Lessons Learned From Obama’s Social Media Program

Whether or not you voted for him, it's hard to refute the fact that Barack Obama led a revolutionary campaign by leveraging social media to engage voters in a grassroots approach. In office, he is continuing his commitment to digital platforms by implementing Web technologies and online communications strategies the likes of which the White House has never seen.

According to Monte Lutz, vice president of Digital Public Affairs at Edelman, this has major implications for the future of business. Critical to success, then, is learning from this presidential push to the Web. He identifies the following 10 lessons that any communicator should keep in mind when executing public affairs campaigns for their own organizations.

1. Ladder support through tiers of engagement: "Provide a way for people to get involved based on their level of engagement," Lutz says. He identifies three tiers to organize around: personal (making donations, signing up for e-mail notifications, joining groups on social networks); social (posting pictures/videos, writing blog posts); and advocate (recruiting others to donate, creating online groups, hosting events).

2. Empower super-users: "Identify the connectors early and give them the tools to activate others," Lutz says, pointing to the Obama team's approach of conducting individual, personalized outreach to the most active MyBarackObama.com members.

3. Provide source materials for user-generated content: According to the 2008 Edelman Trust Barometer, people trust "a person like me" most. Obama's team took advantage of this by encouraging user-generated content on its Web site and allowing supporters to discuss and advocate among themselves.

4. Go where people are: "To reach an audience, know where they are and connect with them there," Lutz says, noting that the Obama Web site served as a portal into many sub- platforms and online communities.

5. Use tools people are familiar with: "Participation reinforces messages across platforms and creates as many touch points as possible," Lutz says.

6. Ensure people can find content: When rumors spread that Barack Obama was Muslim, his team took control by purchasing the domain "isbarackobamaamuslim.com" and then placing the word "No" in a large font on the landing page. That tactic put the site at the top of search results.

7. Mobilize supporters through mobile: "With text messaging and mobile Web," Lutz says, "reach supporters anywhere they are, any time, at a lower cost."

8. Harness analytics to improve engagement: Obama's team tracked the success of every e-mail, text message and Web site visit. Plus, multiple versions of every ad and e-mail were created to determine what messaging had the greatest impact.

9. Build the online operation to scale: Lutz identifies four steps to achieving a scaled operation: Establish an online presence; enrich content; engage online influencers; and embrace community.

10. Choose the right team: Obama's team consisted of Web veterans from the likes of Facebook, Orbitz and Google. He also created two new positions--head of social media and chief technology adviser--both of which reported directly to the campaign manager.

For more on digital strategies to enhance public affairs initiatives, check out this PR News feature.