Wednesday, November 5, 2008

How Barack Obama Used the Internet & Technology to Win the Democratic Presidential Nomination

The following is a reprint of my Savoy Professional Magazine Sept/Oct 2008 cover story in it's entirety.

How Barack Obama Used the Internet & Technology to Win the Democratic Presidential Nomination By Edward Cates

Senator Barack Obama has energized the nation through his strategic and charismatic Presidential campaign. The demographics of his audience are broad, diverse and inclusive of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disenfranchised Republicans and the technology forward Generations X and Y. Masterfully, Obama has sparked the passions and a conversation with America through the most strategic use of the web in Presidential campaign history.

“The idea of the internet having a role in the campaign hit full stride in 2004 with Howard Dean” adds Siddiq Bello, strategic consultant for Rogue Venture Labs a specialist in online strategy and the evolution of Web 2.0. “From a social media perspective, the Obama campaign uses the medium extremely well. Select your preferred communication tool, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter, AIM, FriendFeed and he is there with appropriate messaging for that audience. It also tends to be two way messaging and that’s a real change.”

Obama’s campaign operates two primary websites (a.k.a. MyBo a networking and campaign resource community) and is consistently ranked in the top 2,000 websites on the web by a leading website and information company. conversely ranks in the Top 9,000. Ranking alone doesn’t denote the significance of these choreographed accomplishments.

To truly appreciate this feat you have to take a look at the tentacles of the online campaign that contribute to the overall success of the larger campaign. Obama’s online strategy has been designed to maximize today’s Web 2.0 with an extensive presence in social networking sites.

You may have heard the term Web 2.0 and wondered if it was another upgrade for a web browser or software. the open source web encyclopedia defines Web 2.0 as “the trend in the use of the World Wide Web, technology and web design that aims to increase creativity, information sharing, and most notably, collaboration among users.” YouTube, MySpace, Facebook and Flickr are all examples of sites that are driven by user generated content and interaction.

“Web 2.0 activates the passion in people to spread the message. The Obama campaign has capitalized on that,” adds Bello. “Barack Obama’s campaign doesn’t need to create the music video Yes We Can, is empowered on his own to produce the video and get his celebrity friends to participate. People have access they haven’t had in the past.”

Grammy award winning Hip-Hop artist and producer and Black Eyed Pea independently created an Obama campaign anthem and YouTube sensation with his artistic and celebrity riddled “Yes We Can” music video that received over 9 million views. On all fronts YouTube is being disproportionately dominated by the Obama campaign with 52 million views compared to McCain videos receiving 9.8 million.
Not only are the types of sites on the web changing, so are user behaviors.

Once viewed as juvenile and for teenagers only, social networking site users are trending older and becoming a foundational part of establishing online identity and connectivity. Obama’s social networking campaign is titled on his home page as Obama Everywhere and boasts an impressive list of real estate on the web. Obama Everywhere Social Networking sites: Facebook MySpace • YouTube • Flickr Digg • Twitter Eventful • LinkedIn • BlackPlanet • FaithBase • Eons • Glee • MiGente • MyBatanga • AsianAve • DNC PartyBuilder

One of the most compelling components of the campaign has been the integration of the web to facilitate fundraising. Supporters of the campaign are asked to take part in contribution and fundraising drives to hit critical milestones. Initial contributions to the campaign submitted online are often matched by previous donors and create a membership to the community and fostering engagement and connectivity to a broader movement.

Obama’s use of the Internet for fundraising purposes has been effective by connecting the act of giving on a grass roots and accessible level via the web. Obama’s campaign recently announced they have received donations from over 2 million donors. Federal Election Commission campaign donation data reveals that McCain has raised $158 million in contributions compared to Obama’s current total of $389 million. The dynamics of contribution flow are even more telling. Obama has raised $166 million in small donations of $200 and under compared to McCain’s $42 million in the same donation range.

The Obama campaign has fueled campaign donations by welcoming smaller contributors and making the online giving process easy.
Not only is Obama pervasively present throughout social networking sites, his supporters are moved to action pulling out credit and debit cards to make a quick donation online en masse. Through his online network Obama is able to convey messages and solicit donations with quick, effective and measurable results.

The Obama campaign capitalized on the popularity of text messaging to launch a promotion that allowed subscribers to be the first to know of his VP selection while creating a data-mining coup for the remaining campaign. Blackberry’s and cell phones around America buzzed in unison on the morning of Saturday, August 24th with a message from the Obama campaign informing them of his selection of Senator Joseph R. Biden.

“The Obama text messaging campaign makes us feel like we are in the room and everyone has access to be the first to know,” adds Navarrow Wright, President and CEO of a site that aggregates content appealing to the urban audience. Backed by the evergreen and diversifying mogul Russell Simmons, users are provided a voting system on multiple stories and a conduit to share content. Obama related stories rank among the highest number of related stories and posted comments aggregated on the site.

“People feel connected to the campaign. They are being communicated with and feel they have a stake in this. It’s a sign of the times and a sign of true democracy,” said Wright.

In the end, Barack Obama’s ability to secure the Presidency will be hinged upon much more than a successful online campaign. Tackling the energy crisis, education, universal healthcare, foreign policy, the mortgage crisis and a suffering economy are more substantive issues that Obama has to continue to address to win voters. If Senator Obama makes history with a win in November, the innovation and breakthrough efforts of his online presence should be credited. Over time, Senator Obama’s online strategy will prove to serve as the standard for effective Presidential campaigns.

“Take away, elements regarding his race and all of the hype around his candidacy and you find that he executed a sound online strategy to get his thoughts out to the people and address their issues,” adds Wright. “This was not a fluke, it was true Internet strategy.”

Edward Cates is the President and CEO of Nuance Marketing a strategic marketing, digital media, communications and public relations agency based in Atlanta, GA (

History Unfolds: President Barack Obama

The youngest of my three son’s started my day today saying, “Good morning Daddy. Barack Obama will be our next President.”

I can’t remember a more impactful and inspiring good morning greeting. On November 4, 2008 my country elected an amazing man to be President. President Elect Barack Obama has a distinguished education, a passionate commitment to community and country, proud father and husband, moving orator and compelling policy maker.

As a father, husband and business owner I am inspired by the direction our nation is going with Obama at the helm. I can relate more than ever with “First Lady” to be Michelle Obama’s campaign statement about initial pride. Not because I have never been proud of our country or our accomplishments before. Rather, through this campaign and process, I feel like this is as much my country as anyone else.

As a black man, this accomplishment shakes the foundation of so many of my thoughts on patriotism, citizenship, service and the condition of the dialogue on race. I have gained a new sense of ownership in this country that previously existed more faintly in the periphery.

As a black father, a new path to opportunity has been blazed for my three sons. The ceiling on achievement and “what could be” has been lifted. For centuries black parents have redirected our children’s hope for the Presidency toward more realistic opportunities. “There’s always work at the Post Office. Get a good government job. Get enough education so you can teach.” All of these recommendations for a career provide a framework to ensure an equal playing field for minorities.

Last night my family assembled at a viewing party for a time. Later into the night as results rolled in we were in our home watching and feeling like we made history together. My wife and I pulled out champagne flutes from our wedding gift shelf and toasted a new day for our children, our family and our country.

It was like New Years eve, talking to family and friends about what was happening for our country. One of my “light skinned” friends, Rob (he’s really white) called and shared how deeply it impacted him. Rob and his wife have an adopted Chinese daughter, along with their own kids and mirrored the hopes we have for something more for the next generation. Rob has a wicked sense of humor and for a moment, his call felt like a congratulations and for me it felt like it deserved a proud “We did it.”

95% support of black voters turned out. I’m so proud of that statistic. White voters also did their part. Black voters equate to 10-15% of the U.S. Population (approximately), so we know that it was truly a collective effort. Obama won Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida as key battleground states. Obama will go down in history as running one of the best Presidential campaigns in history. His use of the internet and technology helped to tap into an incredible stream of donors, volunteers and supporters.

There are things I’ve heard and have said today that still send chills down my spine:

“President Obama/President Elect Obama”

“First Black President”
“First Black First Lady”

“First Black First Family”
“Black family in the White House”

“Return of Camelot to the White House”

“Obama won Virginia the former seat of the Confederacy”

“Michelle Obama First Lady of the United States of America”

“That’s my President.”

“I’m so proud of our country.”
“We did it.”

“Change is coming.”

Never before have I, and my family been so inspired, felt so included and with a connection to the greatness that is the United States of America. Our ancestors are smiling with expectations of greatness as we move our country forward to make more history together.

Today I woke up a little earlier. I've laughed and smiled a lot more. I feel an unparalleled pride in what we accomplished.

*The title of this post was changed in deference to the similarly titled, brilliant essay "In Our Lifetime" by distinguished Harvard Professor and historian Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

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