The Obama team took note of the mistakes made in previous Internet campaigns and used this knowledge to leverage support in a way that would result in victory. Although Dean was the first to truly embrace this style of campaigning, he did not do enough to sustain it. He neglected to “convert online donors into votes and channel the online fervor into effective ground support” and for this reason, was unable to translate his virtual popularity into reality (Lutz). Although Dean’s campaign ultimately failed, his use of the Internet did not go unnoticed. In fact his “rapid rise and fall resulted in candidates growing wary of using the Internet to bolster their campaigns” (Slotnick). When the 2008 election rolled around, Obama and his team effectively “combined the embrace of online enthusiasm of Dean ’04 with the discipline, organization and hyper-targeting of the Bush ’04 re-election campaign” (Lutz). This strategy was clearly a success: It resulted in far more than just media hype but in tangible, meaningful votes and ultimately, a Presidential win.
Obama’s 2008 social media campaign embodies the definition of a grassroots movement. He made sure to “give ordinary Americans access to resources usually reserved for professional campaign operatives” (Lutz). By relying on existing communities of people to engage with his message and by utilizing basic, day-to-day forms of communication to do so, Obama made his campaign for change incredibly accessible and easy to join. I think his success is largely due to the “crawl, walk, run approach” of his campaign’s social media integration and to the strategic hyper-targeting of pre-disposed, knowledgeable individuals to mobilize larger groups of people. Obama and his team understood the campaign as a progression (or ladder) and that “as a supporter moves up the ladder, each rung requires more commitment, creates more value, and will tend to hold fewer people” (Lutz). For this reason, resources were made available for larger, less informed people (who perhaps had not made up their mind yet) such as an email subscriptions, mobile subscriptions, weekly YouTube radio addresses, and informational websites (change.com). As potential voters became more informed, they were given the opportunity to join social networking groups, blogs, and MyBarackObama.com where they could make an account and engage with other like-minded supporters.
Organizing the campaign’s communication efforts in a way that allowed people with varying levels of interest/support to engage in the election efforts was key to Obama’s success. As Lutz points out “while previous campaigns had treated online advocacy as an add-on, the Obama campaign integrated social media into all elements of the organization.” They relied heavily on two major things: their strong supporters and social media groups. Rather than try to persuade each individual to vote Obama, they “provided users with everything they would need to create an authentic and mobilized force (…) originat[ing] from the general pubic, rather than the elite” (Slotnick). Do you think this method of campaigning allows potential voters to be informed to their full potential? Is it better that they hear the specifics of a candidate’s politics from he, himself or is it equally beneficial to have them told to you by a friend or fellow supporter online?