Tag Archives: video

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).



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?

The Frozen Pea Fund

 Three stories about social media and networking have captured my attention the last month. First, it was Kiva, second, the Frozen Pea Fund, and third, St. Baldrick’s. Kiva is social networking site where everyone can lend entrepreneurs money. The Frozen Pea Fund raises money for research in breast cancer the American Cancer Society. St. Baldrick’s is also a social network raising funds and awareness to conquer kid’s cancer. They are all working for the good cause in trying to help better life for someone in need. The tools are there, and I wonder what the effects of campaigning in these environments are. For my Social Media Report I took a dive into social media and breast cancer to see how the tools are used. I´ve got the impression that the main American (breast) cancer organizations do not promote their causes more by using these tools.

 frozenpeasontwitter.jpgBut The Frozen Pea Fund is an example of a fundraising effort using the social media tools. It is a grass root organization started by Connie Reeze when her friend Susan Reynolds was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2007. (The American Cancer Society supports the initiative.) The fund uses a social media site, the blog Boobs on Ice, Twitter, and a wiki. It has got a lot of attention (like here and here), and when I heard an interview with the founder on the Hobson and Holz Report, I was actually a bit surprised that they had not raised more money. Maybe my expectations are too high. Furthermore, the fund does not get good ratings in either Quantcast or Technorati. Since I have done my report I can see that a lot of things are going on. The website and the wiki are undergoing some changes. I can also see that Susan Reynolds has some problems by being recognized by Technorati. I cross my fingers that the Frozen Pea Fund will continue its work because it is a good cause, and I am sure other women diagnosed with breast cancer will learn a lot from reading Boobs on Ice. I did – also as the daughter of a breast cancer survivor.  PS. The Frozen Pea Fund has directed my attention to a video project by the American Cancer Society that I did not find in my research for my paper, and I might have to adjust my first impression of the American Cancer Society.