Most coverage of Barack Obama’s online campaign has focused on its scale (13 million email addresses!), the amount of money raised and its use of social networking sites, including the public sites like MySpace/Facebook and the “walled-garden” MyBarackObama. According to Obama new media director Joe Rospars, though, many observers have been missing something vital that underlies ALL of Obama’s online outreach: good content.
At a panel discussion at GWU’s School of New Media and Public Affairs on Monday, Rospars described in particular the vital role of online video content, whose power the campaign recognized from the beginning — very early in the race, Obama’s team already included a videographer and screenwriter/producer squad to shoot footage both for internal/documentary purposes and (more importantly) for use in public as a persuasive tool.
Rospars described Obama’s use of video as breaking open a new channel of content, one with an almost unlimited volume and one that was key for volunteer motivation. Direct messages from the candidate, strategy briefings, supporter profiles and other pieces of “insider” information all helped to create a long-term relationship with campaign workers and volunteers, providing a context for otherwise-boring organizing tasks and serving as a direct inspiration for people to donate money and time.
And they were certainly seen: Rospars said that YouTube viewers consumed A BILLION MINUTES of Obama campaign videos by the end of the campaign, and according to YouTube’s Steve Grove, the campaign’s 1800 separate videos were viewed 100 million times in total. But a key aspect of their success was invisible to the public, since it was institutional: according to Rospars, the campaign could take full advantage of their good online video content because of the way it was organized, with an online presence fully integrated into the rest of the campaign structure.
Because the campaign was staffed with people intent on coordination and had the good leadership to ensure it, the campaign’s online content, organizing and fundraising were all woven together and reinforced each other. This linkage was evident in the use of the online tools themselves, since the Obama blog (which Rospars described as the “glue that held our relationship with supporters together”) and email list pushed video video views in classic integrated campaign fashion.
Integration and content are key — where have we heard this before? Behind the hype about fundraising and social networking, what seems clear is that the most important part of the Obama campaign was how it was organized and how it was oriented. If the online team had been stuck in a basement, hidden in the communications apparatus or treated as an afterthought as so often happens in the online political world, I doubt that Barack Obama’s online army would have been there when he needed it. And in that case, I doubt very seriously that he would be where he is today.