A Royall Juggle

Weekly #6: Using Social Tools to Build a Winning Campaign

Posted on: October 27, 2010

With midterm elections right around the corner, I’m taking a closer look at what makes a successful political campaign in the 21st century. My Social Media professor, Garrett Graff, wrote the book The First Campaign in which he explores the days leading up to what he suggests was the first campaign of the 21st century – the 2008 election and more specifically, President Obama’s famous web 2.0 deployment. As a former communications staffer for the 2004 Howard Dean campaign, Graff had a first-hand experience watching technology transform the old rules of campaigning. Dean used the internet to drive a “people-powered campaign-funding operation” of small-dollar fundraising, blogged, and maximized the social networking site Meetup.com as a way to rally his community of supporters across the nation. So why didn’t Dean win the 2004 nomination?

A big difference between the Dean and Obama campaign: an effective tool. According to Graff’s follow-up article on the Barack Obama campaign in Infonomics magazine, the Dean campaign only ran two websites (the official one and his blog) and the Obama campaign ran 100+ websites including social media sites such as MySpace and Twitter. And possibly equally as important, the Dean campaign had a half a dozen different databases to manage whereas the Obama campaign invested in building the most powerful campaigning database of its time – Obama’s Voter Action Network (VAN). This one database powered all of MyBO.com (the center of all of Obama’s outreach efforts) which housed more than two million robust profiles and integrated social networking sites and mobile numbers. The information was used to micro-target voters based on metrics such as when people opened emails, donation amounts and likeliness to host house parties. And Obama didn’t just target mainstream social networks; he was the first candidate to reach niche social networks such as AsianAve.com, MiGente.com and BlackPlanet.com (influential with the Asian, Hispanic and African-American communities). I can’t even begin to go into detail on lessons learned from Obama’s campaign, so I’ll just direct you to Edelman’s Obama Social Toolkit for more information.

I’ve attempted to consolidate databases at my company by implementing LyrisHQ, an online marketing platform that integrates email marketing, deliverability, web analytics, search marketing, content management and mobile. Unfortunately, I don’t have the staff and resources of the Obama campaign, but I do recognize the power of profile segmentation.

A blog post I read on PR Breakfast Club discusses the simple analogy between social tools and a hammer. If you use them the right way, they can help you multiply the force of impact. But if you miss the target, you’ll just end up with a sore thumb. A quote from Graff’s Obama article expands on this analogy:

“The Obama campaign made the greatest investment in this civic structure,” says organizing guru Marshall Ganz, who worked with the campaign. “It’s very important to distinguish between carpenters and tools. The investment in this campaign of creating skilled carpenters was what enabled them to use the tools as well as they did.” 

And as Alan Jackson says, “There’s nothing wrong with a hard hat and a hammer.”

One  important lesson I was reminded of in my sales training last week at work — the best sales people seek to understand before they are understood. Obama did just that to sell himself to the American people and build an empire of advocates. Two years later, how do you think he has done with retaining them?

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2 Responses to "Weekly #6: Using Social Tools to Build a Winning Campaign"

Amanda, interesting post. My question for you, though, is two-fold: Was an effective tool all that held back Howard Dean? If he’d had Facebook and Twitter and YouTube, do you think he would have won? Or was there a failure in his promise or bargain too?

Thanks Garrett! I won’t pretend to know the specifics of the Dean campaign (esp. not as much as you :), but I do know that the effective tool wasn’t the only difference between the Dean and Obama campaign — it’s just what I chose to focus on here. Based on our class discussion last week, I think these two additional points really differentiated Obama’s campaign from Dean’s:

a) Obama was a historic candidate in a historic election which led to more emotional involvement from voters
b) Obama’s acceptable bargain was more effective than Dean’s. Obama’s was: you are going to do something to help him win (Obama laid out options for volunteers based on his knowledge of what makes an effective campaign and rewarded those who were most productive). Dean’s was: you are just going to do something (he didn’t help guide people on the best ways to volunteer their time which led to a lot of unproductive behavior). For example, the Meetup rallies were a great way for fellow Dean supporters to make noise and feel united, but I don’t think they were effective in recruiting additional supporters to vote for Dean.

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