Article in the Times&Transcript

An article from the Times&Transcript

The laughter and the note taking, the applause for making some of her remarks in beautiful French, and especially the rousing standing ovation at the end of her speech all said Rahaf Harfoush had connected with the more than 250 people who came out to the Delta Beauséjour to hear her yesterday afternoon.

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Rahaf Harfoush, new media strategist and former Obama campaign team member, chats with Mayor George LeBlanc yesterday during the Intelligent Communities Summit in Moncton.

But the best praise for her insightful look at how she and the rest of the Barack Obama campaign team used technology and social media to get his message out came after the audience members had returned to their seats.

When the Canadian new media strategist and current associate director of the Geneva-based Global Co-operation Initiative invited questions from the floor, the first to jump to his feet was none other than Premier Shawn Graham.

For the record, the premier asked her opinion on why President Obama’s new team didn’t use the same social media strategies to deliver his message in the polarizing U.S. health care debate. And for the record, Harfoush admitted she was disappointed in how the health care debate was handled, and suggested the difference between candidacy and the White House is how presidents find themselves more boxed in by bureaucracies.

It is disappointing to think the U.S. president’s advisors aren’t paying more attention to what his campaign team did, because Harfoush’s presentation described just how much of a home run the social media aspect of his campaign was.Using things like Twitter, Facebook and iPhones, and detailed metrics, the Obama team raised $750 million for the campaign $5 and $10 at a time, largely through word of Net. It was a figure double that of what rival John McCain could raise, even with wealthy Republicans in his corner.

But more than raising funds, Obama’s social media experts, which included one of the founders of Facebook and a number of former top Google employees, excelled at raising voter engagement through hyper-segmentation of marketing.

The millions of Americans who registered with Obama’s MyBO website created basic profiles and consented to basic data tracking that allowed campaigners to direct specific messages that reflected specific voters’ specific key interests.

If that sounds intrusive, it was actually less so, said Harfoush. “It prevented us from spamming people with every little bit of information.”

Similarly, donations to the campaign were carefully tracked so that those who had just scraped together money they didn’t really have because they thought they could change America didn’t suddenly get offensive form letters asking for more. The numbers are staggering. The Obama team sent one billion messages during the campaign, two million people placed profiles on MyBO, 35,000 volunteer groups were formed, 400,000 blog posts were made and 200,000 off-line events were organized, including a Yes, Wii Can event that saw Wii gamers raise campaign funds.

When John McCain’s running mate Sarah Palin belittled Obama’s past job experience as a community organizer as hardly fitting a future president, Obama’s thousands of community organizers were insulted. An e-mail went out from Obama headquarters calling on them to be heard and in just 24 hours, $10 million more was added to the campaign coffers.

That balance between online organizing and real world action was a key point, Harfoush said, noting businesses would do well to always evaluate how much its digital marketing, whatever the buzz it might create, is actually translating to the real world. After all, a web is still made up more of the empty space between threads than the threads themselves. “As exciting as online marketing is, it didn’t get Obama elected,” she said. “This wasn’t a win for technology. The technology was just tactics.”

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