Obama's Win and the Power of Networking
Over the coming weeks and months, the staff and observers of the Obama campaign will spawn articles, books, new companies and blog posts (like this one) that summarise what factors made the campaign successful and what others can learn from it.
I'll leave the big picture to those closer to the campaign, but one point I think is key is that it was not the use of the Internet that helped make the campaign successful, it was the building and mobilisation of a network. While the Internet made this easier, faster and perhaps bigger than has been done before, if a better tool for networking came along for the next election then it would be wise to use it and not the Internet (although I don't think it will! for decades!).
Why the Distinction?
This distinction is important because if you think it was the Internet that made a big difference, then you could use the Internet without ever using networking. However if you think of campaigning as networking then you plan to use the right tool for the right task and the Internet will be part of that.
Networking is key because it is about not only establishing a relationship with supporters, but also about sustaining it, developing it, extending it and helping supporters do the same.
It was because of the Obama Campaign's networking that they were able to raise $650 million USD and it was because of the networking that they didn't have to spend it on hiring 'local canvassers' as the McCain campaign did, but could instead spend it on offices, ads, staff, etc.
Obvious? To many of us, yes. But too many people I come across in campaigning organisations (outside those working full-time online) still don't get this point - so I thought it worth pointing out again.
The Obama Campaign's Networking
So what did the Obama Campaign do in this area?:
- Focused on collecting email and/or contact details at every touch point
- Stored the data they collected in databases for easy segmenting and targeting
- Has a graduated scale of actions supporters could take from donating to organising
- Put the data and the tools to use it in the hands of the volunteer supporters (as well as staff) so they could use it locally to identify and recruit supporters and mobilise them on election day
- Asked for a small donation on every occasion - and had incentives to donate like matched donations for new donors and a message from an existing donor so it was a social experience
- Used the Internet in timely ways to recruit, engage, mobilise, record data and deliver the tools to use the data. Ultimately this was about mobilising people face-to-face not online. The Internet only helped reach out to potential and existing supporters.
So while networking was not the only factor in the success of the Obama campaign (e.g. other factors were a public disenchanted with Republican leadership, the economic downturn, Obama as a great inspirer, McCain's choice of Palin as VP candidate), it underpinned all of his other activities by bring the people and money resources needed to win the campaign.
What Campaigning Organisations Can Learn
Campaigning organisations can learn a lot from this and could likely do it better than the Obama campaign if they put their minds to it. They could do better because they:
- Have more specific issues
- Have existing passionate supporters
- Do not have a polerised opposition
- Do not dissolve the campaign once it has been won but instead re-focus it on related issues.
Some may grumble about the lack of budget, but the Obama Campaign started with little and grew to $650 million USD in less than 2 years. The Atheist Campaign in the UK raised £100,000 in 3 days - during a time of recession. I can only conclude from this that much more is possible of campaigning organisations are a bit bolder and have bigger visions. Even deeper may be the failure to focus on value / return instead of cost which is a cronic problem in most campaigning organisation....but that is another blog post :-)
So campaigning organisations should learn from this:
- Integrated planning ensure all mediums can contribute to achieving the same objectives according to their strengths
- The real power is in the network of people.
- The Internet can help networking by helping to:
- Connect to people
- Connect people with each others
- Allow people to connect with the campaign
- Has US politics changed forever? (7 Nov 2008) - BBC News
- Obama's Social Media Advantage, Act II (6 Nov 2008) - ReadWriteWeb
- Obama's Social Media Advantage (5 Nov 2008) - ReadWriteWeb
- Ten marketing lessons from the Barack Obama Presidential campaign (6 Nov 2008) - Web Ink Now
- Washington diary: America's future (6 Nov 2008) - BBC News
- How Obama Really Did It (19 Aug 2008) - Technology Review
- 6 Lessons We Can Learn From Barack Obama's Online Marketing Strategy (23 Jul 2008) - Web Profits
- Internet key to Obama victories (22 May 2008) - BBC News
- Obama's online organization (12 May 2008) - Know It All
- How the Barack Obama Campaign Uses Wikis to Organize Volunteers (4 Mar 2008) - ReadWriteWeb