Using the web like Obama

Joe Rospars, the new media director of the Obama Presidential campaign spoke at the excellent Labour 2.0 conference last weekend.

He had three lessons for progressives looking to organize on the web.

Build real relationships through content – The web is about getting your message. It’s not just about raising the candidates profile, it’s about showing people what the candidate stands for – he pointed out that not all the videos and content included Obama, much of it was about the message of Hope and Change.

He also cautioned against simply using a website as another channel for press releases and TV ads.  He highlighted that for the Obama campaign written contents was really important. They invested heavily in recruiting people to write for the blog and used it as a space for storytelling the experiences of people linked to the campaign, or who had been inspired for the first time

Put people to work – This was a campaign about inspiring people online to do something off line. The campaign used the web to get people to do the traditional campaigning. They incorporated traditional organising tools into the website, a new approach to an old problem. Obama was originally a community organiser.

For example the web contained details for the phone bank where people could call undecided voters, allowed people to organize (and promote)local events, many of which formal Obama campaign staff had nothing to do with, or use it as a way cheaply distributing resources to field staff. The web was able to lower the barriers to entry for these activities, including many people who hadn’t been involved before.

It wasn’t about the money – The web was about raising money in ways that hadn’t been done before, and using new ways to do this. For example the ‘Dinner with Barack’ fund raising drive, which allowed all those who gave $10  or more to the campaign the opportunity to have dinner with Obama.

More from the conference to come over the next few weeks.

Happy Birthday Liberty

Liberty, the civil liberties organisation is 75 this week, set up to champion the rights of ordinary people and hold the powerful to account, it has a long history of doing just that. In recent years, the organisation has never been far away from the headlines, as we’ve seen an erosion of our rights on issues like ID cards and 42 day detention but why has it been such a successful organisation, and what could others learn in order to make it to their 75 birthday?

Ensure you have a media friendly director. In Shami Chakrabarti they have a director who is articulate and a media savvy spokeswomen. Shami isn’t afraid to be explosive in her comments (see recent Question Time response to Geoff Hoon) but also has an ability to explain often complex legal arguments in media friendly terms. The organisation has been ruthless about using her for everything public facing, few would be able to name the number 2 at Liberty but it’s a strategy that works as they’ve created a virtuous circle of being the organisation the media call when they want a comment on anything to do with civil liberties.

Build alliances that work not simply build alliances with those you know. Liberty are prepared to take difficult positions which can lead to criticism from some in politics and the media (for example when David Davis resigned as Shadow Home Secretary, which lead to criticisms from Labour ministers that they we’re to close to the Conservatives). But Liberty appear to ignore this, when others would stand back and instead they build alliances that give them traction on issues, and sometime begin to work with  those who have previously criticised them. They’ve learnt not to let previous differences get in the way if it’ll further their aims.

Be strategic in what you do. Liberty is an organisation that employs 23 staff, and must have a smallish budget for its work (I couldn’t find the exact figures on the website), so it can’t follow every debate it’d like to be involved in, instead it has chosen a few to focus its capacity and money on, and has had a big impact on the policy debates surrounding those issues.

Anatomy of an action #1 – One call for AU to attend G20

This is the first in what will be a regular series looking at some of the best and worst actions that arrive in my inbox.

One, the new name in the UK for DATA, the organisation set up by rock stars come campaigner Bob Geldof and Bono have been focusing over the last few months on the upcoming G20 meeting. Unlike other NGOs who have been focusing on the policy outcomes from the meeting, many as part of the Put People First platform, One have been calling for the AU to be invited to the meeting. They recently sent to me an email reporting a breakthrough in what they’ve been calling for.

Why I like this action;

1 – It reports on a victory. Gordon Brown has extended an invite to the meeting to the AU. The initial campaign ask has been achieved. Campaigning can be a unrewarding at times but this e-mail delivers good news, and implies it wouldn’t have happened without your actions.

2 – It builds on the victory, but doesn’t stop their, it wants you to do something else. Thank Gordon Brown and then from that it makes the next call, encouraging him to listen to what the AU delegation has to say. It asks you to do more, it doesn’t just leave you feeling warm inside.

3 – It frames it that your actions were part of a bigger strategy, and say that the campaign was working with Number 10, it makes you think that ONE is an effective advocacy outfit, with the ear of decision makers.

4 – It makes the same ask twice. The email is simple, with one ask repeated twice (in the middle and at the bottom of the text) rather than provide 3 or 4 options of what you could do.

Maximising the impact of an open letter

This report, on a World Development Movement letter to Ed Miliband on the building of coal fired power stations in the Observer caught my eye today. Open letters to minister have long been a standard campaigning tactic, but few make it into the papers.

So what have WDM done right?
1 – Given it a go – I’ve been involved in the writing of a number of open letters and I don’t think I’ve ever considered seeing if it had news currency. Credit to WDM, they wrote a letter which had a strong critique of the government and got a good article in the paper which has increased the visibility of their letter, and one hopes its impact.
2 – Got lucky – it was a slow news day this week , so papers were looking to fill column inches, and Sunday papers approach stories differently than the weekly papers.
3 – Made it different – Signatories from 40 countries is impressive (anyone who has tried to coordinate this type of letter knows its not as easy as it might sound), and adds a new angle to the story that the developing world is calling on the UK to clean up its act.
4 – Built a relationship – I don’t know, but I imagine that WDM have built a relationship with Juliette Jowit, making her more likely to report on the letter.
5 – Chosen an hot topic – Climate change is a top news issues, government bashing is in, which makes this letter stand out from some of the more staid open letters NGOs write.

The man behind the Obama web triumph

You could set up a whole blog about what we can learn from the Obama presidential campaign, but just a quick post  to flag up this interesting article in the Guardian about Thomas Gensemer, MD of Blue State Digital, the company that ran the hugely successful Obama online effort, which raised over $500 million and recruited 13.5 million supporters.

While the focus of the article is about how political parties should use the web, it has lots of lessons that could transfer over to campaigning NGOs. A few key points;

On using the web as a mobilising tool –
Rather than merely join this network, passively clicking a button to donate or express an allegiance to Obama, members were encouraged to go out into the real world to knock on doors, hand out leaflets and spread the word. The site then encouraged these efforts to be recorded and shared with the online community, making the user feel empowered and on the front line of the campaign

Obama saw technology as the only way to transfer traditional community organising to a national level, with volunteers and donors signing up online and then being encouraged to go out to recruit further volunteers, hold meetings and house parties, spread the message.

On the web as a gimick v’s a communication tool
Now Labour MPs are using Twitter, but the political capital that went into getting a couple of MPs to Twitter probably wasn’t worth it. Prescott’s petition on the bankers has 15,000 signatures, but what are they asking people to do? You could have asked for different things that would create a greater sense of engagement. None of this is a technology challenge; it’s an organisational challenge, being willing to communicate with people.

Read the whole article here, which includes a short video of Gensemer reviewing the websites of the Labour and Conservative parties.
UPDATE – Gensemer also spoke to an audience at City University while he was in the UK. The reports from the talk make fascinating reading. You can also view a video here and download the powerpoint slides here.

Lessons from the Third Runway

The recent campaign over the third runway at Heathrow reached the media headlines in a way that few others have in the last few months. While the final result was disapointing and the end of the governments short lived ‘pro environment’ rhetoric, I think it provides a number of useful lessons for campaigners to reflect upon.

Creativity counts – The campaign saw some, in my opinion, some of the best and most creative actions that for a long time. From Greenpeace buying a piece of land to the Climate Rush picnic at T1.  We saw some great campaign stunt to complement the more traditional campaign methods. Greenpeace even made headlines for getting Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon banned  from the Latitude music festival.

Building a  broad coaltion
– this article from John Vidal explores the vast coalition that was behind the campaign.  From local groups, local councils to some of the biggest environmental NGOs, the campaign managed to unite a vast group of organisations who don’t normally come together. It demonstrated the breadth of concern.
Undoubtably the Conservative Party came out against the runway, in part because of the pressure from local Conservative run councils under the proposed flight path, and the potential of making this an issue in a number of important marginal seats in London.

Lots of emails to MPs get noticed – So some MPs might have complanined about the e-mail bombing that they were on the end off, but none of the 50 MPs could have ignored the number of people (said to be about 5,000) who over a weekend were concerned enough about the issue to send an email.

Understand the political dynamics – Going forward, the clear divisions that occured within the Cabinet over the final decision, provide a useful insight into any future campaigning on similar issues. Its clear that at least two camps are forming around these issues, and may signal the rise of the ‘Milibenn’ tendency.

Links I like – w/b 16 Feb

Because no blog is complete without it! A few links I like from this week.

George Monbiot on politics is broken and the launch of DoSomethingAboutIt

Video of debate to mark the launch of City University’s new MA on Political Campaigning – Political Campaigners and Reporters – partners in democracy or rats in a sack.

Notes from BOND event on Campaigning Effectiveness and using new media