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What Can We Learn from The Online Presidential Campaign of Barack Obama?

Thomas Gensemer masterminded Barack Obama's groundbreaking and astonishingly successful online presidential campaign...What can we learn?

This is from an article on the Guardian: Is This Man the Future of Politics?

"...He insists he is not a technology geek, and that the strength of his company's work for Obama was the manner in which the campaign engaged the millions who signed up to donate, offer help and organise, not the online means. "People have been bamboozled with the technology for too long," he says. "The real questions are, 'What are your goals, and how can you use technology to achieve them?' Our biggest sales pitch is that we couple the services along with the technology. A lot of our competition just sells technology, and the types of organisation and causes that we like to work with, if I go in and sell them really powerful technology, it doesn't do them any good, because they don't have the wherewithal to make sense of it." It is a point he was due to make at a speech last night at City University in London.

At the heart of the Obama web strategy was MyBO (pronounced MyBeau), which worked like any other social networking site, encouraging potential voters to get a membership to this exclusive club, create an identity within it and discuss the cause with acquaintances. But there was a difference. Rather than merely join this network, passively clicking a button to donate or express an allegiance to Obama, members were encouraged to go out into the real world to knock on doors, hand out leaflets and spread the word. The site then encouraged these efforts to be recorded and shared with the online community, making the user feel empowered and on the front line of the campaign.

Gensemer wants to demystify online campaigning, and his message is straightforward. "Organisations can build very quickly, if they do the messaging right. They need to be able to answer the question, 'What can someone do for me today?' But a lot of these organisations, political and cause-related, aren't really used to that question. What can they do? 'Well, they can give me money. That's what we do. I'm a charity.' But they need to deepen it. You need first to answer the question of what the money goes for."

He wants to nurture active supporters, not passive donors - people who have a stake in the organisation they have signed up to support, envisage a long-term relationship and want to be taken seriously. He tells a story of another political campaign he worked on in the US (he prefers not to name it) where supporters were invited to send feedback by email. "I was wondering, 'Where does that email go?' he says. "I was still wondering three or four days later. Finally, we found out. We got to the inbox and there were 78,000 emails in there that had never even been read. That was never allowed to happen with the Obama campaign. From day one we said that can't happen."

Political causes have been the cornerstone of Blue State's work since it was founded five years ago by a group of activists who had cut their teeth working on Howard Dean's ill-fated bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. They carried on working for Dean when he became chairman of the Democratic National Committee the following year, and in 2007 got a call from another presidential hopeful....

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