The Wilburforce and Brainerd Foundations have released a new report that examines the fundraising successes and lessons learned from the Obama for America Campaign’s new media program. Here are a few of their key lessons:
Discipline: The discipline to develop best practices and stick to them is what often separates a mediocre online program from a truly great one. This includes the discipline required to ONLY send content that you know your supporters will value, instead of sending out the press release from your communications department. It also includes the discipline to adhere to a consistent brand, including look and feel, and message narrative. It means, in short, the discipline to stay ON message. David Plouffe, Campaign Manager, described this philosophy as “a belief in alignment…That alignment is really hard, though. We had to step back every day and make sure: Are we in alignment?”
Spotlight on Supporters: The campaign made a concerted and deliberate effort to keep the spotlight on the people who supported Obama, and not just on the candidate…Not only were supporters a core part of the campaign story at every level – including in the national media – but the campaign also created tools and forums that encouraged two-way communications and invited people ‘in’ to the campaign. However, these tools were not necessarily as critical as the story about the tools, which was really a story of how supporters became the center of the campaign. In July 2008 a New York Times reporter wrote, “The campaign’s new media strategy, inspired by popular social networks like MySpace and Facebook, has revolutionized the use of the Web as a political tool.”
Nimbleness: Being able to react quickly to breaking events was critical to the new media program’s success. Again, this can be seen in the campaign’s response to Palin’s “community organizer” comment. The campaign was able to turn on a dime and launch a fundraising email…In addition, the campaign used video as a rapid response tool. Instead of taking days or months to produce videos, the campaign would at times have a new video out within a few hours (or less) of an important speech or media moment. This frequently meant that instead of reacting to the news cycle, the new media team was actually scooping traditional media by getting their content up on the web faster than traditional media outlets could report on the story.
Authenticity: In the nonprofit sphere, email copy seems to see-saw between wonky and dumbed-down. But OFA managed to do something unique – share real, inside campaign information with its supporters, while making that information accessible and meaningful. For example, the campaign published a seven-minute video of David Plouffe on YouTube, detailing the campaign’s electoral vote strategy – filled with wonky, insider information.
Content Matters: From top-notch emails, to 1,800 videos, to amazing graphic design, the new media team demonstrated a serious and intensive focus on content. The campaign deliberately built profiles of specific online personas (David Plouffe, Jon Carson, Barack Obama, etc.), giving them each a unique voice. Scott Goodstein, the campaign’s External Online Director, described how good content trumped all of the individual new media tactics: “Tools are a frying pan. If the ingredients (the content) aren’t tasty, you’re still going to have a horrible dinner.”
Data-Driven Culture: More so than any campaign in history, OFA was a data-driven operation…By the general election, they had a six-person analytics team and they had tested and measured every aspect of the online program, including messengers, messages, layout, design, video, voice, segmentation, and other tactics. Entire projects were scrapped because the data showed they weren’t effective; resources were then directed to higher-performing strategies.