Monday, November 10, 2008

Obama's Use of Technology to Communicate Didn't End With Election

Friday, we talked about Obama's new website, and what it means for the new frontier of communications. Sunday in the Houston Chronicle, journalists Richard Dunham and Dwight Silverman took a more comprehensive look at Obama's Web 2.0 strategy and how it beat out traditional thinking about press releases, press conferences and media kits. Here is an excerpt every lawyer should read as it heralds the beginning of a whole new way of communicating not with the media, but directly with your audience:

The next president's Internet strategy could allow him to bypass mainstream media outlets and talk radio, alike. But his technological prowess could foster resentment among the media and lawmakers on the receiving end of messages from the White House Web machine.

Obama's advisers are willing to take that chance.

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 46 percent of Americans used the Internet, e-mail or text messaging to get information about the 2008 campaign or to mobilize others.

That's more than the 34 percent who read newspapers daily, the 39 percent who watch cable news or the 29 percent who view network TV news, Pew found.

And though the 47-year-old Obama is older than Bill Clinton was when he became president in 1993, the BlackBerry addict from Illinois is much more in sync with the emerging technology than the two relatively young presidents he follows: Clinton and George W. Bush.

Already, sends a clear signal that Obama plans to replace the largely static Web sites of the Clinton and Bush years with an interactive venture.

The president-elect's Web site declares that the goal of his efforts is to create "a new level of transparency, accountability and participation for America's citizens."

For example, Obama has promised to give the American public an online "comment period" before he signs all non-emergency legislation.

"I think you're going to see an extraordinary reinvention of how the president connects with the people," said Simon Rosenberg, president of NDN, a tech-savvy Democratic group. "President Obama will be using a whole array of 21st century tools to define his relationship with the American people."

Social networking

A clue that Obama wanted to be on the cutting edge of political communication was his campaign's hiring of Chris Hughes, the 24-year-old co-founder of the phenomenally successful Facebook social networking site, to be a top strategist.

The Obama campaign has collected about 10 million e-mail addresses, and its database contains details of the issues of concern to many of those citizens.

Although federal election law may not permit Obama to transfer the data to government computers, PoliticsOnline's Noble thinks more than 50 million Americans would sign up for Obama's Web site within six months.

Another likely scenario: a new federal government "smartphone" application. This could allow Americans with mobile devices or home computers to access government services quickly — ranging from applying for welfare to checking campaign finance documents.

What's more, an agency like the Federal Emergency Management Agency could create a smartphone application that makes it easy to apply for and track the status of assistance requests.

More than any politician since the Internet was opened to the public in 1990, Obama has leveraged the online world effectively.

On, there are links to 16 social networks where Obama has a presence. They include familiar names such as MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube, as well as more specialized networks, including BlackPlanet, Faithbase, MiGente, MyBatanga and AsianAve.

On Flickr, there are photos of Obama volunteers working in regional headquarters, shots from the convention and on the campaign trail, and photos of the Obama family watching election returns on Tuesday.

Public input

The core of Obama's strategy was, a social network that let followers and volunteers share organizational tips, discuss successes and failures, and plan local events.

Knowing that many younger voters rely on their cell phones and PDAs to communicate, the Obama campaign used tools such as text messaging for those who were away from their computers.

More than 3 million people signed up to receive the announcement of Obama's running mate. The campaign then tapped those numbers for the rest of the campaign.

Obama's staff also created an application for Apple's iPhone, timed to be available as a free download when the latest model was released in July.

The application tapped into the contact list on a user's iPhone, urging calls to friends who live in battleground states. It sorted the contact list by state, based on area code, then noted whether the owner had already called that person.

In the end, Obama won the votes of 66 percent of voters under the age of 30, according to CNN exit polls.

"It's not the victory of the gadgets," said Jim Henson, a political scientist at the University of Texas at Austin. "It's the victory of a sophisticated media strategy. And that's what you're going to see continued."

Kyle Pendergast of the Chronicle Washington bureau contributed to this report.

No comments: