[Last week, Australia’s Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner wrote about Government 2.0 in The government wants to blog. Later today ABC Radio wants me to talk about how Barack Obama’s presidential election campaign used social media and social networking, so I’ve been reviewing my liveblog of the presentations made by Ben Self at Media 09 and Joe Trippi at the Microsoft Politics and Technology Forum. Trippi has worked on various Democrat campaigns including as campaign manager for Howard Dean‘s 2004 unsuccessful presidential nomination campaign. Self’s company Blue State Digital managed Obama’s online fundraising, constituency-building, issue advocacy, and peer-to-peer online networking during the primaries. I figured I might as well share my notes. Enjoy.]
More than two years since Barack Obama’s presidential election campaign, the numbers are still staggering. $770 million was raised, roughly 65% of that online. There were 3.2 million individual donors, with the average donation under $100.
This is completely different from traditional political fundraising, which revolved about dinners and other events costing $2300 a ticket — the maximum
unreportable donation under US electoral laws. Obama’s campaign really did reach out and mobilise millions of ordinary Americans.
Yes, millions. The progressive Democratic Party network is now 15 million people online.
Online social networking tools made all this possible, sure, but the success came through the clever application of those tools. The key word here is “personal”.
The campaign’s central managers provided a framework within which individual campaign workers could do their own thing in their own communities. The technology was created specifically for the campaign, but you could do all of it with Facebook and a few optional extras. And while fundraising was obviously a key goal, so was involvement.
- At a rally with 10,000 people, Obama’s team would ask everyone with a mobile phone to SMS a certain number to pledge a $5 donation. Or, even better, a 1900 number so the donation is charged directly to their phone bill. Bang! $50,000 raised in 60 seconds. And you’ve captured their phone number.
- Once you have someone’s contact details, you can ask for more. Another $5? Can I just have your age please? How about an hour of your time to help the campaign?
- Every donor was sent a thank-you letter — not in bulk by an anonymous central office administrator but individually by a real person from their own neighbourhood.
- People who volunteered their time to door-knock were given the names and addresses of 25 people in their neighbourhood and a training video explaining how to campaign legally. Once they knew what these people’s hot button issues were, that was fed into the database, and they could be sent personalised campaign material addressing their concerns.
- Everyone spoken to was asked to suggest another 25 people who needed to be convinced to change their vote.
- The central system allowed campaign workers to organise their own groups and local events in their own way. Eventually there were 20,000 groups from a national “Latinos for Obama” to thousands of “My neighbourhood for Obama”, who between them organised more that 200,000 offline events.
- Campaigners could blog about their activities and post photos and videos. More than 100,000 people were blogging regularly. 1800 videos were uploaded, and more than 14 million people-hours spent watching them.
- The campaign office created a “Fight the Smears” website debunking the negative myths about Obama, then bought Google keyword advertising. If people searched for “obama arab” they’d see a link to that website.
- On election day, local campaign workers phoned people to remind them to vote. 6 million calls.
- There was measurement at every step. What worked? What didn’t? That information was shared so everyone learned.
The election of Barack Obama was Politics 2.0, the election of the representatives. These same tools can be used for Government 2.0, the running of the nation and our communities.
Some of the examples we’ve seen are:
- In Kentucky, residents wanted to stop a controversial condo (apartment block) development because there’d been poor communications from the authorities and a lack of opportunity for community input. Using these techniques, they gathered 1600 active members on a Facebook group to save the existing building. They organised 20 events, packed the City hearings with observers, and eventually had the proposal killed
- Here in Australia, the Hugh Bamford Reserve Protection Group saved a park at North Bondi in Sydney. The Waverley Council issued the planning information near Christmas for a $20 million industrial-zone development on protected land. Local residents gathered more than 2500 members through their Facebook group, forcing the Council to extend the time for public comment. Eventually the Mayor caved in and pulled her support for the development even before that time had expired.
- MillionTreesNYC is a public-private partnership to buy a tree, or suggest a spot for a tree, or offer to dig the hole and plant the tree, and link everyone up. 97,000 trees have been planted so far
- In the UK, FixMyStreet allows people to report potholes, illegal dumping, broken street lighting and graffiti. An Australian version is under development, It’s Buggered, Mate, where you simply tell it “What’s buggered?”, “Where?” and “How exactly is it buggered?”
The key to all of this is building your list of people by making personal connections, and maintaining that relationship by staying in touch.
- You don’t marry someone on the first date. So talk regularly. Not only every six months because that’s too infrequent, but not every ten seconds either because that’ll turn them off.
- Be relevant. Obama’s biggest fundraising day was when Sarah Palin made a disparaging comment about community fundraisers. They capitalised on that quickly be getting a message out the very same day, “We’ll show her”!
- Be authentic. Don’t send press releases to list of supporters. Nobody wants to read press releases. Emails need to come from a person, and be written in a personal tone. Senator Al Franken, in his election campaign, would email out scanned images of hand-written letters.
- Lower the barriers to entry. Make it easy for people to engage, in little ways. The most active campaigners for Obama were females aged 53 to 57. Design your systems to suit.
- Raise your expectations. Ask people to do stuff. Ask them to host a dinner. Ask them to pay. Ask them to write comments. Ask them to refer your product. You’ll be surprised how many say “yes”.
- Foster your regulars. Give them special access, special privileges.
- Measure everything — from different subject lines in emails, different styles of videos, whatever. As an aside, I discovered recently that the Huffington Post writes two headlines for every story, and after five minutes chooses the one which generates more click-throughs.
James Carville used to say in the 1990s “It’s the economy, stupid.” Now it’s “It’s the network, stupid.” How big is your network? How well are you using the tools to create and focus that network?
The power of individuals to organise themselves is the big change. And organisations who don’t take this on board are in denial. And yet it’s more of a cultural change, not a technological one.
As Joe Trippi said, it’s not about the tools, it’s about what you do with them. It’s about the listening. And it’s being willing to have the conversation.