Lessons from Barack, Inc.

By Heather • Jan 20th, 2009 • Category: Features, SMSG

In the spirit of today’s Inauguration, let’s take a minute to reflect on lessons learned from the first Web 2.0 campaign — the one that culminated today with the swearing in of President Barack Obama. In the business community, Barack, Inc. is generating quite the buzz. Surely, there are many lessons from the Obama campaign that can be applied in the private sector. But, let’s talk that one step further: What can non-profits learn from President Obama?

Focus on Engagement

Upon signing up, I didn’t receive a message immediately asking for money. Instead, the email simply provided information to get involved. How to go door-to-door, make phone calls, get involved at a grassroots level. While fundraisers want to cut to the chase and ask for money, the Obama campaign tought us that phase #1 is engagement. Then, you can make the ask and get the dollars. Avoid the temptation to ask for money right away. Develop the e-relationship first … then make the ask.

Create a “Long Tail”

Obama was everywhere. If there was a social network, odds are his campaign had a presence on it. And, more importantly, they participated in the commnity. He understood the importance of connecting with his constituencies. As a non-profit, you never know exactly where your supporters can be found , so don’t just limit yourself to Facebook because that’s where you think you should be. Obviously, you don’t have the resources of a national campaign, so you need to be a little more selective. But, don’t limit yourself too much. Be in as many places as possible.

Integrate Online with Offline

The candidates were able to connect with 200 million-plus voters by balancing new media with old media. Don’t get too swept up with social media and online communication. Yes, these new tools are far more cost-efficient, but your donors aren’t all online quite yet. You still need some print pieces — like direct mail or a marketing newsletter. Be strategic about your print pieces. You don’t need as many as in past years. But, you do need some. Also, use your offline communication to drive your online efforts. Cross-promote to deliver better results.

Empower Supporters

Traditional campaigns are tightly run ships where all instruction flows from the top-down. Not the Obama campaign. They relied on thousands of grassroots organizations to perform serious “heavy lifting.” As a non-profit, your natural instinct is to control everything. But, give up some of that control and empower your supporters to act on your behalf and see what happens. Welcome them to create Facebook groups and YouTube videos. No, the message may not totally sync with your current marketing efforts. But, that’s ok. The point is to convert your supporters into ambassadors. Let them help you spread your message in their own way.

What else can we take from the Obama campaign? Looking forward, we’ll have to pay attention to see what other innovations his team incorporates that we can learn from.

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