Internet marketing lessons from the Obama campaign

The 2012 election is over.

America has a president-elect for the next four years, and much of President Barack Obama’s success has been attributed to various political factors like winning the votes of women, single persons, Hispanics, and African Americans.

But in some tech-savvy circles, stories abound about how the President’s digital team carried the bulk of the electorate with its savvy use of social media, integrated email campaigns, TV ads and overall mastery of Internet marketing.

After all, there are many aspects that pertain to both successful campaigning and successful digital marketing.

In fact, political analysts referred to the entire election as the “social media election.” And it was clear that the President’s victory reflected his campaign’s understanding and deployment of successful digital marketing practices and strategies.

The Social Connection

Connecting with voters on the Internet was a key reason in President Obama’s recent re-election. Even though news outlets covered the opposing campaigns fairly equally in presence, if not in tone, the election was likely won by how well the Obama campaign dominated social media, digital marketing and other Web-connected elements of modern campaigns. A chart on Spartan Internet shows that the Obama campaign scored a 77 percent rating on its social presence, compared to the Republican campaign’s 23 percent.

The Internet strategies for the Obama campaign were deployed by the amazing teams of Web professionals, data geeks and Internet marketing whiz-kids culled from companies like Twitter, Google, Threadless, Facebook, Craigslist, Quora and others, according to this behind-the-scenes look at the Obama campaign’s digital team.

The team was prepared for disaster. They were able to use their talent to have back-up plans in case of disasters (both online and offline). Though unrelated to the presidential race, during Hurricane Sandy the team had enough pre-storm smarts to ensure it would have backup servers on the West Coast in case its East Coast servers were hit- the strategy worked. The key difference stemmed in large part, according to the Atlantic article, from better technology.

Obama’s campaign technology team used various key Internet marketing products (called Dashboard, the Call Tool, the Facebook Blaster, the PeopleMatcher, and Narwhal, the architecture of its data operation) to make it simpler and easier for any possible voters online to become engaged with the President’s re-election effort.

The Online Strategy

The overall technology effort used by the Internet marketing team at Obama headquarters included a digital team that made sure that emails were sent, make look great and ran much of the campaign’s social media accounts. Seeing the numbers at SEOVote2012 shows how much social media processes really played a key role in bringing voters more in line with the President’s campaign platform proposals.

The winning efforts also included a team that developed data analytics strategies for finding and targeting voters and prospective voters. They also used a ‘field team’ or what some Web marketers might call a street team that manages on-the-ground operation at local levels. The rest of it was pure execution. And the outcome was won.

As Internet marketers, how can we draw lessons from these exemplary examples of Internet marketing strategy? As you infer from above, it’s clear that every Web marketer would like to see similar success of its own digital campaigns. However, we don’t all have the luxury of multi-million dollar budgets or a team of well-connected digital strategists to help us on our way. But in an ideal world, what the Obama campaign succeeded in doing from a digital perspective was right on the money.

With that in mind, here are a few tactics that should be on every Internet marketer’s to-do dream list, whether it’s for the purposes of running an electoral campaign or persuading users to flock to a new product.

  • Coordinate strong collaboration between consumer-facing website pages with promotions for social media outreach;
  • Tie-in TV ads with digital outreach through email marketing, landing pages, and social media optimization;
  • Use strong direct mail marketing strategies that include address validation solutions from companies like Qas to ensure successful state and local zip-code category personalization;
  • Stick to the planned digital marketing messages to achieve consistency with the digital campaign’s main themes, regardless of weekly distractions. But also be prepared to tweak the formula to take advantage of trending topics on Twitter and Google;
  • Use email marketing to drive responses, whether it’s for product orders, fund raising, volunteering and more;
  • Lead clear-headed SEO (search engine optimization) practices that walk in step with all other marketing practices.
The Obama Campaign
Photo Credit: BeckyF

Planning Ahead

Creating great digital content is nearly as important to creating a well-executed plan. And taking advantage of well-timed opportunities to bolster a digital campaign’s goals can score big runs in the end. Consider when President Obama went onto for one of their heralded ‘Ask Me Anything’ forums, he came through with flying colors against a tough group of online users, as Business2Community site noted. He let this tech-savvy group of American voters ask questions and he answered them. He put his human side on blast and allowed his personality to come through. By gathering plenty of goodwill from a notoriously difficult group to crack, he won newfound credibility, support and advocacy from a huge, web-savvy community.

Appreciating Fans

And perhaps most importantly, appreciating one’s digital marketing fans and followers with thank-you’s, promotions and discounts can count for much. President Obama thanked his followers and fans on social media for contributing to his win, as he was being elected. Appreciation is a huge asset by both fans and followers on social media sites. Hearing directly on social media from the President likely was a pretty special moment for many of the campaign’s followers.

As digital marketers, it’s important to look carefully at how you’re using the Internet tools. Many brand and companies can use the tools, but if you don’t know the right way to effectively implement these, then you may end up doing more harm than good.

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