Barack Obama's use of modern technology throughout his presidential campaign may have helped him win, but it remains to be seen whether and how he can adapt those strategies to governing when he takes office Tuesday, an analyst said.
"The way he ran his campaign is going to be one for the textbooks, in the way he used technology and integrated it with an overall strategy," for both donor and voter drives, said political science professor Jeff Gulati of Bentley University in Waltham, Mass.
"But this tactic started out as early as 2000," Gulati said. "It's funny, because the first candidate to seriously use the Internet for fundraising was John McCain in his primary fight with George Bush. McCain was able to raise a vast sum of money. "... But what made Obama very different was how proactive he was in getting e-mail addresses from everybody, so the campaign could make the request for funds instead of waiting for the citizen to initiate the contact."
One of the more difficult tasks in reaching voters can be acquiring their contact information, Gulati said, so one of the key elements of Obama's communications strategy was getting voters and donors to provide that information voluntarily.
"The text message thing he did with Joe Biden, where he'd announce the VP pick by text message at three in the morning, part of what that was about was getting people's phone numbers... He did the same thing with e-mails, starting his own social networking site, and focusing on MySpace and Facebook so much. Starting a YouTube channel and letting people subscribe."
An aspect of Obama's communications strategy was viral idea sharing across the Internet, according to Nicole Calvo of the San Mateo-based public relations firm A&R Edelman.
"Another cutting-edge technology the Obama campaign used was widgets," Calvo wrote in an e-mail. "One cool widget Obama's campaign made was a tax calculator widget, (which) allows you to enter in your annual income and figure out how much you would save under Obama's tax plan. To date it has received over 3 million views and been installed over 5,800 times."
Obama also bought ads on the Xbox video game "Madden NFL 09" that would only appear if a user in one of 10 swing states played the game online, and he held virtual rallies in the popular online game "Second Life," Gulati said.
"The video game advertising was probably the least effective thing he did but, as with everything that the campaign did, there was a deliberate reason they chose to advertise there," David Erickson of Minneapolis-based Tunheim Partners wrote in an e-mail. "That demographic — 18 to 34-year-old men — are the hardest to reach because they spend so much time playing video games. So, as they did with all their other marketing, the campaign went to where the audience hung out to reach them."
Obama didn't have a lock on using technology to reach people, but he synthesized that technique with his overall approach in a uniquely effective way, Gulati said.
"Other campaigns did that was well, but didn't necessarily have a staff in place to do something with that information. Obama dedicated a lot of resources to continue to interact with those people, keeping them informed about what was going on in the campaign as well as asking them for money,'' he said.
"The message was really interesting, because it was not just saying what they would do policy-wise, but how they would do things. It gave the message that this is about a movement, 'We're going to change things, but it will be citizen-initiated in a lot of respects, and it can only be done if we work as a community.'""
It remains to be seen whether Obama will take that approach to governing as well, Gulati said, but the base of support he developed in the campaign could be a powerful persuasive tool when Obama works with the Congress.
"In political science there's a term, 'the permanent campaign,' which says that governing should be like campaigning," Gulati said. "A lot of presidents forget that and try to influence Congress the old fashioned way, but if you think of it like a campaign, you mobilize support among the public. Congressmen only have to answer to their constituents, so if they feel not supporting the President will hurt their re-election chances, because people back home are trying to push them one way or the other, you can really make an impact."
Internet and text-messaging furor over Obama is expected to spike again Tuesday.
The media company Current is working with Twitter, a Web site that allows users to post status messages instantly available to their network, for an inauguration event called "Shout Out the Swearing In."
A record 1.4 billion text messages are expected to be sent and received on Tuesday, according to Albert Lin of the San Francisco-based Internet monitoring company VeriSign.
"Specifically, VeriSign estimates mobile messaging will increase by approximately 15 percent on Inauguration Day," Lin wrote in an e-mail. "(We've) seen large increases in mobile messaging on historic days and holidays, including the 803 million messages (VeriSign) delivered on its network alone on Election Day 2008."