Tweet your way to the White House: how social media propelled Obama to presidency

Social media plays a massive role in marketing and branding these days and no-one knew this better than Obama’s campaign team. Combining an exacting scientific approach to data-mining and capitalising on the strength of social media, the Obama camp fought a tireless battle to bring the president re-election. So much so that many pundits claimed the Obama win may well have been down to the use of ‘big data’ and social media. If this is the case, it gives real evidence of just how influential clever digital marketing and proper analytics can play in persuading people to act. Let’s take a look at how Obama’s team went about it.


At the very start of the campaign, Jim Messina outlined his unique approach to winning votes saying, “We are going to measure every single thing in this campaign”. And he certainly wasn’t messing around; the campaign manager hired an analytics department – which was five times bigger than the 2008 team – and employed a “chief scientist” to lead the way on rigorous data crunching.

According to Time magazine this data crunching was taken so seriously that data-mining experiments “were given mysterious code names such as Narwhal and Dreamcatcher”. What the team aimed to do was pinpoint with precision the most likely people to vote Obama in again and the best method to persuade them. This involved a huge process of collating various different databases with information about voters and putting it into one mega file which not only gave basic information like potential voters names and numbers but also rank names according to their “persuadability” increasing the exactitude of targeting.

Social Media

As well as data-mining the team invested a lot of expertise in social media, understanding that a conversation on twitter gets just as much coverage as a live debate. Obama’s social media campaign well outdid Romney’s.

Obama’s Facebook page got 31 million likes versus Romney’s 11 million; 24 million followed Obama on Twitter with just 1.7 million following Romney. And, an Obama tumblr post acquired an average of 70,000 notes whist Romney averaged out at just 400 per post.

Outbound Director for the campaign Laura Olin told about her secret to successful social media:

“One, hire people who are not just good at their jobs, but who also share the sensibility you’re trying to convey with your organization. Tone is everything on social media. Two, images will beat just text or video embeds almost every time. [And] three, this is so simple, but people are much more likely to share things if you ask them to share them. We did that a lot, because we knew that people getting campaign messages from their friends was so much more powerful than them getting campaign messages directly from us.”

So what can we learn from the Obama digital campaign? The basics seem to be this; analyse frequently; be precise with your data; and spread the word through social media organically.

This is an example of a highly successful social media campaign which may well have been the difference between reaching the White House or losing out; if there was ever a campaign to emulate, surely this would be it!

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