Virtual Voting: Finding Our Audience Where They Roam

    by Liz Nord
    July 18, 2008

    think screen 4.jpg(A Street Team ’08 video by our Connecticut reporter plays at Election HQ in MTV’s Virtual World.)

    One of the main components of Knight and MTV’s big citizen journalism experiment, Street Team ’08, is MOBILE. In our case, the already loaded term has many meanings…our project includes mobile phones, on both the production and distribution sides, and mobile journalists, or those young, carefree reporters-on-the-go with no need for an office, who you keep hearing about.

    But mobile takes on another connotation for us, in that our audience (14-24-year-olds)—and the technologies that they prefer—are themselves mobile, portable, ever-moving entities. We also know that our audience often consumes, and even produces, many types of media at once. A Pew study released back in January gave us even more insight into where and how they have been consuming news, in particular:


    …most internet users do not go online for the sole purpose of learning about the campaign. Rather, a majority of web users (52%) say they “come across” campaign news and information when they are going online to do something else. This practice is particularly prevalent among younger web users: 59% of web users under age 30 come across campaign news online compared with 43% of those ages 50 and older.

    Therefore, it became apparent early on that we must embed our Street Team’s work into as many places, and across as many platforms in our audience’s media landscape, as we could. There were two reasons for this: (1) to increase consumption; and (2) importantly, to increase awareness and cross-marketing of the availability of that content on other platforms (most notably, on mobile devices.)

    Now that we are several months into the project, we thought we had conquered, or at least tackled, most forms of new media. Our Street Teamers’ work appears regularly on mobile video carriers, a mobile wap site, several websites, and on-air via MTV’s broadcast networks.

    Then, a few weeks back, I was approached by an MTV colleague about a whole new area of distribution that, I have to admit, I had hardly considered before: THE VIRTUAL WORLD. I’m talking about something right outta web 3.0 : a 3-D, interactive, virtual reality experience where one can have a “second life” via their avatar persona—a walking, talking, digital version of their better selves—online.


    I am pretty tech-savvy, but this is one area that I really have not explored. I can barely keep up with my real life! Who needs a second one? My colleague assured me that our audience, apparently, does. In fact, they are coming to MTV’s Virtual World droves. There must be something to it. After all, even CNN has a virtual news world.

    So, the THINK Building, a virtual election headquarters of sorts, broke ground in MTV’s Virtual World this week, and I must say, it is really cool! Any member of Virtual MTV can drop in to watch Street Team videos and talk politics. Next month, we will begin bi-weekly, interactive meet-and-greet sessions with various Street Team ’08 reporters from all over the country (or, at least, their avatars). Meanwhile, one roving promotional crew per candidate will roam the virtual world to get the buzz going about the election, hold rallies for their perspective candidate, encourage dialogue about the election and promote these Street Team ’08 events. All of this activity will be building up to a big get-out-the-vote event and party at the THINK Building on the day before the elections.

    I am eager to see what kind of response this new phase of our experiment gets from our audience, but I am even more curious as to whether this activity in the virtual world will translate into real action at the polls on November 4.

    Tagged: citizen journalism election mobile mtv street team '08 virtual world

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