Political Campaigns Online - The Changing Face of Politics
In 2008 a man came to prominence across the world. Yet months before he had not really been known to those outside of the US, and maybe even in the US general population. This man through community organisation and a brilliant online campaign became the 44th president of the USA. He is of course Barack Obama. Obama's online campaign though was more than just the odd Facebook update, or the odd tweet (Twitter was still fairly new but Obama used it) or a fantastic email campaign that stretched the length of his campaign, or some great Youtube videos. It wasn't even the fact he had a create website, designed by great web designers which converted his web traffic into cash for Barack's campaign offline. It was not one of these alone, but the sum total of all of them together and the clever use of the twibbon of course.
The Results of the Online Obama Campaign
The results of the 2008 Obama campaign online were staggering.
18% of the USA's internet users posted about or commented on the Barack Obama campaign. total 45% of those users viewed at least one of Barack Obama's YouTube Videos. Around one third of the USA's internet users shared a link or shared content directly about the Obama campaign with someone else online. In total 83% of 18-24 year olds in the study had a social media account, and at least two thirds took part in someform of political activity during the campaign season. Above figures from a 2008 PewInternet Survey.
Alone these figures are interesting but mean very little in the grand scheme of things. The reality is that it wasn't only the online world that brought Obama to power, but it more than helped a little.
Lets take for example how Obama's campaign was turned from an online campaign, similar to many e-petitions we see today, into a million foot soliders for on the "ground campaigns". To do this lets look at how the Obama campaign tied the online world with the real world.
The online campaign collected around 3 million mobile numbers and about 2 million email addresses in a single database, these were given in return for up to date news straight to the phone. It meant supports (in theory) received the news before the media. In doing so Barack was putting the person before the corporation.
In return for a small donation online, the obama campaign would send out car bumped stickers, badges and t-shirts. This meant that people felt like they were involved in the campaign when they wore or had the item on display in public (almost always for a car!). But it didn't just raise awareness of the campaign for Obama, but it also raised around $600m in campaign funds.
Barack married the online and offline worlds. He would communicate directly with the audience using forums such as YouTube live and video streaming via Facebook to hold "democratic meetings" similar to when you listen to an prospective candidate and ask questions, only much more friendly and informal. In doing this his soon to be constituents were engaged and felt a certain level of trust in Obama.
The email addresses and mobile numbers, were used to great effect, issuing updates on at least a weekly scale. This kept people informed about the campaign online and in their local area, it meant the possibility of foot soldiers for the campaign. People to go door knocking and to do phone banking and to simply talk about the campaign and why people should "Vote Obama" to friends and family.
Through the activities above the Obama campaign gained online fame, but more importantly led to the election of the candidate - which was of course the overall aim.
So what is the moral of the Barack Obama Campaign 2008?
Quite simply the web is a network of people who communicate with people they both know and don't know. Someone may tweet about a campaign but this tweet can be viewed by anyone in the world. Users may share content via Google+ or Facebook and the world can again see this. Humans are creatures of communication, without it as a species we'd soon die out, it is in our nature to want to communicate and that is why humans love the internet. It's a communications tool - and the Obama campaign showed the true power it can hold during an election campaign.
One final thought for how powerful and online campaign website can be for an election. In the UK an staggering 1.3 million people tuned in to the BBC to watch the results, this is added to by 300 thousand ITV viewers and a similar number of SKY News viewers - that's right 2 million viewers for an election in the USA. This is the highest number of viewers ever for these channels for a US election. These numbers demonstrate the true reach and power of the internet today.
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