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:
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
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
- 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
Yes We Can
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).