After the choppy video-feed of Barack Obama, our evening at the Entrepreneurs for Obama meeting got a little more lively and interesting. Joe Rospars, Obama's Director of New Media, was on-hand to speak to the group about how the campaign is using new media to its advantage. He gave a Powerpoint presentation (which I thought was very old school), but did a nice job of explaining how the use of the internet has evolved from the Clinton-Dole race of 1996 to now. Originally, campaigns used the web as static content brochures, which later evolved into a fundraising "bucket" to pour money into, and later into a more interactive environment for people to meet each other and the candidate.
The New Media group within the Obama campaign consists of writers, organizers, designers, and fundraisers who strategize on how to best use the new media platforms to their advantage. Their primary focus seems to be evolving the website into a place where people can use new media tools like blogging and meet-up software, to voice opinions and share information about the election. The website is constantly evolving as new tools and ideas are developed by the group.
The secondary goal of the New Media Group is to go outside the website to create a presence on other internet platforms. Joe mentioned MySpace, Twitter, and Facebook as examples of ways that people can form groups, get information, and show support for the candidate. Each of these has some limitations. For example, after a Facebook group has more than 1,000 members, there is no way for an administrator or anyone in the group to push a message out to the group. There is a Facebook group called "A Million Strong for Obama" that has 350,000 members now, but no way to really use the power of the group to the advantage of the campaign. He mentioned that Obama now has more MySpace friends than Hillary.
He mentioned my darling Twitter as an "ugly site" but a quick way to inform people that Obama will be on TV or send out a quick message to people. And here, I thought it was there so I could find out what the surf report in Santa Cruz is today, or whether Suburban Turmoil's baby is sleeping more than two hours at a time yet. Silly me.
Obama is on my Twitter friends list, as is John Edwards, but my complaint with both of them is that they rarely update on Twitter and often let us know after the fact that something has happened. Edwards sent a tweet recently that said, "Wasn't Elizabeth great on Larry King last night?" I would have preferred it if he had said, "Be sure to watch Elizabeth on Larry King tonight." Otherwise, it's not likely I'll watch Larry King, especially if Dancing with the Stars is on.
Joe also mentioned using LinkedIn and other social networking sites soon. He talked about Eventful, a site where people can demand that someone come to their town, whether it's Kelly Clarkson or 50 Cent or Barack Obama. When Obama visited Atlanta, 20,000 people showed up at a rally for him. They were able to mobilize large numbers because there had been a groundswell on Eventful of people asking for him to come there.
The moderator for the panel discussion was Steve Westly, a former eBay executive and California gubernatorial candidate. Steve is currently the co-chair of the Obama in California Campaign. He is a good guy, and we have met him several times, because our kids went to pre-school together.
Anyway, here are the questions for Joe Rospars that I jotted down, along with his answers:
Question: Does the campaign see having a multiple-user site, one with 12,000 bloggers, as a double-edged sword? It's great to have that much support, but how do you keep it from devolving into chaos?
Answer: Often the traditional campaign components have to catch up to the grassroots energy and enthusiasm. They plan for more staff involvement in the groups, although most of the groups are self-policing. If flame wars erupt, for example, the group leaders handle it.
Question: What mix of media does the campaign plan to use, among TV, internet, direct mail, phone, and internet?
Answer: Can't answer that, partially because this is strategy that they don't want to give away, and partially because this is still evolving. They are open to suggestions on how to stay ahead of the curve.
Question: Does the campaign have a specific mechanism for telling people how to interact and use the technology to their advantage? By the end of the Kerry & Dean campaigns, voters in Ohio and swing states were tired of hearing from campaigns. How do they plan to deal with voter burn-out issues?
Answer: They are well aware that training volunteers is key to avoiding duplication of efforts and have learned from the mistakes of the Kerry/Dean campaigns.
Note: This is a very important issue. My mom lives in Ohio. By the end of the 2004 campaign, she was so tired of the phone calls and negative TV ads that she decided not to vote. I blame her for my slow metabolism, my addiction to daytime TV, and now for the last four years of George Bush. Way to go, mom.
Question: Is there a tool or process for finding out if the people who are using their website are actually registered to vote?
Answer: The campaign will eventually be integrated with voter registration databases, so this is possible.
The next portion of the meeting was a panel discussion, which I will write about in the next installment of this series. Seriously, people, for a two hour meeting, there was a lot of information.
Image Credit: from the Obama for President website.