What innovations of the Obama campaign could be applied to activist campaigns?
January 22, 2009 12:49 PM   Subscribe

Could activists for social causes (e.g. global warming) learn something from the Obama campaign in how to effectively engage and mobilize people?
posted by GIMG to Human Relations (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think that studying how the campaign organized people would definitely be useful. The thing is that they had waaaaaaaaaay more money than most social change efforts/campaigns ever have access to. So, even if you learn amazing things, the question is whether or not you have the resources and personnel (read: resources) to pull it all off. But yes, I think that the level of organization they had no matter how big they got, while remaining objective-driven, focused and maintaining an absolute fever pitch of enthusiasm is totally amazing. If they could map out how they did it all, *I'd* certainly buy that document.
posted by Rudy Gerner at 12:59 PM on January 22, 2009

To apply the lessons of the Obama campaign, I think you first need to start with an Obama.
posted by jquinby at 1:15 PM on January 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think it also would help if the situation needing change were also nearly universally reviled.
posted by Seamus at 1:21 PM on January 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think there are a lot of good lessons in how they used technology. As Rudy Gerner mentioned the speed and efficiency that the Obama campaign was able to use social media was a direct result of their resources to hire the best people with a lot of experience, but there are some great tools available these days that will help you leverage the passion and enthusiasm of more people than traditional methods.

Part of the trick as you investigate this is and develop a strategy is to manage expectations. While I don't entirely agree with jquinby, there is a valid point there--not every cause or group is going to have such a dynamic leader that naturally pulls people in and does a lot of the work for you. If you focus on a smaller scale, but also on the things that really made it work: speaking to what drives passion in people, engaging in a very personal way, empowering people to personally contribute (time, energy, money etc) even at small levels, focusing on positive messages rather than negative messages, I think you will have success.
posted by Kimberly at 2:02 PM on January 22, 2009

I used to work for a "grassroots political nonprofit" focused on Universal Single Payer Healthcare. I'd say that most (but not all) successful groups are already using the tools he used (door to door canvassing, ongoing email/twitter/blog contact) on a moderate scale. The big difference, of course, is that most such organizations either a) aren't nationwide (mine was Maine-based) or b) don't have the budget to do what Obama did.

Because make no mistake, it costs money -- a ton of money -- to run the campaign he did, in large part because technology costs (including the cost of humans to run these things effectively) are high, and if you're going to use canvassers 12 months a year you really need to pay them.

But check out groups like US Action for a model of nonprofits in the US that are currently using similar tools (although obviously not to such great effect).
posted by anastasiav at 2:13 PM on January 22, 2009

Obama's campaign worked on hip marketing: cool tshirts, celeb sponsorship, and making everyone feel the energy of youth and partying. Seriously. I mean he had a good platform too but that is how his marketing went. Obama reached people because he used all that pent up frustration and energy that America tends to have (not just from the previous administration but it's the same reason we watch disaster movies and action films for chills and thrills - something to shake us up and remind us that we are alive and feel). Man, all the people shouting "yes we can!" at the bar on inaug night.

So know your stuff, make it really Cool and relevant to pop culture (because pop culture is the best way to gauge what the majority population is consuming) and make it relatable to the people you are canvassing.

Al Gore mobilized tons of people with his film because he connected with them personally, presented scientific proof and made it relevant to their lives. He made them CARE and more importantly, he made them FEEL like they could do something about it.

That's the key - you want to remind people that they are not brainless pods stored in cubicles.
posted by HolyWood at 2:32 PM on January 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Well, the feature that I think was key to the Obama campaign was not just that it used technology, not just that it used social networking, not just that the candidate or the schwag were cool, but that the principles by which the campaign was organized derived from Saul Alinksy's approach to creating community power.

It wasn't just that you could start a "meetup" of Obama supporters and network with them -- it was that the campaign, both physically and technologically, encouraged supporters to explore their own social capital and apply it within the campaign.

I don't want to discount the traditional aspects. There was a lot here that contributed to the success, not the least of which eight years of misunderestimation. But I do think the Obama campaign is going to be studied extensively, and this is one of the reasons why. I also think that the people who participated are coming out of that campaign with a lot of ideas, a lot of motivation and morale, and tools to make things happen. We're going to see some interesting things derive from this.

I'm just sorry that I was too burdened with family issues to do more than take a look at what was going on.
posted by dhartung at 3:15 PM on January 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think it also would help if the situation needing change were also nearly universally reviled.

Yes. And if the solution only required people to do one very simple thing one time (e.g. voting in one election, as opposed to changing the way they do multiple things every day for the rest of their life).
posted by The World Famous at 3:26 PM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

You might find some ideas in this fantastic series on the Obama campaign from Newsweek.
posted by dersins at 3:53 PM on January 22, 2009

I was going to come in here and mention the newsweek articles that dersin just posted.

There's a lot in there about the way Obama treated his staff, giving them a lot of trust and responsibility. That's a good way to get people to give a lot of their time, energy and passion. Obviously it was highly successful with younger individuals, but he had the ability to select highly talented youth (e.g. Favreau, his speechwriter) from a large pool of dedicated volunteers.

And as was stated earlier, a lot of this was based on the personal appeal of Barack Obama, by all accounts a highly motivating figure, you need someone like that on a mini-scale, at least, if you want to mobilize a large group of people for a specific cause.
posted by dnesan at 5:06 PM on January 22, 2009

Don't turn your issue into a religion. Don't answer questions with platitudes. Don't use FUD. Do answer questions and state positions honestly. Make your internal message the same as your external message.

Part of Obama's success is the dearth of substance on his opposition's side.
posted by gjc at 6:26 PM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Have more money than your opposition.
posted by pompomtom at 7:22 PM on January 22, 2009

You can't really say "have more money than your opposition" without explaining why he had more money than his opposition. It's not as if he got that money entirely from book royalties -- he managed to get it despite the Clinton fundraising machine!
posted by Casuistry at 10:27 PM on January 22, 2009

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