Use Tools, Not Gimmicks

February 18, 2009 at 9:02 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Were the words of Thomas Gensemer last night during his presentation “Obama’s (not so) Secret Weapon” at London’s City University.  Gensemer is a managing partner at Blue State Digital and is one of the brains behind Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign web operation.

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He’s come to London to share the secret behind Obama’s success with an audience eager to use the same tools in British politics, UK NGOs or within the private, busines sector. Having worked for the beta version of Obama in 2004, Howard Dean, Gensemer saw the web’s potential in transforming campaign strategy.  If Dean was the Kitty Hawk of online campaigning, in just 4 years time, Obama would become the NASA space shuttle.  Armed with his laptop, PowerPoint and a massive projector screen, Gensemer unveiled the secrets behind Obama’s online operation: a strategic blending of online social networking and fundraising coming together on a clean, user-friendly website.

Now that may not sound so revolutionary, using Facebook to create buzz about Obama?  Not rocket science, right?  Well, not quite.  When Gensemer talked social networking he didn’t mean using sites like Facebook or Twitter to create a community around Obama.  Rather the campaign built a community of followers from the ground up, then used Facebook as a third party to integrate into their online Obama base.

On the fundraising front, one “weapon” Blue State Digital deployed was the volunteer video.  During the campaign, BSD solicited campaign stories from volunteers much like this one called Charles Meets Obama.  Gensemer and his team sifted through thousands of emails they received from various campaign volunteers across the country.  Once they found a compelling story, BSD sent down an $80 flip camera to capture the volunteer’s story on tape.  The video was recorded, edited and uploaded to youtube or myobama.com where it enjoyed hundreds of thousands of hits.  Those hits, Gensemer says, turned into dollars as traffic spurred fundraising numbers in the form of small online donations.  Campaign volunteers working on the ground in Colorado were inspiring voters in Florida to contribute $10 or $20 to Obama’s campaign.

Asked if the same kind of strategy would work for Palin or McCain, Gensemer confidently replied absolutely, raising eyebrows that Obama’s win was less about the candidate and more about the technology.

Since the election, Blue State Digital’s list of media clients has grown.  Clients range from advocacy groups like Wal-mart Watch and the Save Darfur Coalition to international clients like the London Mayor and the European Council on Foreign Relations–all eager to use the tool of online communities to raise awareness and money.  It appears, Obama’s secret weapons are fast becoming the future of campaigning and fundraising.

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