:: Edelman Digital recently published a white paper titled The Social Pulpit: Barack Obama’s Social Media Kit. The paper takes an in-depth look at how Obama’s team successfully utilized social media during the election campaign and how the team will leverage it during his Presidency. Read the full white paper here, or download a PDF version here. See below for a short except from the paper, a selection titled “Lessons from Obama’s Social Media Campaign.”
[full disclosure, I am employed by Edelman Digital; I don't usually publish work-related content on 56minus1, but this is particularly relevant and well done]
Lessons from Obama’s Social Media Campaign:
1) Laddering support through tiers of engagement – The Obama campaign understood that it needed to provide a variety of ways for people to be involved in the campaign based on their level of engagement. As TechPresident noted, the goal was to “provide opportunities for the most casual supporters to stay involved, while also providing more strenuous opportunities for the smaller core of activists.”
As a supporter moves up the ladder, each rung requires more commitment, creates more value, and will tend to hold fewer people. Whether you are canvassing for a candidate or advocating for legislation to Congress, an e-mail is easy to send but can be drowned out easily as well; a phone call requires more effort and carries more weight; a personal visit is the most compelling but also requires the most commitment.
The Obama campaign gave prospective supporters a menu of options:
Personal – You could start by friending Obama on a social network. Then, you might sign up for text messages and e-mails to stay informed about the campaign. As a supporter, you may make your first donation or register to vote.
Social – Once invested, you may post a comment to a friend’s profile, telling them why Obama was the right candidate for them. Perhaps you would jump to the MyBarackObama.com (MyBO.com) Web site, where you would create an account. After getting positive feedback on the site, you might join or even create a group.
Advocate – To drive interest in the group, you may post pictures, write blog posts or create a video declaring your support, which you could post to YouTube. With insights and materials from the campaign, you might host an offline event where you would ask supporters to donate money, register to vote, canvass or phone bank.
2) Empowering super users – In addition to providing tiers of engagement for the broader mass of supporters, the Obama campaign offered further support to its most committed advocates. The campaign tracked volunteers and took note of their most reliable activists. The campaign identified these connectors early and gave them the tools to activate others. These super users could create social and fundraising groups on the MyBO Web site. They also could organize their own networks of supporters that gave them access to the Obama database, from which they could pull phone numbers for doing phone banking from their living rooms.
3) Providing source materials for user-generated content – The MyBO Web site contained videos, speeches, photos and how-to guides that gave people the raw materials they needed to create their own compelling content in support of Obama. In return, supporters created more than 400,000 pro-Obama videos and posted them to YouTube. They also wrote more than 400,000 blog posts on the MyBO Web site.
The campaign could not possibly have generated this much content on its own. And it
was better that it didn’t. The most trusted source of information is consistently “a person like myself.” The authentic user-generated video is more compelling and elicits more support than official productions because we are more trusting of information that is from people who hold similar beliefs, share the same politics or religion, or are the same age or gender as us.
4) Going where the people are – While 60 percent of adults in the United States belong to a social network, most do not belong to more than one. If you want to reach them, you have to know where they are and connect with them there. As Obama adviser Scott Goodstein said: “Some people only go to MySpace. It’s where they’re on all day. Some only go to LinkedIn. Our goal is to make sure that each supporter online, regardless of where they are, has a connection with Obama.”14 Obama had profiles on more than 15 social networks, including Facebook and MySpace. But he also was the first presidential candidate to have profiles on AsianAve.com, MiGente.com and BlackPlanet.com, influential social networks for the Asian, Hispanic and African American communities. It is also important to note that Obama was not on every social network: he selected the most significant and important platforms in which to participate. While the unsuccessful Edwards campaign was on dozens of social networks, Obama limited his official presence to 15 and leveraged these platforms to direct people to the MyBO Web site, where the campaign had a greater ability to channel people to the specific activities and causes that were deemed the most important to fulfilling the campaign’s electoral strategy.
The MyBO Web site served as the hub for electoral activities, with spokes that reached to an array of platforms, all of which drove conversation back to the Web site in order to engage the people, empower the voices, raise the money and get the boots on the ground needed to win the election.
5) Using tools people are familiar with – These days, there is a social network for every distinct social niche. There also are umbrella networks that span all interests. Facebook has 150 million members; MySpace has 110 million; LinkedIn is approaching 50 million. These users have invested time, energy and social capital into developing their profiles and engaging other people on their network(s) of choice. The Obama campaign
leveraged these existing platforms to maximize the social velocity of its outreach efforts.
For instance, while Obama had more than three million Facebook friends, supporters also used the tools that they were familiar with in Facebook to find creative ways to spread the message in support of his candidacy. More than 900,000 people joined the “One Million Strong for Obama” group on Facebook. There were Facebook groups for Obama for almost every college in America. The campaign leveraged participation on these existing networks to reinforce messages across platforms and create as many touch points as possible.
6) Ensuring that people can find your content – If your content is posted but nobody can find it, does it exist? Can you convert anybody with it? No. According to Google, 90 percent of people who find a Web site through a search engine click on a result from page one of the search results. Therefore you have to be on page one or you will not be found. The Obama campaign understood this: it created simple Web sites with the URLs of popular search terms to increase the likelihood that they would appear at the top of the search results.
Additionally, when the opposition created videos criticizing Obama (e.g., Reverend Wright), the campaign released videos that used the same tags so that its positive response could be found when people searched for the original. The campaign understood that most people on YouTube use “related videos” to find what to watch. By mimicking tags, people were more likely to find the Obama response alongside the original critique.
Further, because the campaign knew that more than one-third of people do not distinguish between organic search results and paid search ads, it aggressively purchased search ads to increase the likelihood that users would be driven to friendly information.
7) Mobilizing supporters through mobile devices – Ninety percent of Americans are within three feet of their cell phones 24 hours a day. People still read more than 90 percent of their text messages, while pages of e-mails sit unopened in inboxes. Text messaging and the mobile Web offers an opportunity to reach supporters directly anywhere they are, any time of the day. It also is a much more cost effective way to mobilize voters. A 2006 study by the New Voters Project found that text-message reminders helped increase turnout by four percent at a cost of only $1.56 per vote, much cheaper than the cost of door-to-door canvassing or phone banking, at a cost of $20 to $30 per vote.
The campaign used major announcements to drive people to the mobile platform, such as Obama’s choice of Senator Joe Biden as his running mate, which Nielsen Mobile has quantified as the largest mobile marketing event in the United States to date.16 The campaign sustained interest through five to 20 targeted messages each month. For instance, supporters could text questions about polling places and receive quick responses from the campaign. More than 30,000 people signed up from within Denver’s Mile High Stadium while waiting to hear Obama’s acceptance speech during the Democratic National Convention. The campaign also released a free iPhone application in October that gave people up-to-date campaign information and organized its contacts to highlight phone numbers for people in key battleground states.
8) Harnessing analytics to constantly improve engagement activities – Management consultants call it kaizen – the concept of constant improvement. Obama’s campaign tracked the success of every e-mail, text message and Web site visit, capitalizing on the analytics that are inherent in digital communications. Each ad and e-mail was created in multiple versions (e.g., different headers, buttons vs. links, video vs. audio vs. plain text) to test what worked and what did not. The campaign developed more than 7,000 customized e-mails, tailored to individual prospects, and made real-time improvements to its outreach materials. Adjustments were made daily to improve performance and conversion. It worked. As the campaign progressed, the effectiveness of the e-mail campaign increased and conversion rates similarly improved.
9) Building the online operation to scale – In February 2007, Obama met with Netscape founder and Facebook board member Marc Andreessen to learn how social media could power the campaign.17 The campaign spent more than $2 million in 2007 on hardware and software that would serve as the foundation for the social media operation. 18 It built an enterprise-level system that was ready to scale to millions of supporters. As the primary season progressed and the general election campaign began, Obama’s team continued to look for ways to innovate. It used a “crawl, walk, run” approach, integrating new (and improved) social media elements into the campaign. The campaign had a few early missteps, including the initial rollout of the mobile campaign featuring ringtones that were widely derided, and an embarrassing public spat with Joe Anthony, a devoted early supporter who was forced by the campaign to forfeit his MySpace.com/BarackObama page and its 130,000 friends so that the campaign could take control of it.19 But it was able to overcome these miscues by giving its supporters more and better opportunities to create their own social pulpits than any campaign had ever given before.
10) Choosing the right team – Long before the intensity of the 2008 campaign kicked in, Obama was already planning his online strategy. The Obama campaign had a core online team of 11 people with a total staff of 30, a number that climbed even higher toward the end of the cycle. While previous campaigns had treated online advocacy as an add-on, the Obama campaign integrated social media into all elements of the organization. Joe Rospars, the head of social media for Obama, reported directly to the campaign manager, David Plouffe. Internet and mobile was integrated into every aspect of the campaign.
The team also included Chris Hughes, one of the co-founders of Facebook, and Kevin Malover, a veteran of online travel agency Orbitz. Julius Genachowski, a longtime friend of Obama, served as the campaign’s chief technology advisor. Obama also tapped a distinguished group of advisors, including Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Craigslist founder Craig Newmark. Many of these supporters will follow Obama to the White House, including one who is likely to be named the nation’s Chief Technology Officer.