Much has been said about the role played by the internet in the Obama presidential campaign.
The consensus is that this campaign “changed politics” (http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/). However the interesting part is not so much that the internet has been used to change politics. Since the late nineteen-nineties, politicians and their advisors realised that the internet is an important medium. The difficult yet fascinating part, is how to use it to yield tangible results.
This is where the Obama campaign excelled. It has been able to harness to a yet unparalleled degree all that the new medium has to offer.
Facebook and Myspace, blogs and Twitter, have extended and elevated the internet from static pages on a computer screen to social media status.
Pre-2006, political websites were seen as only another way to ask for money and broadcast a few slogans. In this campaign, politics and the internet are about inspiring, participating, enabling and acting.
Inspiration starts with slogans, colours and layout of the logo but rapidly extends to videos and text messaging. Much positive buzz was generated Obama supporters would find-out their candidate’s selection as vice-president by message sent to their mobile phones. This and a barrage of email, text and “tweets” (from twitter.com) made all Obama supporters feel like they were an integral part of the campaign. Messages were not impersonal. Depending on the goal of the message, emails read like they were sent from the candidate himself, from David Plouffe (the campaign manager), Joe Biden and other key members of the Obama team. They felt therefore much more personal.
The key differentiator, is that once supporters and potential voters were inspired and made to feel like they were participating in a mass movement, they were given the tools to act.
The Obama website featured a “resources” section advised on how, for instance, to design contribution forms, host a meeting, set-up goals online and compare your campaigning efforts to that of other supports.
Once enabled, acting was the last and final step. This too was fine-tuned to an unparalleled degree. If you happened to be a supporter of hispanic origin in one state, you would get a contact-list of undecided, hispanic, voters in a battleground state. If you decided to call them, you would also get a guide on how to lead the conversation and be given suggested points and counterpoints to quell objections and perceived misconceptions.
Other key tactics involved pro-actively framing issues. For instance, ahead of each debate, supporters were warned about what the opposing candidate would say and what could be done about it.
In the end, it is not so much technology, but how it was used that contributed to Mr. Obama’s eventual victory.