In the immediate aftermath of the 2012 presidential campaign – like any campaign – two things happened: the winners went to bragging and the losers started pointing fingers. One thing became clear. Obama for America’s digital, technology, and analytics teams were indispensable in securing the president’s reelection.
The Cave is what OFA called the windowless room that housed their analytics team. Like digital in 2008, analytics came of age in the 2012 campaign. OFA’s analytics team had 50 staffers. By comparison, the Romney-Ryan campaign had a data team of 4 people.
Veterans of OFA have been surprisingly forthcoming in providing details on how they leveraged the latest in technology and digital strategy to make their campaign as effective and efficient as possible.
In 2016, Republicans can’t afford to fight the battles of 2012. We have to look forward to the future and start preparing now.
Folks are abuzz about how the candidates are rollin’ and Tumbloggin’ around the Internet, trying to become more Pinteresting. Most of the discussion this year seems to center around what folks in the Web world call the front-end — turning GIFs, (now old-fashioned) web videos, and CSS and HTML5 effects into weapons of mass political destruction. Beyond its head-turning message, an underappreciated fact about the Obama campaign’s “Life of Julia” is that it was the first parallax slider-based campaign attack in American history.
But while the media and the pundits focus on how visual media is reshaping the debate, something else is going on. The Guardian reports this week that the Obama campaign’s long-awaited grassroots toolkit, with the minimalist name of “Dashboard,” is almost ready for public release:
The Dashboard project is being led by Michael Slaby, one of Obama’s digital gurus, along with Joe Rospars and Teddy Goff and Obama’s director of field organizing Jeremy Bird. Collectively, they have been quietly reinventing traditional presidential races for the wired age.
They have put together a team of more than 100 statisticians, predictive modellers, data mining experts, mathematicians, software engineers, bloggers, internet advertising experts and online organisers at the Obama For America headquarters in downtown Chicago, which has been labouring since its start to craft a new generation of digital campaign tools.
They are keeping specific details about Dashboard heavily under wraps for fear that they might lose the substantial advantage they now enjoy over their rivals in the Romney campaign.
They have also been keen not to reveal the tool until it has undergone substantial testing by staff. All that the Obama team will say is that it represents a major step forward that could “make a huge difference in how we organise for 2012”.
Dashboard, they add, will allow any volunteer for the first time “to join, connect with and build your neighbourhood team online”.
One intriguing fact about Dashboard is how late its’ introduction comes compared to 2008. That year, My.BarackObama.com was launched on the first day of the campaign, in February 2007. By this measure, Dashboard is 15 months late. But there’s good reason for it: Unlike the out-of-the-box Blue State Digital tools that formed the core of MyBO in 2008, Dashboard was rebuilt from the ground-up, using in-house developers, some of them recruited from Facebook and Google. (The person overseeing it all, Obama campaign CTO Harper Reed, is himself a startup veteran recruited from Threadless.)
We’ll have to wait for the formal launch — it’s apparently been in use by field staff for months, and I’m not on the early invite list for these things — but from all appearances, Dashboard represents an admirable commitment by the Obama campaign to rethinking older (and successful) ways of doing things. And doing so in a way that elevates raw engineering talent in a way they didn’t in 2008.
Dashboard should also spark a renewed debate about what’s important in digital campaigns.
At the end of the day, anyone can build a Facebook page with millions of likes. Anyone can set up a Tumblr in 5 minutes and anyone with a decent sense of humor can spin up GIFs and QuickMemes, and push them to Reddit, Buzzfeed, and Upworthy. The hard stuff — the interesting stuff — is marshaling an army of engineers and data geeks to translate online energy into better and more effective offline voter contact. The meme war might be more interesting, but it’s playing out almost exclusively among political operatives and the media elite. In a close race, ground game matters, and candidates who don’t prioritize putting their ground game online will find themselves playing catchup. We learned this in 2010, when even with the political winds at their back, Republicans faced an organizational deficit and fell short in a number of key Senate races.
Winning online takes more than a Twitter account and a WordPress plugin. It takes serious engineering resources to build sophisticated grassroots and microtargeting tools like the Obama campaign is doing, and data scientists to optimize the vote. In recent years, “custom” has become a four letter word in the world of web development, but the proliferation of programming frameworks from Ruby on Rails to CakePHP to CodeIgniter mean that developers no longer have to spend time reinventing the wheel. Basic functional components you would see on most websites (like user registration modules, or formulas to calculate distances and directions) come pre-built, so that engineers can spend time on the things that add value. Coding itself is becoming more like building a site in WordPress or Drupal.
Communicators and social media experts are a dime-a-dozen. They’re important, but it takes a lot to stand out from the pack. Good engineers are harder to come by, and the Obama campaign has invested in them in spades. As I argued at a recent panel at the CampaignTech conference, this starts with campaigns and political groups working with and valuing engineers and data scientists in the same way that they currently work with and value video producers, print designers, and press people.
With the general election in full swing, it will be interesting to see the level of game the GOP brings to the battle of the engineers.
By almost all accounts, Instagram was the hot app of 2011. The simple and beautiful photo sharing app has gained more users than foursquare (just over 15 million) in a little more than one year and has been embraced by amateur photogs, celebrities and journalists alike.
Instagram has been used in particularly interesting ways to coverage the presidential campaign over the past year. Personally, I have found Instagram photos from the trail to be the most interesting pieces of content of the entire campaign. Instagram allows reporters, staffers, candidates and supporters to add color to a campaign that can sometimes come off as colorless in tweets, blog posts and TV.
So as we head into the final stretch before Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses, I thought I would share some of my favorite Instagram photos up until this point in the campaign and provide a helpful list of Instagrammers on the ground in the early states for you to follow.
@anthonynbcnews: In Indianola @RickSantorum displays a new, red sweater vest. @FearRicksVest #decision2012
@timotoole: Going door-to-door in NH with @MittRomney
@thecaucus: Candidate Rick #Perry pretends to cut the hair of Leroy Claussen in De Witt, #Iowa. Two weeks before the Iowa caucuses.
@jonbcnews: “How I wish I could be at a debate anywhere, anytime,”@buddyroemer tells his tv on #cnbcdebate night
@jamienbcnews: Bachmann plays foosball at a Carroll, #IA, bowling alley. #decision2012 #iacaucus
@jamienbcnews: @THEHermanCain Iowa communications director Lisa Lockwood watching Cain announcement. #decision2012 #iacaucus
@jonbcnews: Tim Pawlenty returns to the trail, campaigning for Romney one vote at a time
@samnason, a Ron Paul supporter from Iowa, shows his support
@thecaucus: Newt #Gingrich bumps fists with a campaign volunteer as he exits. Gingrich attended “Virginians with Newt” rally on the day he will turn in the necessary signatures to be listed on the #Virginia #Republican primary ballot.
@jonbcnews: Jim’s suitcase has been around the block a few times #NH
@newtgingrich: Great campaign stops in Iowa…
@buddyroemer: Snip snip!
@timotoole: Just rolled into a warehouse in a bus to “Eye of the Tiger” in Iowa. Felt like one part Apollo Creed, two parts USA.
@jonbcnews: A military tank greets voters Huntsman town hall in Wolfeboro aka Romney Country
@anthonynbcnews: At Java Joes @ricksantorum eats ice cream for breakfast #iowa #iacaucus #decision2012
@anthonynbcnews: The view from stage where @ronpaul will deliver speech to Univ of N. Iowa #decision2012
@jonbcnews: Fmr Sec of Homeland Security Tom Ridge campaigns at VFW 1088 for Huntsman
@jamienbcnews: Newton # Iowa. Bachmann button. #decision2012
@npr: Rick Perry speaking in Indianola, #iowa .(Becky Lettenberger/NPR) #npr #politics #caucus #nofilter
@jonbcnews: No pressure. @ricksantorum waiting to take my seat after this live shot on MSNBC
@AlexNBCNews – NBC reporter
@JoNBCNews – NBC reporter
@AnthonyNBCNews – NBC reporter
@AndrewNBCNews – NBC reporter
@CarrieNBCNews – NBC reporter
@GarrettNBCNews – NBC reporter
@JamieNBCNews – NBC reporter
@AliNBCNews – NBC reporter
@SarahBoxer – CBS reporter
@NPR – NPR
@TheCaucus – The New York Times Caucus blog
@ajchavar – Washington Post
@TimOToole – Romney staffer
@NewtGingrich – Candidate for President
@BuddyRoemer – Candidate for President
Did I miss any great Instagrammers to follow for #Decision2012? Be sure to let me know on Twitter @JordanRaynor.
A couple of weeks ago, Newt Gingrich’s campaign for President launched a new Call-at-Home tool, powered by Multiply.
The tool has received a lot of attention during this final stretch before the Iowa caucuses, and rightfully so. Gingrich is the first presidential candidate to ever integrate Facebook into a Call-at-Home tool, allowing supporters to see which of their friends have made calls on behalf of the campaign and how many calls each friend has made. Facebook’s Associate Manager for Policy, Katie Harbath, hails the Facebook integration of the Multiply Call-at-Home tool saying, “This is how you bake social into a campaign.”
How does the tool work? Gingrich supporters are currently being directed to action.newt.org.
From there, the supporter creates an account and immediately starts making calls for the campaign from wherever they are. For each call they make, they receive a point and move up the campaign leaderboard.
At Engage, we (heart) data. We think that Big Data harnessed from the social web can oftentimes better tell us what’s happening in real time than a traditional opinion poll. There’s no better test of this than the Republican presidential primary, which seems to yield a new frontrunner every week. Wouldn’t it be great to tell in real time, that day, who’s up and who’s down, based on the world’s biggest platforms for real-time conversation?
Last week, Facebook announced the release of its “People Talking About” metric. For any Facebook page or topic, Facebook will tell you how many people are talking about that topic across the entire site — and that’s regardless of whether these people like the given page. In your news feed, you may have seen stories aggregating your friends’ conversation around hot topics like Steve Jobs or the Occupy Wall Street protests.
The results for the Republican candidates for President are revealing, and we plan to track them in this public Google Spreadsheet every day through the primaries. We’ll periodically post our analysis of what the numbers mean to Twitter and Facebook.
Right now, Herman Cain far and away leads the field in Facebook buzz, with nearly 80,000 people talking about him daily. He’s followed by Mitt Romney, who’s also been on the rise — especially with his endorsement by Chris Christie.
A quick note: Any measure of Internet buzz — be it tweets, Facebook posts, or searches — will reward the most controversial and talked about public figures, and these aren’t always the highest vote getters. That’s probably why Cain, with his 9-9-9 plan and his recent surge in the polls, leads, and why Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul place strongly. We think that the best way to draw useful conclusions from this is to look at trends as well as the absolute numbers — and these trends will become more evident over time. If Cain were to fall below his previous performance while other candidates gained, that would be a sign of trouble. Former frontrunner Rick Perry languishing at around one seventh of Herman Cain’s current buzz is already not a great sign for his campaign.
And Facebook buzz surrounding the entire field of candidates seems to be slowly but surely picking up, but it has a ways to go before it rivals the guy they’re going after: Barack Obama, with a total of 443,882 Facebook users talking about him currently, combined with 199,034 for the Republican field in total.