Sunday, October 9, 2011

Obama's Best Bet for Reelection: Social Networking?

President Obama may be struggling in polls and losing support amongst his core supporters, but when it comes to the ability of identifying, connecting with and mobilizing voters, as well as integrating voter information with the complex workings of a national campaign, his team is way ahead of the Republican pack.
Alone among the major candidates running for president, Obama not only has a Facebook page with 23 million "likes,” he has a Facebook app that is scooping up all kinds of facts about his supporters. Users of the Obama 2012 AreYouIn? app are not only giving the campaign personal data like their name, gender, birthday, current city, religion and political views, they are sharing their list of friends and information those friends share, like their birthday, current city, religion and political views.
According to a report by CNN, the Obama operation staff members are using a powerful social networking tool called NationalField, which enables everyone to share what they are working on. Modeled on Facebook, the tool connects all levels of staff to the information they are gathering as they work on tasks like signing up volunteers, knocking on doors, identifying likely voters and dealing with problems. Managers can set goals for field organizers like the number of calls made, the number of doors knocked, and see how people are doing against all kinds of metrics.
In addition to all the hard data, users can share qualitative information: what points or themes worked for them in a one-on-one conversation with voters, for example. "Ups," "Downs" and "Solutions" are color-coded, so people can see where successes are happening or challenges brewing.
For a campaign that tapped the volunteer energies of millions of people in 2008 and appears to need all the help it can get in 2012, these kinds of fine-grained technologies could make a key difference. While the Republican field has been focused on how their candidates are doing with social networking, Obama's campaign operatives are devising a new kind of social intelligence that will help drive campaign resources where they are most needed.
It all sounds like common sense, but actually, connecting and synchronizing the data a campaign collects from its field operation, fundraising operation and Web operation isn't a trivial task. Most political campaigns tend to rely on consultants to carry out part or all of these functions, resulting in even greater obstacles to sharing information.
But how powerful can this data driven politics be? By the end of the 2008 election, it had amassed 13 million supporter e-mail addresses, collected nearly 4 million individual donations and tallied about 2 million registered users on, the campaign's social networking platform. Seventy thousand members have used the site to conduct their own personalized fundraising campaigns.
Since 2008, enthusiasm for Obama has waned, but his online presence hasn't. His base on Facebook has soared nearly six times from the 4 million he had on Election Day, and his following on Twitter now stands at 10 million, dwarfing the Republican field. So even if Obama isn't drawing millions of people off their sofas to rally to his side on their own in 2012, his team has a huge amount of raw data to work with as they build his re-election machine.

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