Lessons from Obama's New Media Campaign

There will be books written about the brilliant use of social media in the Barack Obama campaign for the U.S. presidency. Richard Edelman, head of the eponymous public relations agency (and a competitor), pointed out recently

Consider this single statistic from the recently completed Obama for President Campaign. Three million donors made a total of 6.5 million donations on-line adding up to more than $500 million in funds raised. Of those donations, 6 million were in increments of $100 or less. His email list has 13 million addresses. A million people signed up for the text-messaging program. Two million profiles were created on MyBarackObama.com, his social network, plus 5 million supporters in other venues such as Facebook and MySpace.

I don't know if she has a book planned but Canadian Rahaf Harfoush, who was deeply involved in the social networking aspects of the campaign at new media HQ in Chicago, gave a captivating presentation last night at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management on lessons learned from the campaign from the inside.

Here are her six lessons:

  1. Give new media a seat at the strategy table.
  2. The new digital tools are useless without a blueprint. 
  3. As with any communications campaign, social media campaigns require consistency in messaging.
  4. Map out the digital landscape of your target audiences (find the conversations relevant to your strategy).
  5. Include a call to offline action.
  6. Be ready to give up control to your communities

None of the lessons are unique in and of themselves. Our digital team recommends them to our clients all the time . . . as do I. But the success of the social media dimension of the Obama battle may be the final proof needed to get senior executives and Canadian political campaigners out of their obtuse fog and increasingly strained and silly denial of the obvious about the power of a crowd-sourced innovation and influence . . . even in the exercise of democratic action. 

I took four additional lessons away from the presentation that aren't part of Ms Harfoush's list, but are central to her thesis: 

  1. Social media strategies should be built on smoothing the progress of intimacy, connection and conversation among target audiences, consumers or voters;
  2. A new media strategy slapped on to an old business or political strategy framework will fail (The Obama new media campaign's success was achieved in the context of an innovative political strategy, including a willingness to let online communities create their own offline actions and events);
  3. There are no off-the-shelf social media solutions;
  4. Find the digital sweet spot but prize agility

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