Tag Archives: Obama

Lessons Learned from Obama

Friday morning, I had the pleasure to speak to 25 political activists (Radikal Ungdom) from Denmark who had been campaigning in Florida for Obama. I asked them to share their campaign moments and I really enjoyed their stories from Florida – and a few from Danish campaigns. Furthermore, I learned a lot about campaigning in Denmark. (I have never participated in a political campaign. I have only observed campaigns and worked with politicians when they are in office.)


Here’s an excerpt of my notes on what we can learn from Obama´s use of social media:


Not for Everyone

Now every campaign or politician wants to copy Obama’s masterfully run campaign. All the tools are out there for everyone to use, but I don’t think they’re for everyone. Using the tools in a wrong way is much more damaging than not using them. I think it is one of the major lessons that we can learn from this election. For instance, Hillary Clinton used most of the tools – but she was not authentic (I will explore this more when I have time, please tell me if you have some links covering how to be authentic online/offline).


Take a look at @hillaryclinton on Twitter. Almost 6,000 are following her, but she does not follow anyone. 132,304 are following @BarackObama who’s following 127364. When I signed up to follow him, his campaign signed up immediately after to follow me. That’s a signal of interaction and conversation!


It’s Not Just About the Tools

Furthermore, Obama did not win just because he mastered Web 2.0. He mastered running a campaign integrating all kinds of campaign disciplines: messaging, polling, microtargeting, debating, stump speech, crisis management, media relations, digital communications (social media), and the ground game (GOTV). Most importantly, Obama’s message matched him as a messenger and inspired supporters. And don’t forget his formidable communications skills. Few politicians are as gifted as Obama.


Social Media Tools:

Here’s what we learn from Obama’s use of especially four social media tools:


Cell phone

Text messages are an intimate way for a campaign to mobilize supporters to register or vote. And they increase voter turnout in an effective way; A study from 2006 showed that text-message reminders helped increase turnout among younger voters by four percentage points. In a follow up survey, 59% of recipients reported that the reminder was helpful and only 23% who found it inconvenient. Furthermore, it is cheaper than canvassing and other offline activities.


Therefore, it is an effective tool to reach out to especially young voters under 30 because around 1/3 of this group only have cell phones.


Obama used cell phones as a tool in both the primaries and in the general election for mobilization (not fundraising). McCain text messaged his supporters once; the day before Election Day.



Two Types of Video

 2004: No YouTube


2006: George Allen lost his campaign for the Senate in Virginia (and couldn’t run as president) because of racial slur captured on a YouTube clip.


2008: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton announce their campaigns on YouTube:




1. Video by the Candidates

The Obama campaign strategically used its YouTube channel/campaign website and often used it instead of traditional media. For instance, the announcement of Obama’s VP came first on a text message telling supporters that they could watch on www.barackobama.com


  • Speeches
    • Obama’s race speech in Philadelphia in March is among the most viewed clips on YouTube.
    • YouTube only count for those who have watched all of it.
    • As far as I can count from the various clips of the speech around 8 million people have watched this speech in its full length.
    • The speech is 38 minutes long
    • YouTube is not killing the sound bite but it is giving campaigns/politicians a tool where they can explain complicated ideas – as Obama did here.
  • Causal videos
    • Behind the scene – which reporters do not necessarily get access to
    • Campaign Manager David Plouffe’s up dates on video included in emails to supporters. See for example:


2. User-generated video


Vote Different



Yes We Can


Social Networking

The goal of social networking in a campaign is to mobilize supporters/voters to take action offline (call, organize, register, vote). The Obama campaign used its campaign site website www.mybarackobama.com to spread the message of the campaign and gave its supporters a lot of tools that they could use offline.


For instance, a supporter could download a phone list and call from home. Of course the opponent can use the same list, but the benefits of opening up exceed the costs. It is easy to make a few calls from wherever you are, and a supporter doesn’t have to go to the campaign office and take up space!


Social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace are an effective way to spread the message among already established networks or friends. Studies (see for example Applebee’s America or Influentials) show that we are more likely to trust a friend of ours than a political expert on TV.


Social networking sites have also been a tool to collect cell phone numbers and emails. Furthermore, when supporters have registered on MyBarackObama.com they give the campaign demographic data and contact information which are important as part of customer relationship management (please see end note). The campaign can email or text message directly with personal messages to the individual supporter when and where it is necessary. 




It is hard to completely separate social networking from fundraising and the field organization. Social networking is only one element of fundraising and field organization, but it is the integration of those “disciplines” that are amazing and groundbreaking about Obama’s campaign.


However, Obama’s fundraising effort aided his victory on Election Night. According to OpenSecrets,his campaign relied on bigger donors and smaller donors nearly equally, pulling in successive donations mostly over the Internet.” Obama also rejected public financing when he entered the general election.


Traditionally, fundraising has been aimed at around 50,000 wealthy American donating a maximum of $4,600 to the primaries and general election. The Obama campaign has not, yet, released all its numbers, so we do not know exactly how many donated online. Garrett Graff has estimated that 3,5 – 5 million people have.


From this perspective Obama does not owe special interest anything. (However, the unions might feel he does). 


Obama has built on Howard Dean’s fundraising success in 2004 allowing small donations online. The campaign has wisely integrated a “donate” bottom in emails and on the campaign website so it is hard to miss.


(Garrett Graff inspired me in working on this notes. Met him briefly the day after the election and of course my notes from his classes in the spring and summer helped me as well. Paul Johnson and George Thompson, my current professors in Political Campaign Communication, will also recognize a few of their points. I have retrieved the notion of costumer relations management from Mette Bom´s and Birgitte Raben´s article in the Danish magazine Mandag Morgen MyPresident.com:Sociale medier vinder præsidentvalget”about Obama´s social media strategy. Unfortuantely, I cannot link to it).



My Projection


In our latest class in Political Campaign Communications we talked too much about GOTV and Wardrobe-gate that we never had the chance to come up with our personal projections of the election. I will give it a try!


From everything I have learned in this class and in this program in general about PR, campaigning and communication I project that Obama will win. I do so because Obama has a clear and inspiring message, built an effective and impressive field organization, harnessed digital media, and handled crises and attacks effectively. I don’t think it will be a landslide. It will be close. And Obama supporters and Democrats will be nail biting all election day long (I will too).


In spite of this impressive campaign, I am just like Mitchell Bard on Huffington Post not fully convinced about an Obama victory yet. Nate Silver at ThirtyFiveEight.com gives Obama a 96.7 percent chance of winning. I am quite comfortable with Silver’s work but as Dee Alsop said in the beginning of our semester: “polling is just polling”. The polls can be misleading because of terrible methodology; you have to look at the margin or error (5%), the quality of the questions, the interviewer’s role (missed anything?) and the sample.


Furthermore, voter turnout, race, and young voters are factors that we just don’t know for sure how they will affect the election. In other words:


  • Will Obama’s impressive GOTV and field organization make the difference?
  • Will or will the Bradley effect not be relevant?
  • Will young voters turn out for Obama?  

We will see on Tuesday.

Fundraising in the First Campaign

Even though we are in the middle of the First Campaign, Barack Obama has already written one chapter of the lesson learned book from this election cycle. It is the cahpater about fundraising.


It may not be surprising that the story of Obama is a story of money. He needed a lot of money to compete with Hillary Clinton in the primaries and for building a remarkable campaign operation. How did he do it? Joshua Green asked the question in an article in the Atlantic Monthly in June and answered:


“…He (Obama) built a fund-raising machine quite unlike anything seen before in national politics. Obama’s machine attracts large and small donors alike, those who want to give money and those who want to raise it, veteran activists and first-time contributors, and—especially—anyone who is wired to anything: computer, cell phone, PDA.”


Obama has done what insurgents like John McCain in 2000 and Howard Dean in 2004 were not able to do because the social networking tools and culture were not as advanced then as they are now. Joe Trippi explains in his book why McCain did not have more success with his digital campaign in 2000; “Not enough snow had been plowed by Amazon.com, eBay, and all the travel agencies for a political candidacy to make much headway” (Trippi, 2005, p.82). In this term, Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn have plowed a path for Obama that did not exist during the Dean for America campaign in 2004 or for McCain in 2000.  


Trippi talked about the Perfect Storm (Trippi, 2005, p. 119) in 2004, and it is even more perfect and stormy today; Obama has raised $265 million from more than 1.5 million donors in the end of June 2008. Obama is relying so much on small donors that he opted out of public funding.


The online force behind Obama’s success is MyBarackObama.com. It is based on the idea of social networking; besides connecting friends and share information the assumption is that people are more comfortable receiving information from friends they trust than from a newspaper or an expert. Furthermore, the campaign has been lowering the barriers to entry and raised the expectations for supporters who have to do more than just have a bumper sticker on the car. According to Joe Rospars, Obama’s new-media director and a Dean veteran, the campaign wants supporters to donate money, make calls, or host an event. “If you look at the messages we send to people over time, there’s an assumption that they will organize,” Rospar said to Green from the Atlantic Monthly.


On MyBarackObama.com, you can create a personal site with our own fundraising goals and thermometer, friends, and groups.  You can blog and write emails – just like on Facebook. And you can’t miss the donation bottom. I noticed when Hillary was in the race that Obama’s fundraising attempts were much more “in your face all the time you were on the website.” It does not matter what you do in this network, and you will see the pledge for donations. You are also encouraged to leave an email address, and the campaign will come back to your inbox with a very-well crafted email )check this link for the anatomy of a perfect email) mentioning the pledge for donations several times. Besides the social-networking website, the social media strategy also includes cell phones and ring tones generating money and votes.


I can’t wait till the election is over, and Obama staffers begin to tell the stories and anecdotes from this campaign. I have just finished Joe Trippi’s book “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” and I was just as thrilled reading the book as Trippi was in 2003 seeing the rise of the merger of politics and technology.

McCain is Aware of the Internet

Last week at the Personal Democracy Forum 2008 (PdF 2008), Mark Soohoo, Deputy eCampaign Director for John McCain 2008, said in an exchange with Tracy Russo, former blogger for John Edwards: “McCain is Aware of the Internet”. The debate has also been fuelled in the blogosphere and tech milieu because McCain has tagged himself as computer illiterate. However, the debate raises the question; how much knowledge of technology and experience with social media does the incoming president need?

TechPresident posted on Monday June 30, 2008 a poll asking its users Does a Connected World Need a Connected POTUS? As of today 118 have voted in this way: 

·  Yes, a POTUS needs to have first-hand experience with the Internet in order to lead. 61%

·  No, not as long as a POTUS has a firm understanding of the Internet’s impact. 33%

·  No, a POTUS more important things to worry about than going online. 4%


I am debating with my self whether to vote YES or NO not as long as POTUS has a firm understanding of the Internet’s impact. For me, it has been necessary to have first-hand experience with the Internet in order to get a better understanding of its impact. On the other hand, I guess I could be twittering, networking on Facebook, and blogging and still not understand the impact of technology on society. It is helpful and intellectual stimulating to participate in discussions with professors, fellow students, and friends or reading books like Wikinomics, The Long Tail, the First Campaign, and the Revolution Will Not Be Televised in order to get a better understanding of the Internet’s impact. Therefore, it is positive to see that 94 percent of the votes have voted yes or no POTUS with firm understanding and not NO, a POTUS have more important things to worry about. (It would be interesting if the poll was representative for the whole population and not just readers of TechPresident).


In general, I have no problem that McCain is not using a PC or a MAC, cannot use a BlackBerry or Twitter. According to Garrett Graff´s lecture last semster and Joe Trippi in the Revolution Cannot be Televised, Howard Dean did not get the Internet. But I do care, if he does not understand that the world is much more connected today than it was just 30 years ago. The Long Tail illustrated how business is changing, personal relations is changing thanks to Facebook and MySpace. Even national security is changing because of the impact of the Internet.    

Policies on Technology
Obama has proposed to create a Chief technology officer at cabinet level to work on issues like infrastructure, transparency, and crisis communication. On his website, Obama demonstrates that he has an insight and a willingness to work on tech issues like:  

* Better filtering systems for parents
* Safeguard rights for privacy
* Open up government for citizens
* Online town meetings
* Employ blogs, wikis, and social networking to modernize agencies to modernize governmental decision making


McCain has not developed a separate tech policy as part of his presidential campaign. Maybe he has intregrated tech into each issue, I have to admit, I have not read all his issues descriptions in details – so it might be hidden somewhere down there! But I did find this, and, for instance, McCain has supported the Technology Innovation and Manufacturing Stimulation Act. To overcome the digital divide, McCain suggests:

“there’s lots of ways that you can encourage corporations who, in their own self-interest, would want to provide — would receive tax benefits, would receive credit, and many other ways for being involved in the schools and upgrading the quality of the equipment that they have, the quality of the students, and thereby providing a much-needed, well-trained work force.”

McCain is aware of the Internet, but asking corporate America in invest in tech infrastructure isn’t that the same as asking them to invest in highways?

















Voter-Generated Content

The democratic ideal of voters being in charge of elections might, in general, be an illusion but social media offers a tool to fulfilling the ideal. Robert Scoble wrote more than a year ago when the campaigns took off: “Any one of us can post a video that´ll change the outcome of this election. That video will get found thanks to the much more efficient word-of-mouth network that is social media.” Besides video, voters are generating everything from t-shirts, blogs, news, to bumper-stickers, but what does it mean?


Videos such as YouTube have been predicted to take over this campaign. Hundred thousands of videos are uploaded everyday. So far, none of the candidates have “suffered” from a Macaca moment as George Allen did in the Senate race in Virginia in 2006. Researching for this blog entry, I stumbled upon a debate on TechPresident in the fall 2007 about who is running the best Web campaign – Mike Huckabee or Ron Paul? In the end, everyone agrees that Ron Paul ran the best campaign online. I got curious to check out what Huckabee did. Unfortunately, Zephyr Teachout did not link to any of the sites she is mentioning, and I could not find the videos on the campaign site (now turned into a PAC site with only archives going back to March) – except for the YouTube channel that the campaign had created. Huckabee shared voter-generated videos on a daily basis on his campaign website – Obama, Clinton, or McCain do (did) not encourage or share voter-generated videos on their sites. What does it mean? According to Teachout:

Video images are a central syntax of elections, and unless you encourage people to use their power to join the creation of the moving-image election, you are limiting their reach. I believe people who create video will be better critics of ads, being better able to understand how they are being manipulated; its not the only step, but its a critical step into the circle of creating your own politics. All of these candidates have enough supporters that they could choose to encourage this kind of activity, but they aren’t.“

Pictures are easy to produce on cell phone or digital cameras and easy to share on cell phones, blogs, or photo sharing/social networking sites like Flickr. Today, 60,087 pictures have been uploaded on Flickr of or related to Barack Obama, 5,730 on McCain. A lot of pictures are from rallies around the country, most are taken in a positive light, and some are “hate messages.” I am not a photo expert, but I am amazed by the quality of the photos. Some of them could be official campaign photos but there are produced by supporters. Some of these unofficial pictures might be used later in official campaign material. Or, they might already have been used.


Blogs have been part of U.S. elections for the last couple of cycles. There are tons of political blogs out there. Just like YouTube videos, some of them get a lot of attention, spread through the concentric circles and become part of the conversation for quite some time online as well as offline. Obama´s campaign experienced this mechanism, when Mayhill Fowler who is the voter and citizen-journalist behind the so called Bitter-gate. Fowler published a blog on Off the Bus about Obama´s comment on white, bitter voters in Pennsylvania, said during a closed fundraising. This caused a lot of fuzz and buzz in the media and Obama had to spend a lot of resources fighting this gate right before the important primary in Pennsylvania. The lesson learned is that a candidate can never talk “off the record”.   



Barack Obama is the king of voter-generated content. Check out the numbers – for t-shirts, My Space groups, Facebook members or apps. He is generating hope and thereby support (online). On his campaign site, you’ll find the social networking site MyBarackObama where you can blog, find friends, find events, or raise money. Never the less, I found this interesting post on epolitics quoting Clay Shirky from PDF 2008: “it seems like a social network but it actually contains relatively little lateral conversation. I.e., it’s portrayed as a social network, but people aren’t using it as one — it’s not as much of a person-to-person communications tool as we normally think of social networks as being. So, does that make it a top-down tool masquerading as a bottom-up tool?

Obama´s Victory Speech in Skt. Paul

I did not have the chance to be home watching Obama´s victory speech last night in Skt. Paul.  Take the time and watch the speech for the next 30 minutes. He delivered again a fantastic speech to thousands of supporters. And no kidding, his campaign had chosen the arena in Skt. Paul where the Republican Convention is going to be held in August.

PS. I am sorry I could not embed the YouTube clip. I do not know WHY WordPress and I cannot collaborate on this one. I need expert help because I am doing what i THINK WordPress plus YouTube tell me to do;-)