The online machinery behind Barack Obama’s Presidential Campaign was a successful case study in the integration of internet technologies with political campaigns, particularly in the role of fundraising, organizing supporters and vote canvassing. Scott Goodstein, the External Online Director in Barack Obama’s Presidential Campaign, is currently in Singapore and has deliver a keynote address in the Ad-Tech Singapore 2009 conference. Together with a group of social media practitioners from all walks of life, the organizers of the event arranged a special interview with Scott this afternoon. We have a discussion about the lessons learnt in deploying the internet technologies to the Obama Campaign and here is a summary on the points of discussion that ensued:
- Strategic Focus & Aim for the Online Team in Obama’s Campaign: Scott started with the Obama Campaign in Feb 2007, where his challenge is to put together a team to deploy online media that can assist the other departments within the campaign, for example, fundraising and field-operations such as election monitoring and vote canvassing. In his own words, the online team is a service team for the finance and field operations teams and to deliver a successful campaign, it is a job that cannot have huge egos and requires the team to work long hours to monitor the activity online.
- Getting the first 1K followers is difficult and you need to experiment and test what works and what does not: Like all start-ups, when the Obama campaign first started, it did not have the endorsements of many trade unions and women’s organizations because of the challenge coming from the Clintons in the primaries. Scott, with his former experience in the music industry, has to experiment and test different channels to start growing supporters for the campaign. MySpace provided the major inspiration for the Obama campaign. The campaign also tried and make a mobile strategy work in the general election. That approach helps them to get supporters & followers to spread the message, get the voters to vote, buying merchandize to raise funds & using keyword search for the monitoring of voters and queues for the Election day. The interesting thing is that the McCain campaign did not even have a mobile strategy to even send SMS to their supporters.
- No metrics or ROI but set goals for the Online Team: In our chat with Scott, his view is that it is very difficult to set metrics or ROI to see how effective online media strategy has worked. However, he did set certain goals for a few challenges during the campaign, for example, (i) how to get people to watch the Obama videos on Youtube which did not happen until the post primary election, (ii) digging news such that it hit the front page and engaging the top influencers (bloggers) to spread the message of hope.
- Engaging people in Conversations and the key reason for success: Despite the successes brought about by online media to the presidential campaign, Scott feel that the key reason that made it work was the messenger Barack Obama and his message of hope that made the difference. He made a remark that if the situation was reversed and applied it to the Hillary Clinton campaign, it will not have worked because the message failed with the American voters. One interesting lesson that I thought it will be useful for Singaporean politicians is that Scott pointed out in engaging people for conversations: You should not talk to or talk at the people, but rather talking with the people, and answer respectfully to their feedback and comments. The execution to get the team to engage with the people in all social networks was not easy. According to Scott, they have to trained all the volunteers, and make sure that the reply to a particular policy question must be consistent when replying to the people in all social networks. If they encounter difficulty in answering those questions, they have to revert to the policy team for advice and come back to comment on the social network with answers.
On the whole, I thought that some of the best practices that I learned from the session with Scott and also his presentation can be effectively mapped over to businesses who are planning to engage their customers. Of course, it will be of interest to whether another political campaign outside US can successfully deliver what the Obama campaign did.
Acknowledgments: I thank Anubha Pandey from Upstream and the Ad-Tech organizers for putting together the session with Scott Goodstein.
Photo of the day with Scott Goodstein: