The Obama campaign revisited – A lesson in technology & personality

By now it is well documented that the American presidential election of 2008 was historic.  Not only was it the first time that an African-American was a presidential candidate, but it was also the first time that today’s social media technology played a pivotal role.  And that is the focus of this article.dp

David Plouffe was the campaign manager for Barak Obama’s run at the presidency and was in Toronto last week.  He was at the Economic Club of Canada and his talk was focused around his newly published book, “The Audacity to Win”.  

One of the primary goals of the campaign which necessitated the desire to embrace social media technology was to change the electorate.  The campaign team felt a real need to ‘create’ new voters: People who had never voted before let alone participate in politics.  They wanted to get new and different people to vote.  They wanted to get younger, engage with those who voted in general elections but not in primaries.  And they wanted to connect with republicans, blacks and independents.  This would turn out to be a challenging thing to accomplish.  Yet the feeling was it would be necessary if they were to defeat the Clinton political machine.

It was this focus on a younger and newer electorate that drove them to create a campaign that, for the first time, would take advantage of the tools that this demographic was starting to use – social media and new technology. 

David outlined the ferocious online and digital strategy:

  • understanding that the people they wanted to connect with were living online in the digital space.
  • the people they were targeting did not read nor follow political news so the need to connect online became strong
  • the creation of websites.

There are more specific examples in his book that David did not cover in his 45 minute talk.  However, David did stress the importance of why technology DID work.  First, Obama was a once in a generation candidate who was passionate and spoke about a message that resonated among the electorate.

Second, the tools met the savvyness of the people.  Remember, these same people didn’t communicate via newspapers or radio or even TV.  They communicated via text messaging from their phone and on Facebook and Twitter.  Third, they trusted the grassroots volunteers to self-organize and even gave them a forum to do it via MyBarackObama.com.

Fourth, Obama continued, even through adversity, to run a very transparent campaign.  And by doing so, he became an online Trust Agent.  Rather than participate in the politics of agression and lowest-common deonminator, Obama’s team strove to stay true to their message of change.

The results were outstanding.  By combining user-friendly technology with a passionate candidate and message the campaign was able to accomplish five very tangible and important results: 

  1. 15 million MORE voters participated in the 2008 election
  2. 13 million people volunteered for Obama’s team
  3. 4 million people donated money to the campaign
  4. $500 million was raised online
  5. The Obama For America campaign won and sent Barack Obama to the White House.