Now that the dust has settled on the US elections, you will find many news articles talking about how the Barack Obama team used technology to manage his presidential campaign. Many of these articles talk about his use of Email, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, etc.
The fact that the campaign used these tools is quite unremarkable, but they were used superbly, as an important part of a coordinated communication strategy.
Once you signed up to the website, you would receive emails from various members of the Obama team. You would be getting mail from Barack, Michelle Obama, Campaign Manager David Plouffe, and the occasional high profile democrat, each with a different voice and purpose, addressing you as a part of the team, and always with a call to action. The campaign combined management, marketing, and technology in a way that amplified the effect of each.
While effective, this was simply a brilliant communication strategy, nothing revolutionary. Some of the technology was new, and the internet provided new channels, but this was traditional, one to many communication, around since this stump speech and the pamphlet. Technology just makes this quicker, highly personalised, easily accessible and more sustainable.
No, the real revolution behind the Obama campaign was my.barackobama.com.
My.BarackObama, is the heart of an on-line community used by over a million members, providing tools to organise for Barack Obama through social interaction. Behind it is Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, who tweaked social software to coordinate shared goals and meet very specific organisational objectives.
My.BarackObama, supplied the tools that staff and volunteers could use to connect to like minded individuals to organise various campaign activities. To keep activities focused, people would canvas their neighbourhood, and identify friends, foes, and the coveted undecided voters.
The campaign embarked on a 50 state strategy, even though some wanted to concentrate on only friendly and battleground states. A 50 state strategy could not have been possible without the massive fund raising capability, supported by the communication strategy, and local campaign offices supported by My.BarackObama. These two approaches proved to be synergistic, each enhancing the impact of the other.
The final result was an increased percentage of the vote from 2004, across the board, even in areas where they lost, setting the stage for future elections.
So did social software win the day?? Probably not.
Without a coherent strategy, committed workforce, and supporting organisational structure, My.BarackObama could not have become the effective management tool it was. But, in this context, I believe social software was crucial to the eventual ease of the Obama victory.
I doubt we will be running for US President soon, so what does this mean for us?
My.BarackObama proved that, in an organisation prepared to use it properly, social software can allow people to operate more autonomously, while giving central management more reach and greater flexibility. This allows an organisation to adapt to change, as it happens, while maintaining the discipline to carry out core objectives.
I believe the Obama campaign has given us a glimpse into the enterprise of the future.
Exploiting this new class of software, successful organisations will have the majority of it's activities performed by self directed teams, staffed by some internal but many external resources, from both channel and suppliers. While this will allow for a leaner organisation, it will require a higher caliber of management, with strong communication, mentoring and facilitation skills.
For more information, see the Wired article which inspired this post @ http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2008/10/obamas-secret-w