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Last week, New Work Lab my new coworking space in Casablanca organized a virtual conference with Betsy Hoover, Director of Digital Organizing for the 2012 Obama for America campaign. This was my first ‘Google Hang Out’ event and I must say I totally loved it. It just revealed how digital disruption is reshaping traditional meetings and conferences offering new opportunities in terms of global knowledge and exchange. I have worked many years in events and conference organization and let’s be honest you need ‘big’ money, whether it is funding or sponsorship, to invite prestigious guests to speak at events taking place at the other side of the world. Now with these new digital tools, we are overcoming barriers and elitism. We can connect influencers with the global crowd. This is clearly revolutionary; we are democratizing the access to thoughts leaders, thus empowering individuals with interactive knowledge and creating new possibilities for the next generation.
The young Moroccan crowd present at the event – some French and Senegalese as well – was very excited to exchange with such a digital master and get her tips to fully take advantage of the digital world. Their main interests were: ‘how can you have an impact online’, ‘how do you build engaged online communities’, ‘how do you reach your objectives & which tools do you use’, ‘what was the secret formula of Obama’s campaign success’, ‘how could Moroccans replicate this model at home, using social media and other online platforms to mobilize society and initiate change’. Here is a summary of some of the most interesting inputs from Betsy Hoover, one of today’s leading experts in the field of digital strategy.
The secret formula is alchemy: Data, Technology & Social
Obama’s organizing campaign in 2012 was a real experiment in the sense that it was the first time that online and offline were brought together to create one overall strategy for the whole organization. It was totally new not to separate what was naturally previously unconnected: the real world and the digital world. The initial brainstorm was ‘How can you really understand voters? How can you really know their concerns, motivations and feelings? Is there a way to collect offline information and share it internally to target voters online with the right message?’ And the answer was ‘yes’ with ‘Dashboard’ created for volunteers so that they could track information on the ground, collect offline data and insert it online in this internal participative platform. For the first time, offline and online met and you could see the whole picture. Investigate offline behaviour and insert it online and you can really design online strategy. This is collective intelligence – bringing data together by using technology platforms like dashboard and then relaying the corresponding message to each voter on social media platforms or through emailing campaigns.
So there were “three factors which mixed together in the right way turned the campaign’s digital strategy into a real success: Data, Technology and Social.” Data is the foundation. Technology helps to customize information. Social is the mean to reach people. Communications between the different departments was essential. Regular meetings and conversations were taking place to think strategically on how those pieces fit together. Integrating data and technology into an organization that was not used to it was a challenge. “Every level of the organization needed to understand the value these two elements were bringing to achieve our goals”.
The lean approach & building an engaged and creative team
Another key success factor was to adopt a lean approach “using the best practices and testing them to get the highest level of engagement”. Betsy Hoover insisted on this point, it’s all about “Testing, Testing and Testing again” to have a better understanding of all the different online communities’ behaviours. Users’ reactions were central to the way digital content was produced and conveyed. Betsy talked about “the importance of monitoring comments, especially knowing what the audience likes”. Some key indicators can give a lot of information on how people react to messages and videos’ speech, just by observing the average time between posting the link and the speed of the likes and comments for instance. So monitoring, analyzing and redefining the message accordingly was key.
This is the pragmatic and scientific approach, but there was also a subjective part as well: the human beings, namely the team and the volunteers. Successful outcomes depend on your ability to put resources together the right way, and boost a high level of engagement as well as a culture of creativity and constant brainstorming in your team.
Social Media yes! But each platform requires its own strategy
200 social media managers were mobilized for Obama ‘12 campaign. This just gives you a clear idea of social media’s central role of in the whole digital strategy. Here the most important element to consider is that each social media platform required a different strategy. We all know the big ones and why they matter, especially in terms of global reach.
And then you have the niche social media platforms that also had a powerful role. Let’s look at the Reddit story, a very interesting case study: “We needed to reach young adults, they move a lot, they are mobile, they are social – they are a different segment of the population, you cannot reach them the same way as you do when you make phone calls and go from door to door. Reddit was the perfect platform, although it was risky; young people can ask any questions that they want and they expect transparency and honesty. President Obama wanted to do it. He sat, interacted with over 30.000 people on Reddit and answered their questions. It was a good bet, it gave good results.”
Social media managers interacted with their online communities and leading influencers to ensure the movement could go viral and the initial objectives could be reached: fundraising, mobilizing, registering to vote, voting Obama. But one important thing to keep in mind is that the message was ‘one’, it came from the top and it always remained consistent.
Building a movement means creating enthusiasm
How do you generate enthusiasm? In this particular case, enthusiasm came with Obama itself, his charismatic personality, his inspirational speeches, his high communications skills explained Betsy. “Obama was the best asset of the campaign”, he generated enthusiasm just by being himself.
Then they constructed a narrative in which people could identify themselves and belong to. “The power of people: we relied on it. We talked to our people as if they were messengers”. The message of empowerment, the importance and central role of people as agents was the driver. “To generate enthusiasm, the team used key sentences as ‘You’re building this campaign’ or ‘You matter!’. “Then when we asked people ‘share this with your friends’, we always valued people promoting our cause, always thanked individuals who took the time to share, comment and act.” When you show you are being grateful, you are engaging people.
Thank you for sharing!
It was the first time online media and politics worked together stated Betsy Hoover. Indeed, citizens of the world, we all have so much to learn from this successful experiment to create positive change in our respective societies. Thank you Betsy Hoover for your insights and for sharing with us your experience and your best practices. And thanks again to New Work Lab for organizing this Google Hang Out. I look forward to the next ones!