Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign was lauded for its embrace of digital tools, as it accomplished unprecendented levels of community engagement from a national politician. The Obama team was on Twitter, Facebook and MySpace, plus it had its own social network, My.BarackObama.com, to boot.
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The campaign rallied early adopters generally not engaged in the political process behind the slogan "Change," which drove historic fundraising success. Following Sarah Palin's speech at the Republican National Convention in 2008, the Obama campaign racked the most donations in a single 24-hour period ever -- $10 million from some 130,000 donors.
"Were it not for the Internet, Barack Obama would not be president. Were it not for the Internet, Barack Obama would not have been the nominee," Huffington Post founder Ariana Huffington said, at the Web 2.0 Summit following the 2008 election.
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Media pundits dubbed 2008's cycle "The Facebook Election;" however, that was before anyone understood just how explosive social media would become. By 2012's election season, the president's digital team -- still mostly consisting of the same people -- consisted of seasoned veterans of the president's community-first message, operating in a climate that embraced digital at a whole new level.
"While Facebook was still very much important in 2008, Obama had 2 million Facebook friends, and now it's 28 million," Sam Graham-Felson, Obama's head blogger in 2008, told Mashable. "Social media has grown exponentially, and as a result, a lot of what the campaign's done is to try to come up with the content that will fly on social media, like animated GIFs and Lolcatz-style images."
In his second race for the presidency, Obama and his team have a difficult act to live up to. We took a look at how Obama's 2012 campaign stacks up to his first run for the presidency. Has the team succeeded in recreating the online community magic of the 2008 campaign?
During Obama's first presidential campaign, he crushed Republican rival John McCain in the digital arena. Obama not only earned far more followers and friends on different platforms, but also, his team was more committed to social media as a space for voter engagement.
"In 2008, Obama demonstrated that he was a different kind of candidate with his online base," Graham-Felson said. "It was all sorts of little things that got us a lot of attention. We were innovating as we went along."
Here are some of the campaign's noteworthy foray's into social tools:
- Twitter: Obama joined Twitter in March 2007 and by Election Day 2008, he was one of the most popular people on the microblog. He had more than 118,000 followers, while his Republican rival McCain had a mere 4,942. The Obama campaign would tweet several times each week. Though now this sounds like a small number, it showed a strong commitment to Twitter in the platform's early days.
- YouTube: The Obama campaign used YouTube to spread 14.5 million hours of official video footage -- all free. According to political consultant Joe Trippi, that quantity of visibility on network television would have cost $47 million.
- MySpace: Obama had about four times as many friends on MySpace as his competitor McCain (844,927 versus 219,404) -- a huge advantage, though not as pronounced as his Twitter lead.
- My.BarackObama.com: Jumping on the social networking band wagon, the campaign created My.BarackObama.com, the first robust social platform for campaign supporters to engage with others on issues relating to the campaign. After Obama's victory, the campaign decided to keep the platform up and running. The campaign also used Change.gov -- the official website -- to ask citizens to share their stories and goals.
- Vice Presidential Text Announcement: The Obama campaign rewarded supporters by sending them a text message with the news of the vice president, first. The text read, "Barack has chosen Senator Joe Biden to be our VP nominee. Watch the first Obama-Biden rally live at 3pm ET on www.barackobama.com Spread the word!"
Leading into the 2012 election, Graham-Felson says the Obama team held onto its 2008 strategy: How can we build an online community and how can we translate that into offline mobilization?
"The messaging is very similar," he said. "It's not 'this is all about Barack Obama.' It's 'this is all about you.' The blog is all about how great our supporters are."
Here's what the digital team came up with this time around:
- Dashboard: Dashboard is the social campaigning tool the Obama team released in May 2012 -- it's a more evolved version of My.BarackObama.com.
- Instagram: The Obama campaign joined Instagram, one of the fastest-growing mobile apps on the market, on Jan. 4. It uses the platform to show behind-the-scenes shots from the campaign.
- Mobile App: The Obama campaign launched the Obama for America app, a political organizing tool supporters can use to sign up for campaign events, donate money and learn about voting in their respective districts.
- Reddit AMA: Obama took questions from the Reddit community by signing on for an AMA ("Ask Me Anything") Aug. 29. The president attracted more than 200,000 people to the conversation, and 1.8 million subscribed to the thread.
- Square: The campaign began using Square in January to take donations via iPhones and Android smartphones.
- Text Message Donations: The Obama campaign became the first presidential campaign to accept text message donations Aug. 23. Supporters can give up to $50 by texting “GIVE” to 62262.
- Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook Town Halls: Obama held digital "town hall" meetings, taking questions from users on Facebook in April 2011, Twitter in July 2011 and LinkedIn in October 2011. These town halls occurred before the campaign season officially kicked off, but still demonstrated the tech savvy his team brought into the election season.
- Google+ Hangout: Obama held a Google+ Hangout in January, embracing the video chat feature of Google's then half-year-old platform.
- Michelle Obama on Pinterest: The campaign runs a Pinterest account for Michelle, which the first lady occasionally pins to herself with the signature "-mo."
- Foursquare: Obama joined Foursquare back in August 2011, before campaign season officially kicked off, though the tool has been used for sharing his campaign stops with supporters.
- Eastwooding Meme Response: In perhaps his most suave move of the 2012 election season, Obama's team tweeted a picture of the president sitting in the Oval Office's desk chair, in response to Clint Eastwood's remarks at the Republic National Convention. The tweet was the most retweeted piece of content during the Republican National Convention.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 31, 2012
Obama 2008 and Obama 2012 exist in two very different landscapes. In 2008, the Obama campaign emerged as an experimental innovator. By 2012, the merits of social media had been repeatedly proven.
In sheer number of initiatives alone, Obama's 2012 team outdid its 2008 efforts by a landslide. The team embraced and harnessed the Internet's unique communities -- from Reddit to Pinterest -- to get its message across to the connected generation.
Just as Obama edged ahead of McCain in 2008, Graham-Felson notes that Romney's 2012 campaign significantly lags behind Obama's due to the Republican candidate's less digitally connected audience.
"Obama has a giant advantage in the social media sphere. He has so many more connected supporters than Mitt Romney does," Graham-Felson says. "When there's a scandal or a gaff -- such as the 47% comment -- it's Barack Obama's supporters, not his staff, who are sending out that information to their networks of hundreds, if not thousands."
Obama and his team have certainly pushed the boundaries in their second run at the Oval Office. Do you think 2012 is a step ahead of the 2008 campaign?
Photo courtesy of Flickr, tsevis
This story originally published on Mashable here.