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David Talbot

A View from David Talbot

Beyond Change.Gov

Why the Obama White House will have a new-media department at its core.

  • November 25, 2008

The Obama transition team’s Web presence revolves around www.Change.gov, which sets out his platform, takes job applications, and invites supporters to submit their stories from the campaign’s front lines. But there’s pretty strong evidence that once Obama is in office, presidential communications and overall strategy will revolve around new media. In short, the presidential-election counting is done–and the Web was an even bigger winner than we knew.

Here’s the data: Obama’s campaign garnered a staggering $500 million in online donations from more than three million people. Personal fundraising pages alone–those online tools that let supporters browbeat friends and acquaintances for money–hauled in $30 million from 70,000 organizers. (Not bad, considering the investment of campaign time and money: zero.)

Supporters also created 35,000 volunteer groups and organized 200,000 real-world events, such as house parties, via the Web. Then there was the get-out-the-vote effort. In the final four days, when the Obama juggernaut turned its Web firepower to rallying voters to the polls, supporters made three million phone calls to those in swing states. Did someone say “YouTube”? Well, people spent some 14 million hours watching campaign-related Obama videos during the campaign season–adding up to 50 million views. Finally, and most ominously for Obama’s political or policy opponents, the incoming president is now armed with the e-mail addresses of 13 million supporters.

With the campaign having learned what kinds of results you get from social-networking sites, viral videos, e-mail lists, and text messaging, it’s not hard to imagine that this administration will operate far differently than its predecessors. Sure, it’s not clear what shape it will take: how much YouTube, how much social networking, how many e-mail blasts from the White House or from proxies. Getting it right will be tricky. But clearly, Obama’s recent “radio address” on YouTube is a taste of things to come. I spoke yesterday with Thomas Gensemer, managing partner of Blue State Digital, the company that set up the social-networking tools for the campaign (and which supplied the numbers above). He said, “My biggest outsider claim is this: The way the campaign helped inform critical decision makers of the value of digital assets means [that these assets] will have a significant role in the ongoing administration.”

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