Five Practical Digital Lessons Radio Can Learn from the Obama Campaign

| December 3, 2012

By Chris Miller
Chris Miller Digital

SHAKER HEIGHTS — Politics aside, Barack Obama’s winning presidential reelection campaign has some great lessons for us about how to use these wacky new digital tools we have.  There’s been a lot written about the campaign’s data-mining and information overlays and Facebook’s “open graph” and more.  However, we’re not going any of those places now.  Let’s stick to what you can do today.

Media All Fits Together

It’s easy to think about all the things we do as separate parts.  Our on-air broadcast, on-site promotions, website, social media, email and texts can all feel like different projects.  Meanwhile, our heaviest listeners and biggest clients want to use all those parts as interlocking pieces of a whole.

The Obama team didn’t start by thinking about what should go in a TV spot, what would be fun to do door-to-door and what might get some likes and shares on Facebook.  They thought about what they needed to do to get members of certain demographic groups to come out and vote for the president.  That goal drove what content was on each platform … and how those platforms fit together … and helped lead to their success.

Every Platform Has a Purpose

Nothing happened in the campaign just by chance, or because somebody got a wild hair of an idea.  Meanwhile, over here in the radio industry, we have plenty of successful, focused, entertaining radio stations with a Facebook page that feels like public access cable TV.

I have found what the Obama team must have known early on.  If you are a brand of any sort, and you have any kind of media channel, people create their own expectations of you based on what they know … and hopefully love … about you.  The more you bring your tweets and Facebook posts into line with that, the more you’ll get responded to.  What you get out of that is being able to move your fans from platform to platform, raising all the numbers you get measured on.

Remember to Put On a Show

The president’s online marketing, especially in email and in the social space, was not dry and negative.  They knew that if you were in their target and you enjoyed one interaction with them, you’d be much more likely to engage again and again.

They still worked to get their message across.  However, they used more of a light touch than a hard sell when contacting their prospective voters.  This came from the same thinking that led them to open a lot more neighborhood campaign offices than Governor Romney’s folks did.  They wanted to be seen and to be thought of as part of the lives of potential voters.  It was content and image marketing on a very high plane.

You know how to put on a show.  If your fans count on you to be entertaining or interesting, carry that tone to them in all you do.

Send Email They Can’t Help But Open

A lot has been written about the emails that the Obama campaign sent out.  They used a very personal, almost creepy tone in their messages.  They used subject lines like, “To be frank” and “Are you ready” and “I don’t get to tell you this enough.”  Truth is, they tested a lot of different approaches, and this is what people responded to.  These emails were more like those we get from real people in our lives.  As strong as you may think “First 5 Rows for Toby Keith” is as a subject line, folks might open your emails more with “Hope you win ‘em” or “Dang, these are great seats” instead.

By the way, the email story didn’t end there.  Those weird, creepy little emails all led to special landing pages online where the Obama folks collected millions and millions in donations.

In the End, It’s a Community, Not Just a Conversation

The president’s team integrated all their marketing tools very rapidly and very creatively into one powerful machine.  Lots of their top digital and technology staff have since gone on to work for major Silicon Valley companies.  What’s significant is not just the technology behind what they did.  They turned their campaign into a human community in a very short amount of time.  Not only did they communicate with their target voters; they got lots of them to carry the message to their friends.

Granted, they had resources that most of us don’t have.  We have time that they didn’t.  Even though your broadcast is a one-way conversation, all your other platforms have the potential to be meaningful two-way relationships with your biggest fans.  Instead of just tossing content at people, you can be listening to everyone, and turning your biggest fans into brand ambassadors.

Chris Miller, owner of Chris Miller Digital, is a leading radio consultant specializing in research-based strategic planning and smart use of digital media. He can be phoned at 216-236-3955 or e-mailed at chris@chrismillerdigital.com.

 

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Category: Digital