Four Lessons from the Obama Campaign

16Mar09

Colin Delaney on ePolitics released a six-part series on lessons learned from the Obama campaign. Here are four that I thought were particularly useful and insightful:

1. Online communications should be completely integrated into the overall communications structure. The Obama organization integrated online communications into its overall structure and processes. Rather than finding himself buried in the technology or communications department, new media team director Joe Rospars reported directly to campaign manager David Plouffe, and others on his staff worked alongside liaisons from other campaign areas such as field organizing and fund raising.

What’s more, in many campaigns and advocacy groups, the online staff is implicitly expected to know how fix a computer as well as to understand how to use the Internet as a modern political mobilization tool. All while often being excluded from the communications planning process until the last possible moment, rendering the online element an afterthought with a stunted chance at real success. Obama’s campaign managers employed a completely different model—for them, the Internet was as central to a modern political campaign as the traditional tools of direct mail, field organizing, advertising and the like. Miss that point, and you really miss the point of ‘08.

2. You must set measurable goals. Obama’s Internet communications strategy aimed at concrete, focused and measurable goals. Even with the relatively vast resources at hand, his internet communications staff built carefully, innovating only as needed, and invested in projects that seemed to have a real chance of paying off in time to win. The was true for all channels, including email, social networking, and the website.

3. It’s important to track everything. Obama’s campaign tracked the success of every e-mail, text message and Web site visit, capitalizing on the analytics that are inherent in digital communications. Each ad and e-mail was created in multiple versions (e.g., different headers, buttons vs. links, video vs. audio vs. plain text) to test what worked and what did not. The campaign developed more than 7,000 customized e-mails, tailored to individual prospects, and made real-time improvements to its outreach materials. Adjustments were made daily to improve performance and conversion. It worked. As the campaign progressed, the effectiveness of the e-mail campaign increased and conversion rates similarly improved. The point: what’s the use of doing something you can’t test? If you can’t test it, you don’t know how much good it’s doing you, and your money might be better spent elsewhere.

4. Strive for incremental improvement. The campaign rarely seemed to aim for immediate perfection, but instead built things that were needed and that worked and then incrementally improved them through testing and experience.

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