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June 29, 2011

Obama is First Black President and First President to Ask Followers to Show Support for Him via Facebook

By Jamie Epstein, TMCnet Web Editor


Let’s face it, President Barack Obama has completely changed the political realm forever, not because he is the first African American President but because of his fresh, innovative ideas such as his recent request that his loyal supporters use Facebook (News - Alert) to state they are in favor of his re-election campaign. Obama is stepping up his social media usage to whole other level through utilizing his personal Twitter (News - Alert) account to send messages to all of his 9 million followers.

Obama first stepped into the technology realm with his 2008 campaign using email, text messages and the Web to get his message out to voters and raised an astounding $500 million online through communicating with supporters. With his new campaign, Obama is looking to use social media website giants like Facebook and Twitter that most people who aren’t living under a rock are using on a daily basis anyway.

“The successful campaign is going to be one that integrates all the various elements of the digital channel — email, text, website, mobile apps, and social networks — together as one digital program and also mixing the digital program together with the offline reality of field organizations," said Joe Rospars, the Obama campaign's chief digital strategist, in a statement.

"In the end," Rospars added, "all the digital stuff is in service of the offline reality of knocking on doors, making phone calls and ultimately persuading voters and turning them out."

The transition to social media is not limited solely to Democrats however, as Republicans have also jumped on the bandwagon through use of the Web and social media to announce their campaigns and provide supporters with more information on Facebook such as videos, messages and online discussions, a recent Yahoo article discussed.

Currently, digital strategists are claiming that Obama's campaign has a large advantage over the Republican side due to the fact that his party first starting using these websites back in 2008. In addition, the Republicans have still yet to announce their candidate for president, giving the Democrats even more of an advantage.

"If you're my friend and I see that you're going out to canvass this weekend for Barack Obama, I'm much more likely to participate because I know my friends are doing it," said Stephen Geer, a former director of email and online fundraising for Obama for America.

As social media continue to boom, this technology could help getting more people out there to vote and informed about important issues related to each political candidate.

This time, the campaign is exploring ways of streamlining the process, from bringing more uniformity to how the information is taken down and entered into a database to using mobile devices, tablet computers or improvements to the website to help volunteers find key households or input data gathered at doorsteps. The approach could save time and help the campaign be more strategic about the households it targets.

The Democratic National Committee, for example, experimented with an app in 2010 that used global positioning systems to help canvassers find targeted households in certain neighborhoods, something that could be used more broadly in the presidential campaign.

Email is still king when it comes to fundraising, and online strategists consider the Obama campaign's massive email list a gold mine. The campaign has replayed some of its greatest hits in fundraising pitches — offering small donors a chance to win dinner with Obama and Biden and matching the contributions of $5 or more from first-time donors.

Pivoting off the "birther" controversy, the campaign created a "Made in the USA" mug, with a picture of Obama's long-form birth certificate on the back, for supporters who gave $15 or more.

Online advertising, meanwhile, is also expected to grow in sophistication. Political campaigns have been ramping up their use of online ads, turning to ads of 15 to 30 seconds that appear before video clips running on websites like Youtube and Hulu (News - Alert).

"We're getting a lot of questions now from people thinking strategically on how to drive their message next year online," said Andrew Roos, a political ads executive with Google (News - Alert).

Rospars, the mastermind behind Obama's digital success in 2008, cautions against looking at 2012 as the Facebook or Twitter campaign. Instead, it's about making all things digital work in harmony to pay off in November 2012.

"It's tempting to sort of pile onto the one new thing and sort of put all your eggs in one basket," Rospars said. "But I think in the history of campaigns, big bets like that don't tend to pay off. It's actually about integrating everything."


Jamie Epstein is a TMCnet Web Editor. Previously she interned at News 12 Long Island as a reporter's assistant. After working as an administrative assistant for a year, she joined TMC (News - Alert) as a Web editor for TMCnet. Jamie grew up on the North Shore of Long Island and holds a bachelor's degree in mass communication with a concentration in broadcasting from Five Towns College. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves




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