In the majority of the focus organizations we conducted, individuals recognized the capability of the net to enable connection between users of the applicants’ websites and the applicants themselves or various other consultant of the campaign. Our participants determined two ways that connections between themselves and the applicant or a surrogate could occur: (a) through electronic mail; and (b) through interactive forums such as bulletin boards or real‐time discussions. The focus group discussions revealed that participants are inclined to look favorably on the opportunity to email a candidate. Most also expect to get a reply from the applicant or a surrogate, although they know about the risks candidates incur by allowing visitors to email them.
Some recommended that bulletin boards or real‐time “chat” could be beneficial to the candidates and to citizens, they were aware that logistical yet, ethical, and strategic problems could arise for the applicants if they utilized such tools on their sites. Email is one of the real ways candidates can facilitate interaction with citizens.
In providing an email address or an application for users to complete and send to the advertising campaign, the candidate invites feedback on the site and the candidate’s messages. An email address allows citizens to directly query and engage in an exchange with the applicant or surrogate. The existence of a contact address therefore serves as an invitation for interaction to occur between visitors to the website and a representative of the candidate’s campaign.
The concentrate group participants noticed value in having the ability to email the candidate and the campaign. One participant mentioned: “It offers you a tone of voice back again to the candidates, a very important one” (Focus Group P9, 9:55). One participant recalled on her behalf group the knowledge she got in emailing a candidate through a campaign website. Mod: Does anybody have any feedback or thoughts about the Bush site? Judy: Well, what Garry was stating, he didn’t know what his stand was on the death penalty. Steve: Like a talk room.
Larry: Or an interactive site. Through the focus group conversations, participants decided that if these were to send a contact message to the marketing campaign, they would expect a reply in return. In this vein, one participant related to the group her experience of getting in touch with a presidential advertising campaign through email. She explained she was glad when an automated response arrived explaining that she would receive a reply in the postal mail.
She said it was nice to get this notification, though it was an automatic response “rather than have me wait around and become like ‘ why didn’t they respond? Some participants indicated that in emailing a candidate, these were interesting to her or him individually. Monique: Well I love feeling like I can have more interactions with the candidates, personal interaction. Another participant characterized a possible email exchange between your marketing campaign and the citizen as a “conversation” and as being comparable to face‐to‐face discussion.
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These individuals conceptualized network‐mediated communication as being bounded by the same rules and norms as other channels of social communication, such as face‐to‐face communication. The norms of interpersonal discussion are violated if a reply is not received. Inability to ask the question and receive a remedy kind of turns a person off having to read it to superficially let it go.
Herman: You can ask a question of a candidate or somebody representing the applicant, get an answer, it’s a reasonable answer, whether it is the answer you want. At least you get a remedy. You’ve had a conversation. Face‐to‐face, as it were, even though they could away be miles. Jake: I’d trust that.
I believe that would be beneficial. Although they expect an answer, the individuals’ conversations suggested that they were taking of surrogates replying. Participants were aware of the campaign constraints placed on applicants and recommended a surrogate responding to the e-mail was appropriate, as long as the surrogate accurately represented the candidate’s positions.