Lessons From Obama's Wired Campaign
President Obama's presidential campaign proved that new media technologies can help engage and broaden the base of support for a cause and create a powerful movement.
In their article "Obama's Wired Campaign: Lessons for Public Health Communication" from the Journal of Health Communication's September 2009 issue, Lorien C. Abroms, assistant professor in the department of prevention and community health, and R. Craig LeFebvre, architect and designer of public health and social change programs and adjunct professor of prevention and community health, both with The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, look at the strategies the campaign employed and the reasons for its success.
The campaign's efforts were notable on these five fronts, which the authors dissected:
- The campaign Web site, which they say was pretty typical of most political campaign sites, save the inclusion of the MyBO (My Barack Obama) section, where people could register and become part of a private community of supporters. MyBO allowed supporters to communicate with one another, plan events, fundraise and blog. By the end of the campaign, "MyBO had 1.5 million registered Web volunteers who had organized over 100,000 events," the authors write.
- Video, which appeared on the campaign Web site and in e-mails to supporters. The videos were housed on the campaign's BarackTV Web site and linked to its YouTube page. More than 1,700 videos were uploaded by the campaign by November 2008. In addition to videos about Obama, many videos also featured stories of campaign volunteers and Obama supporters. By early November, Obama videos had been viewed on YouTube more than 18 million times.
- Social-networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. But the campaign also went off the beaten path, establishing profiles on targeted sites like AsianAve.com, MiGente.com and BlackPlanet.com. The authors also note that the campaign created multiple, customized profiles for each social-networking site. For example, it had more than 50 official profiles on BlackPlanet.com, one for each state in the U.S. It also employed Twitter to keep followers up to date.
- Mobile phones, with a downloadable application called Obama Mobile for Blackberry and iPhone users. Messages were targeted to users depending on their location (i.e., ZIP code) and characteristics, "with those in swing states getting different messages than those in states that were likely to go Democrat," the authors note. Messages included updates as well as requests for involvement in a campaign event and direct communication back to campaign headquarters via text. Mobile subscribers also were rewarded with insider information, e.g., first announcement of Obama's choice for VP running mate.
- Unofficial campaign materials created by supporters with new media. Supporters created Web sites, blogs and videos devoted to Obama's candidacy. In some cases these items were incorporated into the official campaign.
So what tips does the campaign's success yield for other organizations?
- Reach people multiple times, from multiple sources in various settings. Obama reached people via traditional mediums like TV and the mail, as well as new media like the Internet and cell phones.
- Empower constituents to be the source of your message, spreading it to their friends and family members who already trust them.
- Create new ways to engage constituents. New media allows you to empower others to spread your message and them to create messages about you on their own using blogs, social networks and e-mail, which also can go viral.
- Give supporters a range of engagement options. From merely clicking a button to forwarding an e-mail to a friend to organizing a fundraising event on your behalf, there should be an array of engagement options and they should be as easy and accessible as possible. Small actions taken by many on social networks can have a ripple effect.
- "Use social media to facilitate in-person grassroots activities, not to substitute for them," the authors advise.
Click here to download the article, complete with a statistical table of the results of the Obama campaign's use of new media.