Obama Online – Was it really that easy?
Joe Rospars from Blue State Digital presented a quick overview in the Camden Court Hotel on Wednesday 25th on how online media helped win the US presidential election. The alert for the bloggers orientated session was hastily sent out and got good traction on Twitter and the blogosphere which meant approximately 200 people attended, something that would have been difficult to do in the past with such short notice. It was clear from the Drivetime interview before the session, that he was in town to promote his work for the revamped Fianna Fail online assualt, something that upset some bloggers (it was not clear before then).
Overall the session was a little light (it was free after all) and you left with a feeling that it could not have been that easy. However there were some good points made.
As we rush to bright shiny new onine tools we sometime forget about the power of email and capturing email address of those who would like to hear updates etc. In the Obama campaign ‘value added content’, giving email recipients a first look and ensuring that the mails were personal, timely and worth reading was key. Some were planned updates on the campaign and some were in response to the McCain efforts.
The campaign produced in excess of 2,000 videos and they acted as the ‘glue’ to bring a lot of content together. ‘Transparency’ was a key theme here and the video showed a lot of the behind the scenes operations and was combined with ‘Authenticity’ where many featured interviews and interactions with supporters. These pillars meant that the videos were not all Obama speaking to the masses and generated lots of local/regional type content. They generated a strong sense of people working together in a common cause.
Held together with the ‘Voices for change’ the blogs used a lot of volunteer effort spreading the message with multiple voices. People in 28 different states were utilised and field organisers were training to the use the online tools.
This enabled people to work from home and provided them with the tools to set up their own groups. Over 1,000 list serv groups were established giving a very grass root feel.
Conversation and Engagement
The tools – email in particular – were the basis for stimulating conversation.
Interestingly Joe Rospars pointed out that the McCain camp has similar tools and the essential difference in success were attributed to:
– online not viewed as central part of the McCain campaign
– no real value was placed on community/volunteerism and leveraging the supporter base
– conservative approach to engaging people at meaningful level
One final point that was made that poses interesting challenges for the PR community was the level of control. Early on it was agreed that the usual approval and screening process would have made it impossible to get the level of content through and indeed would possibly sanitise the message too much to the point that would not appear authentic. Joe Rospur had final say on material and huge trust would appear to have been placed on the people twittering and blogging. There are lots of inherent risks here but this delegated responsibility with a trusted team was balanced against the need to have rapid and updated content. I imagine there were tighter controls that indicated at the session but message was clear that in the world of new media new ways of ensuring content is on message and delivered quickly need to be devised.
Obama himself would appear to have been reasonably distant from the technology.
In summary using the social media online tools was the minor element while how they were used, authenticity/transparency of the messages and how large groups of people were mobilised and empowered using these tools were the key success factors.
I have since received a Finna Fail email message from Brian Cowen that seems to try capture some of these elements. Time will tell if its enough….
Other posts on the topic include:
Cian in Irish Election
and many others!