The Big Brand Theory: The Obama Re-election Campaign
5 Lessons in Creating Political Advocacy from an Industry Veteran
Bryan Whitaker has a proven record for innovation in the fast-moving field of political technology. Over the years he’s done it all: from volunteering during political campaigns in Ohio as a student, to working with labor unions and Ohio state government, to helping organize the Presidential campaign for John Kerry, to heading the technology office at the Democratic National Committee for President Obama’s re-election. Now he is taking on a role of Chief Operating Officer at NGP VAN, the nation’s leading technology provider to Obama for America and thousands of Democratic campaigns and progressive organizations. NGP VAN offers clients an integrated platform of the best fundraising, organizing, and digital products.
I talked to Whitaker about his view of the past and the future of social technologies, how they impact the success of political campaign, and lessons learned. Whitaker is a man on a mission. “My role is to empower our clients to become more sophisticated, data-driven, efficient and cost-effective in the work that they are doing as it relates to organizing voters or workers into a union, as well as engaging with the members within their own organizations,” says Whitaker.
Here are some tips that he offers.
Be data driven.
In 2008, Whitaker and his colleagues had a realization that the communications world was becoming more and more digital. With the rise of email, text messaging, and then social networks, Whitaker says that they “needed to have a global view of an individual, be able to understand what he/she is doing both online and offline as it pertains to the political advocacy.”
The ability to have access to Voter Activation Network (VAN) and other technologies empowered the campaigners Whitaker worked with to build relationships with voters online and offline at scale vs. utilizing the old mentality of going and blindly knocking on people’s doors. Not only that, the data and metrics available allowed campaigns become more sophisticated, predictive, and real-time.
Tap into the social gold mine.
“In 2012, we got into targeted sharing. During the Obama campaign we realized that our supporters/fans on Facebook were friends with roughly 98% of the population of the United States of America. So if we could somehow tap into all of these people and give them content like infographics to pass on to their friends and family via social networks, it was so much more meaningful than having them forward something via email.” So Whitaker’s operation worked with the Obama tech team and created a Facebook application that allowed voters to share the Obama for America’s content such as the infographic on how the economy was growing under the leadership of President Obama with 5 Facebook friends of their choosing and create a digital movement.
Let go of control.
“It’s important to trust your supporters with information creation and distribution and to empower them to be able to share that information in order to convince their friends and family to vote a certain way,” says Whitaker.
Identify and use multiple channels of communication.
“Don’t rest on your laurels. Just because you used to knock on doors and make phone calls to make the campaign successful for years, doesn’t mean that that philosophy will apply today. You need to continue to ask yourself ‘What’s next?’ and ‘Where are people communicating today?’”
Whitaker suggests using optimization and analytics tools to AB test emails, donation pages, and other online communications. Learn real-time and adjust your content and your strategy. In the world of limited resources, you want to make sure your investment goes as far as possible. One example of a wild success that wasn’t expected by campaigners as all was this Obama’s tweet that at the time became the most retweeted tweet in the history of Twitter, a picture of a loving hug the First Lady bestowed on her husband. The tweet simply stated: “Four more years.” Whitaker says: “We were blown away by the impact of this simple photograph!”
So what does the future hold? For one, Whitaker is excited about NGP VAN’s award-winning Social Organizing app. “I am excited to continue my mission at NGP VAN of integrating online and offline worlds. It puts at the fingertips of every campaign manager or field director or digital campaign director the ability to broadcast information online and offline at the same time and make sure both are in tune with one another. This allows us to build relationships with campaign supporters in more meaningful ways and that’s what I am most excited about.”
The Big Brand Theory is a weekly, exclusive column for Social Media Today that explores the social media strategies of big brands, both B2B and B2C. Look for the next installment next Monday morning.
Ekaterina Walter is a co-founder and CMO at Branderati. She is a social media trailblazer and an author of the Wall Street Journal bestseller “Think Like Zuck: The Five Business Secrets of Facebook's Improbably Brilliant CEO Mark Zuckerberg”. A recognized business and marketing thought leader, she is a sought-after international speaker and a regular contributor to leading-edge print and ...
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