The social team used the app as a targeting platform, asking supporters to share content and reach out to target voters. Over 600,000 supporters followed through, reaching 5m voters with requests to register to vote, donate or watch campaign videos aimed at securing their vote. In the end, Obama for America became the first presidential campaign to break the billion dollar mark, with online donations accounting for around $690m (£531m) of that, well ahead of Mitt Romney’s campaign. Most of that came from small donations from the public who had been contacted via email, Facebook, Twitter and other social channels.
Lessons learned Around six months after Obama’s victory, the Republican party released an ‘autopsy report’ on what had gone wrong in its campaign, and digital was one of the key takeaways. The party admitted that it had been left standing in the dust by Obama for America’s sophisticated combination of data-driven targeting and agile, connected workers. “Despite reaching more voters than ever before through traditional forms of voter contact, we lost,” said the report, pointing to the “digital divide” between the two parties.
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“From social network processing of traditional broadcast media messaging to more effective targeting for voter contact, the Obama campaign benefited greatly from a relatively seamless integration of digital, tech, and data in their campaign efforts. “Our challenge is less of a technology problem and more of a culture
Trump’s social media savvy has earned him over 10m Twitter followers and a similar number of Facebook fans
problem. We need to strive for an environment of intellectual curiosity, data, research and testing to ensure our programs are working.” Washington appears to have taken these lessons seriously. The number of political consultants forming digital-first agencies has exploded, especially in the past five years. These firms seek to take the power of big data and targeting and apply it to political campaigns, understanding that the same tactics that are enabling brands to focus their advertising budget where it will have the most impact equally apply to political candidates. Some of these firms focus on one side of the aisle or the other, while others remain politically neutral, focused instead on delivering results to whoever hires them. Many of those who worked on the Obama for America campaign have gone on to start agencies, while others have gone on to work for Hilary Clinton’s campaign or related organisations. But while the Democrats have a wealth of experienced talent to draw on, where does the ‘Grand Old Party’ stand?
Building a digital-first GOP While bringing data to Republican campaigns can be a struggle, especially when it comes to high-level party officials who are conservative not just politically but technologically, a number of agencies
have focused their efforts on the party. These firms include Engage, founded by Patrick Ruffini, eCampaign director at the Republican National Committee from 2005 to 2007; Targeted Victory, which ran Mitt Romney’s 2012 digital operation; Crowdverb; Optimus; and Ozean Media. Nevertheless, when it comes to digital marketing, the Republicans are facing a similar problem to many major corporations: a distinct lack of personnel with experience in the subject. A 2015 study by assistant professor of political communications Daniel Kreiss and graduate student Christopher Jasinski, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, found a marked divide between the two parties. Of the 626 political operatives with experience in digital, data and analytics on every presidential campaign since 2004, only 123 were hired by Republican campaigns. “Staffers who come to politics with significant work experience in other sectors or learn their trade outside of the established Beltway consulting culture are likely the sources of innovation in electoral politics,” claimed the study. “In rapidly changing technological environments and media systems characterised by high degrees of hybridity, parties, campaigns, representatives and consultancies are likely increasingly seeking staffers with up-todate skill sets, as defined by the current
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