Friday, June 13, 2008

eObama - the US Presidential election goes digital

I've been watching the campaign for the Democratic nomination for the US presidency with 'shock and awe'.

This has been the first election to see social media become a significant factor in the outcome - even (in many commentators' opinions) the deciding factor.

There has been very little coverage of this in Australia and I'm not sure how aware many Australians are at the high degree of impact the online channel has had on the outcome.

However in the US and in the UK the shift in election focus from presentation to participation has been widely discussed and dissected.

Leading commentators have compared it to the shift in the 1960s when television first became a factor in US politics and Kennedy demolished Nixon in a televised debate - not because he made better points, but because he presented better on camera.

...the Obama campaign has shattered the top-down, command-and-control, broadcast-TV model that has dominated American politics since the early 1960s.

"They have taken the bottom-up campaign and absolutely perfected it," says Joe Trippi, who masterminded [Democrat candidate Howard] Dean's Internet campaign in 2004. "It's light-years ahead of where we were four years ago. They'll have 100,000 people in a state who have signed up on their Web site and put in their zip code. Now, paid organizers can get in touch with people at the precinct level and help them build the organization bottom up. That's never happened before. It never was possible before."

The Machinery of Hope - Rolling Stone Magazine (20/03/2008)

How Barack Obama won the online market
Barack Obama's staff - led by one of the founders of Facebook - developed the website before he announced his nomination. This site combined all the elements of social media, election-style.

It allowed grass-root supporters to organise local precinct and state-based support chapters, create mailing lists, develop websites, blogs and online forums.

This led to the formation of hundreds of local groups, who were able to organise and mobilise rapidly and, while organised outside the campaign machine, could be co-ordinated with it when Obama's paid campaign workers arrived in an area ahead of a vote.

The site also spearheaded the donations machine for the campaign. It allowed the creation and division of phone lists, contained pre-developed scripts for supporters (to cold call people for donations) and naturally allows people to make donations directly from the home page.

As a result Obama raised a record sum of over US$270 million in donations at last count to support his campaign,. This is roughly US$50 million more than Clinton (whose campaign now owes about US$20 million) - see Open Secrets for the details of funds raised.

Remember that when Obama announced he would run Clinton was the clear front-runner. He has come from a long way behind to take the nomination, enabled by his powerful online organisation.

So how was this all kept a secret during the campaign?

It wasn't. Below are a selection of articles dissecting Obama's online machine and, in many cases, providing details of its inner workings.

So if all of this was known - why didn't Clinton copy and improve on it?

The simple answer is that Obama's campaign was run by Digital Natives - people brought up using the internet or who understand and make use of it's amazing potential as a way to connect and empower individuals at the grassroots, organise and co-ordinate resources and create new paths to solve old problems.

Clinton's campaign staff were focused on traditional, tried-and-true command and control ways of running campaigns and simply did not have the capacity to change mindsets in time to stop the Obama juggernaut.

Traditional media is based on command and control. But the digital world is all about grassroots. Traditional media is about authority. Digital is about authenticity.

You can see it in the language they use. Obama uses the language of "we and you," which is inclusive and nods to the wisdom of the crowds. She [Clinton] uses "I and me." His stuff is about "yes, you can." Which is about the buyer. She talks about "experience from day one." That's about the seller. That doesn't resonate anymore.

Obama's Web Marketing triumph - Fortune Magazine (03/03/2008)

I wonder which politician or organisation will next be able to replicate Obama's success?

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