For me one of the most exciting takeaways of this election year is the hope that we may be finally having a president who understands the power of technology for engaging people, and possibly for applying it for the services of good, besides things like Project Echelon, FISA and black ops projects.
Lot has been said of the well orchestrated application of Social Media technologies by Mr. Obama’s campaign this election season. Recently I was reading the last month’s issue of MIT Technology review. It’s cover story was about Jascha Franklin-Hodge’s Blue State Digital. Though lacking much specifics the story highlights the power of this technology for engaging the myspace & Facebook generation. The origins of this company seem to go back to Howard Dean’s failed attempt at presidency in the previous election cycle. Once the ground work was laid the founders had the time to build out and perfect the tools while the Socially Networked mindset was taking hold among us, particularly the younger generation with its abundant enthusiasm for coolness and free time.
Putting Social Networking to work
One of the important notes from this story was the reaffirmation of the point that it is not enough to have a bunch of online networking tools to get kicks out of. But to actually ensure that the online network can be linked and translated into a physical ground game, which was of course one of the key game changer items in Mr. Obama’s case. Getting members on my.barackobama.com to take the initiative, organize neighborhood Obama events and parties, do ground up micro fund raising was all part of that strategy. Something for the social networking monetizers to take note of.
Just like the entire modern financial system rests on the notion of trust, the effectiveness of the social networking machine depends on its ability to let us express ourselves and be a part of something bigger. There is an innate need in all of us to matter, to feel wanted, and to make a difference. So when my.barackobama.com page greets me with an opportunity to make a difference it is not too hard to feel inspired. My own efforts were limited to contributing money. But I am sure many others had more passion, fire and free time in their belly to answer to that call. I recently heard a reporter stating that people tend to be more willing to contribute their time for free than they would do for some fee as long as they can be made to believe in the cause. Makes sense. After all we Americans do contribute a lot to charity by the time Dec 31 rolls around. May be the Social Networking phenomenon will drive us towards more global goodness instead of just satisfying our need to be part of some virtual society.
Another interesting convergence that may have been going on here is the high likelihood that most of the folks who are very engaged in the social media wave seem to be in their 30s or below and many of these people are also probably less jaded and feel motivated for a cause, once it is a cause that they can relate to. The other campaigns seemed to have their web strategy stuck in the oh now so old paradigm of “please click on this link to contribute money”, where the Obama machine, once they have identified their targets, went aggressively after them providing updates and seeking contribution via email, SMS, etc.
Building out, and possibly owning, a network of addressbooks is one of the important tools of social networking and the Obama machine seemed to have tapped on all possible channels and networking hubs out there to build out that web.
I never received any SMS, but I received plenty of emails. But there were never too many to feel like I was being spammed and besides that, having a keen interest in this year’s election helped. It has been said that when it comes to email campaigns, as long as it is smartly targeted and is based on the opt-in model it generally pays off. Compared to others I probably did not spend much time exploring Mr. Obama’s youtube video links that were being sent out. But I cannot deny the fact that if some of these emails did not come by I probably would not have made the effort to donate money as many times as I did. However, it was also somewhat entertaining to see the sender of the email was sometime set as Mr. Obama himself, or as Joe Biden at other times, and even Michelle Obama on few occasions. Somebody over there must have done a study on making the recipient feel like he/she is one of inner circle. An inner circle that is a few hundred thousand or even a million strong. 🙂
21st century Tools of campaign warfare
I recently heard a little bit about Obama campaign’s Project Houdini on NPR and then read a few lines about it on Newsweek, which seems to be have been one of those mysterious ground game tools of getting out the vote. It seems this time around democrats have finally mastered the micro targeting strategy of republicans of elections past, and the application of realtime data analytics and data mining technologies to large geopolitical databases is something that is going to get more and more critical in future elections. Product marketers and analysts have been already using these technologies for so long; why not extend its reach to the campaign groundforce! I can see campaignforce.com on the horizon here.
Once the new president elect takes office I wonder what will happen to this my.barackobama.com club ? Can these members expect to build a lifelong relationship with the president 🙂 I am sure the democratic party is hoping the members at least build a lifelong relationship with the party, which is probably too much to expect. It is probably the younger demographics that gets most excited about a cause and wanting to make a difference. As we get older the view gets blurrier and blurrier and the mind gets more cynical. This election obviously had a historical significance which I am sure added a lot to that fire within and that helped to engage everybody at an unprecedented level. It remains to be seen how this technology plays out in future elections. May be again when we get close to electing a woman president 🙂 By next election cycle I would think the competition would get more level. The other party is not going to sit idle on this front and they are probably already drafting up the business plans for their own Red State Digital. It may even be on their agenda for this week’s self reflection gathering at the Shenandoah Valley. Welcome to the social networking arms race!!
A connected White House
I would love to see our President-elect Obama to have a technology office with a CTO cabinet post that not only advises the president on the state of current and future technology, but also figures out a way for him to stay engaged with the social network that propelled him towards the highest office. That could be one of the ways for him to live up to his promise of ground up rebuilding. I don’t expect the president to be twittering with us from his daily CIA briefings, but may be a monthly State of the Union blog would be nice. Or may be a Pulse of the Nation web app up on this Oval office wall to see how the country is reacting to his ideas – CNN instant poll style. I think it can happen. Am I allowed to say Yes we can ? 🙂