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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...

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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.

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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: