Notes from Rahaf Harfoush’s talk on the use of social media in Obama’s campaign

| braindump
  • Collaborated on Grown Up Digital. Was working on chapter about politics when she was convinced to join campaign. Inspired by watching Yes We Can video (user-generated).
  • Mybo – tools for communities
  • Not about new media – key innovations were political strategy, philosophy
    1. Fifty State Strategy – story about Arizona, John McCain’s home state – 1000 volunteers on Day 1
    2. Disaffected Center – not just party
    3. Small donations
    New media was just a reflection of the underlying strategies and philosophies
  • Everything was networked and cross-linked: Video went out on YouTube, posted to Facebook/Myspace/etc., and so on. Always had a linkback and a Donate button.
  • Hypersegmented e-mail – geography, issues selected, donation history. Donation history key to respecting relationship.
  • SMS campaign – inform of events, donate time, get feedback. Cellphone very different tone and feel. Great way to keep in touch, and offline connection helped drive offline action. Sent information on polls, voter protection, updates.
  • iPhone application sheer genius, I think. =) Gave people opportunities to get involved. Call friends – addressbook sorted by battlefield priority, gave you report screen after the call. GPS – find field office. Issues – offline application that included talking points for all the issues; turned every iPohen into a campaign office.
  • Numbers: MyBO – 2 million profiles, 35,000 volunteer groups, including niche ones (D&D Group for Obama). 400k blog posts, 200k offline events. Funny Halloween event: one woman organized a group of friends to go out dressed up as voting machines, asking people to vote. Also, “Yes Wii Can” – person organized a Wii party + voter registration party at home. Shows creativity and innovation.
  • Activity index – 10 levels based on events hosted, events attended, calls made, doors knocked, blog posts, amount from other donors, groups joined, etc. Controlled access to resources. Allowed organizers to contact active promoters / community organizers without pressuring participants.
  • Personal fundraising page key. People donate to friends more than charities. This made things personal.
  • Phone campaign – Script with reporting buttons built in for capturing answers. Canvassing – map.
  • Worried during election – average waiting time 6.5 hours in some places, unexpected difficulties with polling machines


1. Give New Media a seat at the table. – Don’t just delegate it to an intern or a junior associate. See it as an execution tool. Make the investment. Examples: Wells Fargo, Dell.

2. Tools are useless without a blueprint. – Half of social media campaigns fail because there’s no mutual purpose – fit between community and company. No off the shelf cookie cutter solution. Find the sweet spot between core vision and agility. Message clear, vision clear, interpretation creative.

3. Know the lay of the land. Map out major players, bloggers, evangelists, critics, competitors. Find the conversations. Pay attention to fit. Example: Fedex Facebook attachment application.

4. Build relationships. Social etiquette, cocktail parties versus That Guy. Listen. Be authentic. Example: Comcast turnaround, comcastcares.

5. Call to action. Campaign always drove towards offline action. Asked a lot of their volunteers. Example: Nike community asked to spend time around the brand. Expectations were clear.

6. Give up control. Story about Yes We Carved pumpkin-carving community. Creative and fun. Empower brand ambassadors – they’re where you can’t be. Embrace cocreation. Let your brand evolve. Accept other people’s work. Co-creation really strengthened people’s personal connection to campaign.

Next steps, making things even better? – Keep people engaged on issues they care about. Would’ve liked to make even better use of Twitter. People were curious about insider moments – more blogs, videos, etc.

Key difference: social media as part of life, not something extra.

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