Friday, January 23, 2009

Anatomy of an online political (or program) campaign - social media lessons from Obama

Edelman Digital has published a paper that really drills into the strategy and tactics used by Barack Obama in his campaign to be nominated and then elected as US President.

Entitled, The Social Pulpit: Barack Obama’s Social Media Kit, the techniques used by Obama's online campaign staff, led by one of Facebook's founders, are useful in more than simply a political campaign.

The same techniques could be used by any organisation with an ongoing program or online communications need - ergo almost every public sector agency.

I've paraphrased some of the key strategies used below (the ones that stood out for me):

Provide multiple channels and depths of engagement
Allow individuals to select the channel and depth of their engagement with your organisation/program. As individuals become more confident over time, some will shift between channels to greater engagement levels.

Support super users
A one-size-fits-all approach to users (people!) doesn't take into account the natural propensity for some to become intensely involved. These high-involvement individuals are often key gatekeepers or community leaders and by supporting them in a leadership role they stimulate a lot of their followers to engage through generating trust and confidence.

This isn't new for the public sector - when government agencies meet with 'business leaders', 'community leaders', 'religious leaders' and so forth, these individuals are being given a level of engagement (and respect) by the agencies that reflects their influence in the community. Online is exactly the same - treat online community leaders (super users) with respect by empowering them with tools and channels that support them as leaders in their communities. Note this including listening to them!

Feed the online community
Give a person a fish and he'll eat for a day, give a person access to online content they can mash-up and republish and you'll feed a community for a lifetime.

User-generated content is at the heart of the internet. By supporting and feeding this with content that your users can reuse (in appropriate ways) your organisation will massively increase engagement and reach.

I know that government in Australia is often very cagey about appropriate use of data, and holds deep concerns over inappropriate misuse or material being taken out of context. However this still happens every single day in the media and in peoples' homes. In the US, where government data and photos is all copyright free there is enormous re-use and useful extensions to data through community engagement. in the UK the government is giving cash prizes to individuals and groups who can re-use government information to add value.

Even in Australia the most popular government site (roughly 1/3 of ALL traffic to government sites) is the Bureau of Meteorology - because people reuse the weather data in many different ways in many different websites and applications.

Liberating data builds engagement - appropriate usage can be addressed through existing copyright schemes (such as Creative Commons) and yes, the ABS releases data under this copyright already.

Go where the people are - use the tools they know
A large number of Australians use Google, Youtube, Facebook, Myspace, Wikipedia and a number of other sites on a daily basis. By comparison they rarely go to government sites.

Therefore to reach Australians, use the tools they already use in the places they already know.

It's not really difficult to understand. Federally we run 'community cabinets', government agencies run stands at public festivals and shows and police are told to get out into the community. To remain relevant and in touch, government must go to the people - both offline and online.

Plus this saves a lot of IT dollars by reusing existing infrastructure and tools. I've seen government websites go down regularly for maintenance. In comparison how often are Google, Facebook or Youtube offline?

Make it findable
If people cannot find you, they cannot engage with you. Ensure that you make the community (particularly community leaders) aware of what you're doing. Use simple web addresses and ensure you rank high in Google and other search engines (Yahoo and Microsoft Live). Search rankings may be rocket science, but getting listed isn't.

Right-size your infrastructure
Make sure that you put sufficient infrastructure in place to start with, and that it can scale upwards and downwards extremely rapidly. These days most major hosting companies allow very flexible bandwidth scaling, and if running virtual servers it can be very easy to scale the traffic limits of a site up and down quickly.

This helps both avoid messy and public timeouts, as well as minimising overspend when too much infrastructure is provisioned.

For the users it means they get rapid service when they need it - helping increase the stickiness and engagement of your program.

Put the right team on the job
Government has a habit of rating people by level rather than by skills. This means that often people are on steep learning curves or in roles they simply do not have the interest or disposition for.

It is critical to put together the right team, with the right skills and the right mindset to do the job right.

It's also useful to involve people with strong external networks, who can tap advisors that further extend the effectiveness of your online campaign.

No comments:

Post a Comment