On November 5, 2008, with the voting results in and snapshots of the newly elected 44th President of the United States emblazoned on front pages coast to coast, many Americans experienced a sense of pride not only for having witnessed history in the making but also for having played a personal role in a movement unlike any in American politics.

Heeding the mantra of "Yes, we can" and roused by the need for "change," these people used their own words, leveraged their personal networks of family and friends, and accomplished the unexpected, propelling a long-shot Senator out of the shadows and into a towering victory over an American war hero with more than 25 years of commendable political experience.

At the root of this lattice of active crusaders was the Obama for America campaign, a relatively lean team of dedicated staff who expertly wielded the new digital tools at their disposal to convert everyday supporters into zealous advocates and spokespeople for the campaign.

"The Obama campaign did naturally what every good marketer should do in this new economy. Rather than focusing on 'acquisition' as most marketers tend to do, the campaign had a three-pronged approach: acquisition, activation, advocacy," wrote Jalali Hartman, CEO and founder of Yovia.com. "The campaign was not successful simply because it got a lot of people out to vote. It was successful because it got a lot of people out getting others to vote."

The Obama for America campaign achieved that feat through its adherence to several game-changing strategies.

First, it molded campaign messaging around the people, not just the man, emphasizing both individual and community visions for change. "The campaign was less about policy, and more about 'Hope' and 'Change,' terms that people could, and did, interpret in their own personal ways," explained Hartman. "Most importantly, the campaign became as much about the individual power to make change as it was about Barack Obama becoming President.... Barack Obama's power came from encouraging people to make the story their own."

Next, it provided them with transparency and consistent, up-to-date information that helped to develop a bond of trust and gave people the power to make informed decisions, as well as convince others of their ideals. Furthermore, that information was disseminated across numerous platforms—including campaign Web sites, social-networking sites and popular file-sharing sites, as well as via email, text, and video—so that no matter a user's preference, that information was readily accessible.

The campaign also provided supporters with every opportunity to get involved, and candidly asked for it, whether that meant volunteering time, making monetary contributions, calling friends in battleground states, or simply sporting campaign T-shirts.

Moreover, the campaign encouraged supporters to develop their own active campaigns and provided them with a plethora of tools for getting started. From descriptive how-to's to unrestricted permissions to share, post, and repurpose any and all campaign content as desired, Obama for America left it to the people of America to determine both the appropriate message and how it should be propagated.

"The Obama campaign embraced this new, open society. Unlike most of the publishing, entertainment, and music industries today, the campaign encouraged the rampant re-purposing of content and thus started a movement that took on a life of its own," explained Hartman. "Obama did not create a community, he enabled volunteers to create their own. This distinction gave his supporters the drive and resources to grow the community for him.... [He] strengthened his community members by providing tools that would help them to be more successful; he empowered them by refusing to micro-manage and asking them to do it themselves.

"This policy complements the viral nature of the Internet—Obama supporters were literally able to make his campaign their own by building on existing information to create something entirely new and personal. This policy of openness and access proved to be effective and extremely viral."

All of this could not have been so successfully executed had the country not already entered into and embraced the digital age to the extent that it has. According to Internet usage statistics compiled from Nielsen/NetRatings data and the US Census Bureau, the United States has an Internet usage household penetration rate of 72.5%, and a population of users numbering some 220,142,000. Of course, most of these users are not surfing the Web confined in their own Internet bubbles; they're connecting with other users like never before and have become capable of sharing mass quantities of information with minimal effort.

This article examines how the campaign leveraged these connections through the vast and evolving world of digital media to develop a thriving force of passionate individuals who managed to take political campaigning as we knew it to new heights. Many of the channels used are discussed here in depth, including the main campaign Web site at My.BarackObama.com, streaming video, online file-sharing and networking sites, and mobile marketing.


The campaign's main Web site was established at BarackObama.com, with related sites for each state (e.g., ca.barackobama.com for California and ny.barackobama.com for New York), and a community portal at My.BarackObama.com. Spanish and closed-captioned versions were also created, with Spanish-language sites, for example, placing extra emphasis on other Hispanic campaign elements, such as the campaign's MiGente.com profile and the "Latinos for Obama" microsite.

Content for each site aimed to build a connection between users and Barack Obama, as well as Michelle Obama and Joe and Jill Biden, with biographical information and a regularly updated blog that helped make them personable and relatable. Users could also access speech transcripts, press releases, and facts pertaining to assertions made on both sides.

The sites further featured information pertaining to special issues and select groups, including women, seniors, Americans with disabilities, Americans located abroad, veterans and military families, rural Americans, environmentalist, students, kids, people of faith, small businesses, various heritages, and even Republicans.

But these sites were not simply created as promotional collateral or encyclopedias of campaign information; instead, they were designed to serve as comprehensive resources for helping users to become active campaigners, clearly urging them to find local events, contact undecided voters, and share their individual stories. A quote from Obama in the header of each page implored users personally with "I'm asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington... I'm asking you to believe in yours."

"A supporter on My.BarackObama.com could create a personal webpage in order to host events (that were then searchable), send invitations to other supporters, upload photos, keep a personal blog, and access data bases of phone numbers for doing phone banking from his or her own living room," explained Hartman. "Providing these tools empowered people to do it themselves, and it was also very inexpensive."

Additional tools were offered to assist users in establishing their own communities, campaign sites, and promotions elsewhere. For example, there were downloadable logos, taglines, site badges and widgets, chat buddy icons, posters, signs, and flyers. Videos and documents, such as Obama's "Blueprint for Change," could be easily emailed to friends, downloaded, linked to, or embedded with available code. And contribution forms, sign-in sheets, and supporter cards were there waiting to be printed out.

Later, a "Neighbor to Neighbor" feature was added to provide users with lists of residents on their own blocks whom the campaign wished to contact, thus enabling the campaign to reach these voters through personal contact with someone who already possessed a community bond.

"My.BarackObama.com offered a database of guidelines and 'how-to's'—how to plan a voter registration drive, how to host a debate party, how to knock on doors, how to make phone calls for Obama, and more. Supporters were given access to databases of phone numbers and emails of other supporters, and local Obama events were posted on maps and searchable by ZIP code. Volunteers who logged in to My.BarackObama.com felt that they were not alone—they had the resources of the powerful campaign at their disposal. These tools enabled everyday people to become community organizers in their own neighborhoods," explained Hartman. "Ordinary Americans didn't need professional campaign organizers—they could do it for themselves."

Many other campaign elements—which also posed as additional user tools—were also featured on the sites, including links to the campaign's Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, and Twitter resources, among others, as well as prompts to sign up for the campaign's mobile communications—most of which will be described in this article.

Streaming Video

Until recent years, streaming video coverage was a costly endeavor requiring a satellite truck and full videography crew. That changed with the introduction of Mountain View, CA-based UStream.tv, and political candidates in this race, Obama included, quickly took note.

Originally established as a means for overseas soldiers to connect with their families back home, Ustream.tv technology provided the Obama for America campaign a live video broadcast platform that simply required a videographer with a mobile, landline or WI-FI Internet connection. The result was immediate, live streaming coverage of every campaign speech, debate, and event, thus allowing, for example, people in other states or working supporters unable to attend a given function to tune in and watch the proceedings live and in their entirety from any computer with an online connection.

Each live streaming feed was immediately available on Ustream.tv with interactive tools such as real-time chat. Viewers also had the ability to leave comments; share with friends via email; post on Digg, Facebook, Twitter, and StumbleUpon (or elsewhere, using embeddable code); and find related videos.

According to Ustream reporting metrics, viewers—close to 5 million unique users—logged a combined sum of almost a million hours over the course of the campaign watching Obama's videos on Ustream.tv.

It's important to note that the Obama for America campaign was not the only political campaign to leverage Ustream; in fact, candidates from the primaries to the presidential race—including Dodd, Kucinich, Huckabee, Romney, McCain, Clinton, and Edwards—incorporated Ustream into their marketing approach.

But what made the Obama campaign more effective in comparison was not merely a highly energized base of supporters who were demographically more aligned with the technology. It was also a matter of the following:

  • Consistency: Obama's campaign predictably streamed every campaign event and every public speech (including Michelle Obama's, and Joe Biden's once he joined the ticket), which helped to keep the Democratic base rallied and provided followers with consistent access to any event they may have missed.
  • Widespread online promotion: A multitier strategy was used to publicize and build awareness for each new video, in addition to its being shown on the Ustream site. Recorded clips were edited and posted to YouTube within hours. The blogosphere was alerted ahead of time, then provided with embeddable feeds in a massive distribution that overall resulted in more than 22 million posts to independent Web sites and blogs, including the Huffington Post and Daily Post. Tweets with links were immediately posted to campaign and Ustream Twitter accounts (@BarackObama has well over 165,000 followers and @UstreamTV has close to 15,500 followers). And Ustream offered further assistance with homepage banners and regular mentions on the company blog.

"The two campaigns that were the most organized from the technical perspective and the new media side were Obama and McCain," said Brad Hunstable, president and cofounder of Ustream.tv, "and those were the ones that won [the primaries]."

Online File Sharing and Networking

In his November 9, 2008 New York Times article, David Carr describes how Obama solicited the advice of Netscape founder and Facebook board member Marc Andreessen in February 2007 on how he might incorporate the growing phenomenon of social networking into his political campaign.

"He wondered if social networking, with its tremendous communication capabilities and aggressive database development, might help him beat the overwhelming odds facing him," wrote Carr.

Andreessen's suggestion: Tap into existing systems. And tap his campaign did, into more than 200 social sites, according to Scott Goodstein, External Online Director for Obama for America. One of the first was Yahoo Answers, which Obama used to directly respond to public inquiries. Others included the following:

File-Sharing Sites


The campaign established an Obama YouTube channel and added just shy of 1,800 videos during the campaign (although more have been added since), compared with McCain's 329. The channel attracted 114,500+ subscribers (McCain's channel had a little over 28,400) and some 18.4 million channel views (McCain's was closer to 2 million), and each video received anywhere from a couple of thousand to several million views.

"The official Obama channel was consistently ranked one of the most viewed channels on YouTube, and thousands of supporters created millions of unaffiliated user videos that still circulate today," reported Hartman.

The Web site listed on the channel also linked users to a page on BarackObama.com that included a video message from Obama welcoming users to the official campaign Web site and encouraging them to get involved, along with a form for receiving campaign communications, such as information on volunteer opportunities.


Videos of more than 40 speeches, podcasts and endorsements—covering everything from Obama's views on healthcare, global warming, and education to more personal topics such as fatherhood—were made available for free download.


Like those posted on BarackObama.com, photos of the presidential candidate and campaign events were uploaded to the popular photo-sharing site Flickr. Campaign volunteers and supporters also got involved, uploading hundreds of thousands of photos that offered candid views into campaign events, not to mention a creative show of support.


Scribd was another file-sharing site the campaign used to offer supporters access to full documents, such as policy papers and Obama's "Blueprint for Change." In addition to reading documents posted on the site, supporters could easily attain a URL for each document to copy and paste as desired, or the code for embedding the document into their own blogs.

Users also had the option of submitting the document on sites such as Digg, reddit, StumbleUpon, and Delicious; downloading it in pdf and plain text formats; and emailing it on to friends, with the ability to import addresses from major web-based mail accounts, such as Yahoo Mail and Gmail.



The campaign, which began using Twitter in April 2007, blasted links of new videos and media interviews to followers, updated supporters on campaign news and Obama's progress on the campaign trail, and alerted supporters to upcoming rallies or planned appearances on news shows.

As the election neared, tweets were posted almost daily and sometimes several times a day, to keep the campaign top of mind.

Professional Social Network


The campaign also aimed to connect with business professionals, utilizing LinkedIn's groups and answer section, where campaign staff as well as supporters could answer specific questions and respond to related discussions initiated by the site's users.

"Because the LinkedIn network includes a lot of small-business experts, it was a great place to get feedback on the campaign and the campaign's proposals," said Goodstein.

Social Networks


Scores of MySpace profiles—57 of them—were set up to include not only Barack Obama's main profile (which garnered over a million friends, compared with McCain's 200,000+), but also one for each state (e.g., "Oregon for Obama") and various special-interest groups, including Women for Obama (12,100+ friends), Students for Obama (10,000+ friends), Obama Pride (7,600+ friends), African Americans for Obama (4,600+ friends), Latinos for Obama (4,000+ friends), Veterans & Military Families for Obama (2,600+ friends), Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders for Obama (1,600+ friends), and First Americans for Obama (1,100+ friends).

"The main MySpace profile had over one million friends, and we asked ourselves, 'how do you send a message to tell people in Cleveland to organize without upsetting people outside of Cleveland?'" explained Goodstein. "So we divided it up, created 57 separate faith-based and issue-based MySpace pages, and built an army to manage those."

Each profile included general and group-specific blog posts, videos (with direct YouTube URLs and embeddable code to copy and paste), embeddable code for campaign images, and links to donate or organize on BarackObama.com. A promotion for the Obama Mobile campaign (described below) and links to other campaign platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, iTunes, and Flickr were also featured.

As with YouTube, a dedicated video channel was also set up on MySpace Video, with 15 videos. The video platform allowed users to add any of the posted videos to their profiles, blogs, or bulletins, or to email them to friends. Some 720 users subscribed to the channel, which received 480,000+ video plays, compared with McCain's MySpace video channel of 12 videos, which garnered 104 subscribers and had 67,000+ total plays.

"The amount of videos viewed and forwarded on was enormous," said Goodstein.

Where the campaign left off, everyday users picked up, creating their own campaign-promoting profiles such as "Social Workers for Obama," "1 Million Strong for Obama," "Dead Heads for Obama," "DJs for Obama," "Mamas for Obama," "Sacramento for Obama," "Oklahoma Republicans for Obama," "Italy for Obama," "Barack the Vote," "Put Obama in the White House," and many more. Some even created their own MySpace videos (such as one titled "Obama for the World") that other users could then add to their personal profiles.


Along with profile pages for both Barack and Michelle Obama that were updated daily, the campaign established numerous groups on Facebook for every state and special interest group, just as it had been done on MySpace. In addition, groups were established for Michelle Obama (228,750 supporters), Joe Biden (180,200+ supporters), and the "Obama Action Wire" (52,700+ supporters).

The Facebook groups tended to be larger than those of MySpace. The main Barack Obama group generated over 3 million supporters. The "Students for Barack Obama" group had 225,400+ members; "Women for Obama," 77,000+ members; "Obama Pride," 23,200+ members; "First Americans for Obama," 2,200+ members; "Latinos for Obama," 10,000+ members; "African Americans for Obama," 10,600+ members; "Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders for Obama," 3,800+ members; "Armenians for Obama," 3,000+ members; and "Veterans & Military Families for Obama," 2,000+ members.

Sharable photos, videos, and notes (similar to a small blog post) were available on every page, along with events for which supporters could RSVP. Any new posts were automatically announced to all group supporters. "He could post messages on Facebook groups that would instantly reach over a million supporters, fans who would then email the news to other friends," explained Hartman.

Just as had been done on MySpace, individual users not only supported the campaign's groups but also created their own.

"Facebook was used extensively by nonaffiliated supporters, who created groups with such titles as 'One Million Strong for Obama,' 'I endorse Barack Obama—and I'm telling my friends!,' 'One Click for Barack Obama,' and anti-McCain/Palin groups such as 'I have more Foreign Policy Experience than Sarah Palin.' Almost every college and university had a student-initiated Facebook group for Obama, as well as many cities and states," explained Hartman.

"It's hard to overstate the power that Facebook had in this election. A single supporter-initiated group, 'One Million Strong for Obama,' had 920,502 Facebook members. This group had over four times as many members as a similar 'official' group started by the McCain campaign called 'One Million Strong for McCain/Palin '08' (216,711 members). Supporter-created groups against McCain/Palin such as 'I have more Foreign Policy Experience than Sarah Palin' (251,410 members) and '1,000,000 Strong against Sarah Palin' (209,673 members) were wildly popular and were passed from friend to friend."

In addition, the Obama campaign participated in Q&A forums on the site and created its own Facebook application. That application urged users to show their support by adding the application box (which featured links to campaign stories and videos) to their profiles, "friending" Barack Obama, and joining related groups. Perhaps more importantly, it helped them find their local Obama Groups and encouraged them to get involved, such as by making calls or messaging their friends in battleground states.

"It was one of the first applications that allowed people to contact and sort friends by battleground states," said Goodstein, adding that this allowed for "third-party affirmations of the candidate in very personal messages sent on a one-to-one basis."

Independent supporters also launched applications, such as the "Obama '08" application, which allowed users to send Obama-themed virtual gifts to their Facebook friends.

Specialty Sites

The campaign also reached out to distinct demographics through networking sites that specifically serve those groups, such as BlackPlanet.com, AsianAve.com, MiGente.com, Eons.com (for babyboomers), Disaboom.com (for Americans with disabilities), and Faithbase.com.

Eventful.com, which offers users the ability to search for events within a given radius distance, was another specialty site leveraged by the campaign to inform users of current and upcoming campaign events.

Goodstein, who specializes in lifestyle marketing and online organizing, noted that the keys to success in this portion of the campaign largely revolved around the following:

Providing each audience with the right experience: The campaign took the time to figure out the needs and expectations of each channel individually so that it could assure the right user experiences and maximize results. For example, it found that MySpace users like to forward videos to their friends and so established a video channel on the site. And on Facebook, where users are used to keeping up with the latest on their friends through news feed posts, the campaign chose to strategically leverage that messaging system rather than inundate its group pages with national broadcast messages.

Also, in some instances, such as with special-interest groups and sites, the campaign was able to fortify its connection with a select group by offering issue-specific or localized content that matched user interests, such as with an "I am a military wife" blog post on the "Veterans & Military Families for Obama" MySpace page, or a "Now or never in Rhode Island" post on the "Rhode Island for Obama" profile.

Ensuring consistent information: Campaign staff and volunteers made sure that the information posted was up to date and accurate on all platforms; they also ensured that user messages and questions were answered in a timely fashion and were in line with campaign messaging, and in the format received (e.g., with an email if the request came through LinkedIn's email capability).

Tying it all together: The campaign also used cross-promotions to make users of one channel aware of the other resources. For example, Facebook pages contained links to all other campaign Facebook pages, as well as the Obama YouTube channel and Obama's main MySpace profile page. MySpace profiles promoted BarackObama.com and Obama Mobile, invited users to follow Obama on Twitter, and offered links to the campaign's YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn and Flickr accounts. And the main blog on My.BarackObama.com was used to mention and link readers to alternate campaign channels such as Twitter.

From David Carr: "Like a lot of Web innovators, the Obama campaign did not invent anything completely new. Instead, by bolting together social-networking applications under the banner of a movement, they created an unforeseen force to raise money, organize locally, fight smear campaigns, and get out the vote that helped them topple the Clinton machine and then John McCain and the Republicans."

Mobile Marketing

Goodstein also headed the implementation of Obama Mobile, an advanced communications strategy recently honored with the 2008 Golden Dot Award for Best Mobile/Text Messaging Campaign and the 2008 Global Messaging Award.

Mobile was selected due to its burgeoning popularity, especially among young adults. "Mobile phones are the only devices that stay with people 18 to 24 hours a day," said Goodstein, adding, "Over 80% of people have a mobile device according to the cellular communications industry—that is critical mass."

DC-based Distributive Networks, which powered the bulk of the campaign's mobile efforts via its mobile marketing platform, pointed out that the mobile-messaging channel was distinguishable for its interactivity (allowing for two-way communication and "instant gratification"), its immediacy (stating that most incoming messages are "read within 15 minutes of receipt" and "have the highest chance of reaching a recipient wherever they are...within moments of being sent," thus making it especially effective for providing timely information and breaking news), and its impact.

"Mobile communications spur recipients to act, whether to purchase a product, make a donation, attend an event, share information with a friend, or any other call to action. Text-message reminders have been found to increase the likelihood of an individual voting by 4.2 percentage points," reads the company's "Txt We Can" brief. "It ended up being a great tool for organizing and an extremely effective mechanism for getting out the vote," added Kevin Bertram, CEO for Distributive Networks.

At the core of Obama Mobile was an extensive texting campaign that used a dedicated short code (i.e., 62262, which spells out "Obama") in combination with over 50,000 unique keywords (e.g., text HOPE to 62262). This was crucial for the following reasons:

  • By owning the short code, the campaign was able to better control its messaging and avoid any mix-ups. (Distributive Networks' "Txt We Can" brief describes how the Clinton campaign used a shared short code that at the time was also being used by a low-cost health-clinic locating service. This led some confused users to receive unaffiliated responses; similarly, it might also be assumed that those users' messages never reached their intended destination within the Clinton campaign.)
  • This arrangement also enabled the Obama for America campaign to initiate an unlimited number of keywords used to micro-target and monitor supporter interests and demographics (e.g., using "JOBS" or "IRAQ" to signify which policies were important to recipients, "PLEDGE" and "VOL" to determine whether they were open to getting involved, and state codes such as "OH" and "FL" to pinpoint their locality).
  • Such targeting further ensured a positive and engaging user experience by enabling the campaign to quickly respond back to texters, often using automated systems, with tailored information that matched their interests or requests.
  • Also, by collecting this information, the campaign was able to develop detailed supporter profiles, and the campaign took every opportunity to further build out those profiles by simply asking for additional information (e.g., "reply with your ZIP code") or offering incentives such as special-event invites or campaign gear such as stickers and T-shirts. This information provided valuable insight, but also helped the campaign to ensure that it continued to send only messages of interest and did not bombard all supporters with content that might be appreciated only by a select group, such as for a localized event.

The idea of message frequency was an important consideration in the texting campaign since users typically must pay a fee to send and receive messages. The campaign therefore did not want to over-message, which might annoy supporters and lead them to opt out, and it was careful to maximize the information included in each message so that it would be considered of value. At the same time, the campaign was conscious of not under-messaging and missing the opportunity to keep supporters energized through to the end. Users therefore received 5-20 messages per month, "depending on the depth of their involvement and the stage of the campaign," according to Distributive Networks, with increased messaging right before Election Day.

Another key aspect that differentiated Obama Mobile from other campaign elements was the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) stipulation that prohibits marketers from making first contact or sending messages without an explicit "opt in" from the end user. To the campaign's advantage, this meant that those who did opt-in were consciously choosing to participate and were therefore more likely to remain active in the campaign; however, it also meant that the database had to be built from the ground up.

The Obama campaign was able to grow its opt-in list—achieving an estimated 2.9 million numbers in its database by the time the VP announcement was made in August 2008, according to Nielsen Mobile—by utilizing the following techniques:

  • Integrated marketing: The dedicated short code and its related keywords were featured on everything from yard signs to social media profiles to radio and television commercials (including the campaign's 2008 Super Bowl ad). "If someone was listening to the radio or saw a billboard, the URL was always on there, but [the campaign] would then have to count on supporters going home, logging in and signing up," explained Bertram. "That was the nice thing about text. It was a great call to action in places where supporters didn't have immediate access [to the Internet]."
  • Live promotions and endorsements: The campaign took advantage of its captive audience's excitement at rallies and events to explicitly ask attendees to text in, and it used celebrity endorsements, such as the time Oprah took out her phone on stage and told onlookers to text in for more information.
  • Viral marketing: Text recipients were encouraged to ask their friends to opt in and to forward the text messages they received.
  • Tangible incentives: The campaign offered free ringtones, wallpapers, and bumper stickers to users who opted in. "You have to give a compelling value proposition to get people to sign up," explained Bertram. "People like free things."
  • Special privileges: The campaign promoted that it would make the first announcement of Obama's running mate via text message and encouraged supporters to opt in ahead of time in order to become privy to this information before it hit the press.
  • Earned media: Novel tactics such as the VP announcement and ringtone offer garnered mass media coverage, including a lead story on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

In addition to texting, the Obama Mobile campaign included the following:

  • A mobile Web site (WAP): Supporters could also gain access to a special WAP site, developed for mobile phone Internet browsers, by texting "SITE" to the same 62262 short code. The site was designed so that news features and other information could be easily read and forwarded "on the go," and was not shy in prompting users to sign up for text alerts and/or invite friends to join Obama Mobile. It also included special features such as video, ringtone, and wallpaper downloads developed specifically for mobile phones.
  • Interactive voice response hotlines: Supporters were able to request more extensive local campaign information on-call through toll-free hotlines, which were promoted on campaign flyers and other advertising collateral. By simply punching in their ZIP codes and selecting from a list of inquiries, such as the address of a local campaign office or regional absentee voting information, users would receive the requested information by text moments later. This information could then remain on the phone for future reference, until it was deleted. "It was like a modern day post-it note reminder," Goodstein observed.
  • An iPhone application: Capitalizing on an Apple promotion that offered students a free iPod Touch with every Mac computer purchase, as well as the recent application craze among iPhone owners, the campaign launched its own free smart phone application, which was available for download through the iTunes store.

In developing the iPhone application, the campaign was careful to consider users' needs—ensuring it was interactive, useful, and worthy of a download—but also aligned with campaign objectives, said Goodstein.

Accordingly, the application offered users complete national news coverage, campaign photos, and videos, but it also used triangulation and GPS, along with Google maps, to determine users' locations and direct them to local events or campaign offices. It further used this technology to connect users with local campaign news and blogs.

The application also organized users' contacts by state, with key battleground states listed first, and encouraged users to make campaign calls to their friends. Users could further organize their call lists by indicating whether a contact was "Considering Obama," "Not interested," or had "Already voted." This information was then anonymously fed back to the campaign, while an integrated leader board, which rated users on number of calls made, motivated supporters to continue making calls. In the end, this resulted in an additional 30,000 calls made on the campaign's behalf, from personal friends who might carry more clout.

"You can't pay for that kind of one-to-one marketing," remarked Goodstein.

The Next Step

On November 5, 2008, a message that read "We just made history. All of this happened because you gave your time, talent and passion. All of this happened because of you. Thanks" was posted to the various online channels such as MySpace and Twitter, showing supporters that their digital connections to the Obama campaign were both valued and instrumental.

Goodstein reports that public connections, such as Obama's friend lists on MySpace and Facebook, still continue to grow post-election, demonstrating that Americans are willing to communicate with their government via new channels.

Already, it appears that the new leadership understands this and will not allow the valuable connections already made—nor the digital lessons learned throughout Obama's campaign—to go to waste.

The Web site Change.gov, which was launched immediately after the election, offers visitors insight into Obama's plans as President, encourages them to share their stories and ideas in the "Citizen's Briefing Book," and to rate or comment on others' submissions, and provides yet another means to collect public contact information in exchange for emailed updates.

Obama has also used YouTube in addition to radio to deliver his weekly Saturday Addresses, and on January 12, 2009, "hub" microsites for both the Senate and the House of Representatives were launched on YouTube as a public resource for locating Representatives' individual video channels on the site.

For years, government has been out of touch, but perhaps the time has finally come again when the private sector can look to the Administration as inspiration for the future, in more ways than one.

Lessons Learned

In 2003, Howard Dean demonstrated how effectively the Internet could be used to raise campaign funds. In 2008, the Obama for America campaign showed the nation that this new medium can be so much more... more than a mere fundraising channel, and much more than just another sales or information vehicle for today's organizations.

For Obama, there was no magical shortcut, other than perhaps the fervency of his supporters. Everything was built from the ground up "the old fashioned way," as Goodstein puts it. And it took a good deal of time and work and dedication from people who believed. It required establishing confidence within communities by becoming active members of those groups, reaching out and humbly asking people for help, and entrusting them with the tools and free rein to do what they thought was right.

"The best content is what the people create themselves," Hartman stated. "Obama proved that when people are empowered and trusted, they will create and disseminate their own content and their own message."

Hartman goes on to provide examples of supporters at work, "a result of Obama's policy of openness and freedom of expression": videos of the "Obama Girl" and hip-hop artist will.i.am's "Yes We Can," both of which gained widespread fame as user after user forwarded them on; the free artist-posted stencils for creating homemade Obama T-shirts that circled the Web; and a slideshow of Obama-themed jack-o-lantern photos amassed from supporters across the nation.

"By enabling his supporters, Obama was able to create a breadth and depth of content around himself and his campaign that otherwise would not have been possible," Hartman has written. "In essence, his supporters became his creative department and his marketing channel." (Not to mention his outsourced telemarketing firm, blogosphere, and brand management team.)

It was this sweeping wave of creativity, ingenuity, and one-to-one, friend-to-friend, personal endorsements that helped put an underdog in the White House.

According to the Cone 2008 Business in Social Media Study fielded by Opinion Research Corporation in September 2008, 56% of respondents say they feel better served when they can directly interact with brands via social media, 41% prefer that companies solicit product and service feedback via social media, and 37% say companies should develop new ways for consumers to interact with their brands via social media.

In its own way, the Obama for America campaign substantiates these claims and illustrates just how willing and eager today's consumer can be. And considering the efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and intimacy that these channels offer, it seems a risky oversight for any organization to not at least give it the old college try.


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Kimberly Smith is a freelance writer. Reach her via dtkgsmith@gmail.com.

LinkedIn: Kim Smith