Interview with Kevin Geiken: Obama For America Iowa Field Director about how the Obama campaign is using social media to mobilize voters for the 2012 election and what social media campaign lessons OFA has learned during Obama’s first presidency.
Q. How has the usage of social media in campaigns changed from 2008 to now?
A. The usage of social media has changed because now a lot more people are online on Facebook and Twitter. From 2008 to now, there has been a generational shift with a lot more baby boomers and older voters engaging in social media. In 2008, it was more used as a tool to mobilize college-aged volunteers and voters. Now it is used as a tool to mobilize a higher number of voters of multiple generations.
Q. What is the biggest social media challenge?
A. The biggest challenge is that anyone can engage in social media and there are things such as fake Barack Obama accounts that still have thousands of followers. These accounts send out false information that can be misleading and confusing to voters. The other challenge is that the newscycle has now shortened from a 24 hour news cycle to an hourly news cycle to a minute by minute news cycle. It requires someone to constantly monitor the news and be ready to respond to any breaking news or claims by Republicans opponents. Additionally the number of organizations and individuals who want to discredit the president has expanded as social media has become a cheap and easily available tool to reach voters.
Q. How has social media helped the Obama campaign?
Social media has helped the Obama campaign in many different ways. First it has helped us to fundraise. For example, we had an online campaign where everyone who donated $5 or more over a certain period of time was entered into a drawing to be one of people who had dinner with Obama in September. This entices the all important, small donation people to donate a little bit and also increases excitement about contributing to Obama’s campaign. Additionally we were able to raise over $250,000 in a short period of time doing this.
Second it helps us to organize volunteers as we can create Facebook events and build excitement about volunteering that way. We can also Tweet about what we’re doing each weekend from door knocking to drum up support for Obama’s healthcare policy to having a presence at events such as college football tailgating. Obama is the fifth most followed person on Twitter. Facebook events allow people to see the list of attendees and volunteers are more likely to come if they see that someone they know is also coming along. The power of the retweet is also great as it allows us to further our outreach.
Social media also allows us to quickly and cost effectively reach voters. For example, Obama can put up a weekly YouTube address to the nation that is then emailed to supporters, posted on Facebook and tweeted on Twitter. Social media opens up several channels for people to consume the same content which is great for achieving the greatest breadth of outreach. Additionally it is cheaper than putting an ad on television. Video is one of our greatest assets on the campaign because Obama is such as polished and engaging public speaker.
Social media also allows citizens to engage in direct activism such as when we send out a message calling for supporters to contact their Congressional representatives to voice support for one of Obama’s policy initiatives. Or when we provide information on where people can go to vote on Election Day. It also allows us to directly target certain demographics such as providing information for veterans, or those struggling with student loans, or Obama supporters inOhio. This direct targeting of important voting blocks is one of the most powerful social media tools that Obama has.
Additionally social media opens up two-way communications with prospective supporters and supporters who want to voice their support or opposition to Obama’s policies or bring concerns to the campaign’s attention. People can tweet to @BarackObama and someone from the campaign staff will see their tweets and respond accordingly or pass their concerns higher up the campaign chain. We try to respond to everyone who contacts us. One of the benefits of social media technology is that it makes the campaign more accessible to Americans who may want to communicate with President Obama but aren’t sure how to reach him.