How can political movements, causes and candidates better use technology and the Internet?
Web 1.0 was 99 percent talking and 1 percent listening.  Web 2.0 is 99 percent about listening and 1 percent talking; meaning, creating spaces within which people can have a place of their own and give voice to their hearts in community. Thus, banded together as David Weinberger once prophetically called it as “small pieces loosely joined,” we can operate in concert to have our voices listened to and our concerns taken seriously.

This is an embodiment of the “open source” ethos, or, as Esther Dyson prefers, peer-to-peer interaction.   Campaigns and advocates who understand the dignity of the “bottom up” rather than “top down” model of interacting on the Web will discover a source of enormous vitality.  Ning is at the forefront of making this possible.

Any advice for aspiring Network Creators who want to use Ning for a political cause?
Yes.  Read Ning CEO Gina Bianchini’s blog entry — “The Case for Simplicity” from Aug. 12, 2008, which is authoritative.  If they want more tips on how to be effective, check out my Web site (or, if sufficiently motivated, the accompanying 253-page book which goes into great detail).  These list “the Webster’s 10 Laws of how to use the Web to transform the world,” the seventh of which, “Bianchini’s Law of Viral Loops,” was named in homage to Ning’s CEO, who totally gets it.

What will happen to the network after Election Day?
Team Sarah is part of an overall movement to see women like Sarah Palin enter the political arena — this will not end on Nov. 4. This community will remain in place and is expected to continue to grow and thrive, perhaps at an accelerated pace.

The biggest surprise we’ll see on Election Day?
That Winston Churchill was right when he said, on Nov. 11, 1947:

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

And which remains invariably true and, somehow, invariably surprising.  😉