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Lessons from the Obama campaign

The Obama campaign was groundbreaking in the way it used online media in a political context. Raising US$500 million online, organising over 100.000 offline events and more than 20.000 local groups, the Internet played a key role in getting Barack Obama elected as 44th President of the USA.

Ben Self (@bself), founding partner of Blue State Digital, came to Lisbon yesterday, with his colleague Dan Thain, to share some lessons learned from the Obama campaign. The event, organised by the Sócrates 2009 movement, raised substancial online interest. Even if you can read most of the insights under the #di09 Twitter hashtag, it may be easier to see here the videos and links that they shared.

The lessons are about money, message and mobilisation.

#1 - Donating is owning

Even if you donate a small amount of money to a campaign, you become a stakeholder of that campaign. You’re more likely to donate again and to offer voluntary work. With smart email messages, well targeted, the campaign can keep a close contact with you, asking you to talk to your neighbours ou call swing voters. A campaign funded with small donations become owned by its grassroots donors. See Barack Obama having dinner with four of his donors:

#2 - YouTube means direct contact

The previous video show one of the opportunities YouTube offers: politicians can communicate directly to the potential voters, showing different sides of their personality. You can get to know a candidate more intimately than it was ever possible. It also breaks the candidates free from mass media editing, allowing them to share more complex messages. A good example of that is the famous “race” speech was seen by millions of people. The fact that it is 38 minutes long didn’t stop the message. Surprisingly, people can listen to a long message!

#3 - Storytelling can have a huge impact

And often the supporters can tell a more compelling story than the candidate himself. Check the story of Charles, a volunteer from Boulder, Colorado, who won a raffle to meet Barack.

#4 - People are eager to participate

Dan Thain shared his UK experience with the HOPE not hate campaign, a community effort to fight the extremism of the far right BNP (British National Party). Using an online-based startegy with a 5 people staff, the HOPE not hate campaign built an email contact list of 115.000 people, raised donations by 1200% and, ultimately, drove the BNP down. Dan tells in the BSD blog about how they used email mobilisation to prevent a BNP rally in Liverpool. People are eager to participate, if they believe in the cause...

Picture 3

Another example of citizen engagement, this one quoted by Ben Self, was the Million Trees in New York City programme. Again, technology plays a role as an enabler of interaction.

Picture 4

This brief summary doesn’t replace the emotion that both Ben and Dan conveyed with their presentation. However, you can get some of that energy in these interviews available online:


Can companies ignore social media?

Last week, the Portuguese Association for Corporate Communication (APCE) held its yearly forum to discuss how important the new online media can be for corporate communication strategies. If proof was needed, the rising popularity of Twitter, Facebook and all sorts of social networks would be enough.

I had to represent the
Technological Plan at the opening session, so I decided to split my presentation in two halves. First, I tried to show how the Technological Plan emerged from the need to address an ever-changing world. Then, I couldn’t resist to argue that the worst mistake companies could make is to block the access of their employees to social networking websites... Companies who do so (and they’re so many!) become blind, deaf and mute towards what goes on on those social media...

To demonstrate my point, I decided to quote two examples:
how Comcast started to use Twitter to innovate in client relationship and how Domino’s Pizza managed to respond to a potentially destructive online video, asking their employees to use social media to restore the company’s name.

Just before the beginning of the session, I decided to share over Twitter what I was planning to say. The answers were immediate, so I asked for other suggestions, besides Comcast and Domino’s Pizza. I believe the response speaks for itself:

Rui Grilo: What's the role of new media in the internal communication strategies? This afternoon in Lisbon - 2:09 PM Apr 28th from Gravity
Rui Grilo: I'll be speaking at the opening session - a good opportunity to say again: companies, stop blocking social networks! 2:11 PM Apr 28th from Gravity
sherpas: @rgrilo I must give some time to it... someday! It’s a matter of updating knowledge which is so scarce even regarding strategies of conventional media! 2:12 PM Apr 28th from web in reply to rgrilo *
ananeves: @rgrilo I’d love to be there, but I’ve just heard about the event through your tweet Sad 2:15 PM Apr 28th from TweetDeck in reply to rgrilo *
MariaSpinola: RT @rgrilo speaking at the opening session - a good opportunity to say again: companies, stop blocking social networks! 2:16 PM Apr 28th from web
hugodom: Couldn't agree more! RT @rgrilo: - a good opportunity to say again: companies, stop blocking social networks! 2:16 PM Apr 28th from DestroyTwitter
Rui Grilo: @ananeves It demonstrates that APCE must use new media to promote their events... Winking 2:19 PM Apr 28th from Gravity in reply to ananeves *
sherpas: @rgrilo plenty of newspapers and TVs feel the threat. They can’t prevent the people from speaking freely! 2:19 PM Apr 28th from web in reply to rgrilo *
Rui Grilo: @sherpas Absolutely! And if the companies who ignore the new media become blind, deaf and mute in relation to what happens there! 2:21 PM Apr 28th from Gravity in reply to sherpas *
ananeves: @rgrilo yes, it really looks like they should. I hope it’ll be a great event and I’ll be waiting for the tweets from the ones who’ll be there 2:21 PM Apr 28th from TweetDeck in reply to rgrilo *
pgsimoes: VERY WELL RT: @rgrilo: I'll be speaking at - a good opportunity to say: companies, stop blocking social networks! 2:21 PM Apr 28th from TwitterFox
Rui Grilo: At forum, I'll quote Comcast and Domino'sPizza (pt) +suggestions? 2:23 PM Apr 28th from Gravity
ananeves: @rgrilo check out "Naked Pizza puts up Twitter billboard" (via @KursaalTom, @woonyOstend) 2:26 PM Apr 28th from TweetDeck in reply to rgrilo
MariaSpinola: @rgrilo at you’ll find "good & bad" examples 2:27 PM Apr 28th from web in reply to rgrilo *
MariaSpinola: @rgrilo Good example: From "Dell Hell" To "Dell That Gets Social Media Listening and Engagement: 2:27 PM Apr 28th from web in reply to rgrilo *
MariaSpinola: @rgrilo Another good example: Apple apologizes for Baby Shaker: ( see also ) 2:27 PM Apr 28th from web in reply to rgrilo *
ananeves: @rgrilo check also this and look into the comments for more interesting links 2:29 PM Apr 28th from TweetDeck in reply to rgrilo *
MariaSpinola: @rgrilo Bad example: Amazon's Silent Mistake in the Face of a Social-Media Firestorm: 2:30 PM Apr 28th from web in reply to rgrilo *
josebaldino: RT @GoUp to support @rgrilo A good post how social media change the rules of the marketplace. PM Apr 28th from web *
sherpas: @rgrilo I’m not an expert, but I understood that 4, 5 or 6 years ago! lol 2:33 PM Apr 28th from web in reply to rgrilo *
MariaSpinola: @rgrilo and another example of how to create a “storm” in social networks: 2:34 PM Apr 28th from web in reply to rgrilo *
joaovc: @rgrilo how about Petrogal? 2:36 PM Apr 28th from Tweetie in reply to rgrilo
Rui Grilo: @ananeves Thank you Ana. 2:38 PM Apr 28th from Gravity in reply to ananeves *
Rui Grilo: Thank you all! @ananeves @sherpas @joaovc @josebaldino @GoUp @MariaSpinola - I managed to include your links in the presentation 2:50 PM Apr 28th from Gravity *
sherpas: @rgrilo "honored"... I feel!!!... I’m not lying!!!... lol 2:53 PM Apr 28th from web in reply to rgrilo *
Rui Grilo: @joaovc I’ve included a link to your article about Blogs e Twitter 2:55 PM Apr 28th from Gravity in reply to joaovc *
Rui Grilo: It’s starting... Happy 2:56 PM Apr 28th from Gravity *

( * my translation to English)

I’d like to thank everybody who gave me their suggestions and opinios. As promised, here is the presentation (in Portuguese). The new slide with the additional suggestions is number 26:


Obama's unlikely followers

Portuguese politicians are starting to follow Obama’s lead. Even the leader of the Portuguese Communist Party repeated countless times his equivalent to “yes, we can” ( “sim, é possível” ) this weekend, during their latest congress. A contender to lead the second largest Portuguese party, Pedro Passos Coelho, is building his support base around a website apparently inspired in Obama’s web strategy (he even uses Twitter).

I believe that Obama’s groundbreaking contribution to renewing politics cannot be reduced to catchy phrases or online tools. His road to the White House was paved with simple and authentic speech, breaking away from the traditional political speech inherited from the 19th century members of parliament. That truthful speech was key to win the support of the ‘Net Generation’ which ultimately led to his victory.

We can a good example of that kind of new political spech in the email message bellow. It was sent on 25 September and, in only 145 word, his campaign was able to explain why the first debate with McCain should stand, in spite of the roaring finantial crisis. Short sentences, straight messages and truth. That is the most important lesson that we can learn with Obama.

Subject: VIDEO: Barack's latest remarks about the economy

This morning Barack called John McCain to suggest a joint statement of principles that would help Congress resolve the immediate financial crisis.

Then John McCain went on television and said he was suspending his campaign and that Friday's presidential debate should be postponed.

Barack spoke about the crisis and took questions from reporters a few hours ago.

He also made it clear that -- with only 40 days left for the American people to decide who will be responsible for leading our economic future -- it is more important than ever that the scheduled debate takes place.

Please take a minute to watch the video of Barack's press conference and share it with your friends:


This is an important time, and we have to keep this campaign focused on the crucial issues.

Thank you,


David Plouffe
Campaign Manager
Obama for America


Fractal tweets

Complexity theory is a source of fascination for me since I was finishing high-school. Besides the beauty of fractal geometry, what grabbed me about complexity was the notion that something radically new can emerge from the normal, everyday interaction. I believe that the web is enabling human interaction in a way that patterning and emergence are becoming increasingly obvious.

One example: Twitter, already mentioned in the previous post. It was created as a microblogging platform: one has 140 characters to answer the "what are you doing?" question. Pretty simple? Sure. But then one chooses who to follow (like subscribing to a RSS feed). Them people you follow may follow you, especially if they know you. You see who they reply to, so your community grows and a group emerges. Then software companies and politicians (Barack Obama, for instance) started using it to keep a direct connection with their users or voters beyond traditional broadcast. Using Twitter's open API platform, software developers started making (and selling) apps to improve the usability and connect it to other services. Usage grows and Twitter gains more and more followers as new patterns keep on emerging, without a blueprint or a plan.

This is what the “web 2.0” really is about. After finishing reading Don Tapscott's latest book (Grown Up Digital), I believe that something quite fundamental is happening: a new generation of people (the Net Geners, up to thirty-something) are using technology in different way because they're free from the hype: technology for them is like air, they don't pay too much attention to it, they just use it!

Update - After publishing this post, I came across some interesting opinions on Twitter:
Why Tim O'Reilly loves Twitter
Diogo Vasconcelos’ list of nice Twitter tools
Twitter as a platform for e-government

Software à la carte

One of the things that strike me about Apple’s Mac OS X is the quantity and quality of open source and shareware software. Communities and small companies are able to develop great apps for free or that one can buy for something between 10 and 50 dollars.

The last small wonder that I found was EventBox, an application which does something incredibly simple: it puts together in a common interface all the social networks and groups to which one belongs. It enables us to see in the same window our friends’ activity on Twitter, Flickr or Facebook (among others) and we can also ad to the mix anything which has a RSS feed.

A curious thing about it is that the developing team actually uses Twitter to keep its customers up to date on what they’re doing. Further, they use Twitter to interact with their clients to debug, explain what’s happening and choose what to develop next. You can watch and participate, live, as a programme you use evolves. Isn’t this, really, ‘software à la carte’?


Paris Hilton answers McCain

It’s today’s headline in the press, which means we’re deep into the silly season! To fight Barack Obama’s popularity, McCain said he was just another celebrity like Britney Spears or Paris Hilton... That’s right, he wasn’t nice! But he’s just had a totally hot reply. If this isn’t “politics 2.0” where can I find it? Happy