During the Social Media and Politics program at Stanford we had the opportunity of listening to Will Bunnett, senior e-mail writer of the Obama4America campaign. He gave to us great insider information of what was going on behind the web sites created for the elections. You can summarize it in the following way: Winning elections is not any more about filling meetups and stadiums, but about developing active social networks in order to involve people.
One example: during the last electoral campaign, the Democrats organized several meetups to which only could come those people that gave out their e-mail address. Why? Because they did not want to fill the space but to get closer relationships with the community of supporters in each city.
This is a big change. In the old times, politicians had to pay people to come to these meetings. Now they only want those supporters who are really willing to help. The main goal of a campaign is to build relationships with these people, so that they feel as if they had a stake in the success or failure. This way they really helped Obama win.
Obama was not the only politician who tried to engage people. Also Hillary Clinton tried it from the very first moment she announced that she was running for president. But her lack of charisma stopped it from happening. When Obama’s advisors saw her announcement, they immediately realized that she was not going to engage people so easily. She was good in the small room, but not in public:
On the opposite, Obama’s announcent was much more engaging:
Bunnett defined their work as an exercice of “capturing energy”. And online tools played a huge role here. Specially these:
– MyBarackObama.com, which had blogs, social networks, events and fundraising tools, besides a neighbor to neighbor walking tracker. These tools were specially useful in Ohio, one of the states in which Obama was able to beat Republicans.
– IdeaScale, a crowdsourcing platform used to capture email addresses offering internet users the possibility of deciding what ideas should be pushed by Obama.
Personal visits in rural areas played an important role in changing people’s minds, but online tools were also very important. Mainly, e-mails, the main activity in which Bunnett helped during the whole campaign from the Obama’s offices in Chicago. E-mail was the first step in the engagement ladder, which also included first time and repeat donations, buying merchandise and volunteering.
In order to get people go thru that ladder, community organizers had to make them feel enthusiastic about Obama’s chances of winning the elections and give up control at the bottom so that they could assume some responsibilities and feel as if success depended upon them. Everything was designed so that volunteers could help organizing their neighborhood visits and raising money. This gave them the feeling that it was their campaign and that they were in control, though the most important stuff (as answering emails) was controlled from Chicago.
Videos supposedly made by supporters and which contributed to the Obama brand were also very important in this process. A Youtube channel was created. You can see the differences between these videos in which branding and getting people enthusiastic play a big role:
What were the main attributes of the Obama brand:
– Technological progress
– Silicon Valley’s spirit of trying new ideas in order to see how they work
This is a video in which David Plouffe, Obama’s campaign manager, shows inside stuff in order so that volunteers could see that their contribution was very important. The home-made look of this video is not a coincidence 😉
(The upper picture shows Bunnett’s team during the campaign)