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March 03, 2008

Could the Social Network Create An Obama Win?

by Josh Bernoff

Months ago, I signed up for my.barackobama.com just to check it out. I've been getting emails from the candidate's people regularly, including notices about his appearances in Massachusetts, where I live. Yesterday I got one that started like this:


Dear Josh,

Yesterday, supporters all across the country responded to Barack's request by making more than 300,000 calls into crucial March 4th primary states.

We reached our goal of one million calls much faster than expected, so we're setting a new goal: 1,500,000 calls to voters by Tuesday.

Use our online phonebanking tool and start making calls right now:


There's no easier or more effective way to keep building momentum for this campaign than making calls to likely supporters.

And there's no more important time to get involved than right now.

The primaries in Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island, and Vermont this Tuesday, March 4th, could be decisive for this campaign. Reach out to voters in these states, listen to what's important to them, and share your reasons for supporting Barack.

The online phonebanking tool is easy and fun to use. Here's how it works:

  1. Choose a state you'd like to call.
  2. Log into My.BarackObama.com and get a list of 20 names that only you will receive. (If you don't have a My.BarackObama account, creating one is fast and easy.)
  3. Click on a name and you'll be led through a simple script, question by question.
  4. Start making calls.

There's lots of talk in politics about "energizing the base." my.barackobama.com is the base for Barack Obama. I still feel there's a flaw in this social network of Obama supporters -- I've seen no evidence that Obama is listening to anything they say. But terms of taking a base of supporters and turning them into a force to accomplish your goals, this may be the most powerful example there is.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is zooming all over Ohio and Texas, shouting herself hoarse. I know Obama is doing the same, and I know Clinton's people are engaged in plenty of get out the vote activity. But Obama has this asset: thousands and thousands (millions?) of volunteers he's never met, using phone banks he set up.

Some of those phone calls will be "off message" -- but many will also be passionate personal word of mouth. Could this make the difference?

And the question I really want to know. If Obama wins in November (or even if somebody else does), how could this technique be used to improve the work of government?

P.S. This post is about Obama's and Clinton's techniques, not their positions. Please think a moment before trying to post policy-based comments -- this is not the place to try to win people over to your candidate.


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Elisa Camahort

Josh: This is not a new technique. If you were signed up for other candidates' mail lists you'd get similar emails. It's true that you used to have to organize calling parties from your home, or go to party or candidate headquarters to participate in such parties. They provided scripts and phone lists.

BUT, the fact is that I did calling from home back in 2004 too, during the primaries and the general election. 2004 probably WAS the first year the candidates and parties facilitated making calls from home, providing lists and scripts, but by now, this is an old technique, and old news.

Mark Rae is building his website...

I would like to add something on the Barak Obama call:

You can select the State You'd Like to Call:

Phonebank from home and help get out the vote in key states.
Over the next few weeks, several states, including Texas, Ohio, Vermont, and Rhode Island will hold primaries and caucuses. Take a moment to encourage voters in those states to get out and support Barack Obama. You don't even have to leave your home to pick up the phone and reach out.

All you need is a few minutes, a phone line, and a desire to help change the country.

Josh Bernoff

@Elisa Camahort Thanks for the perspective. From where I sit, the new thing here is the use of social networks to connect to lots and lots of recruits, and the simplicity and ease with which this is happening online.


I think we'll see an increasing use of this sort of grass roots activism on major legislation and policy issues if Obama gets elected. It's easy for a Congress Person to filter their e-mail and ignore 1000 form letters about health care in their district, but a 1000 phone calls jamming the lines. . . much more impactful


Josh- you asked the right ques - "how could this technique be used to improve the work of government?"

Its important that any governmenttake lessons learnt /techniques from the field and ensure that society in general has a mode to express themselves .

I Wonder what changes will come out of all this social media strategies from the candidates


Stop funding the terrorists!

No more Oil Wars!

Energy Independence Now!

Drill in Anwar.

Build more nuclear power plants

Use More coal.

Use more natural gas

Turn trash into energy

Double the efficiency of windmills and solar cells.

If France can do nuclear power so can we.

If Brazil can do biomass/ethanol power so can we.

If Australia can do LNG power so can we.

Domestically produced energy will end the recession and spur the economy.

Stop paying oil dollars to those who worship daily at the alter of our destruction.

Preserve our Civil Rights and defend our Freedom by ending dependence on foreign oil.


Knock on wood, Hillary will be out tomorrow.

I posted a "Hillary Swan Song" video.

If you like it, pass it on.


Paul Caplan

Now I know the last time a Brit got involved in the US elections they were unceremoniously told to 'go away' (Guadian and Clark County) but...

I find it worrying that the power of social networking, wisdom of crowds, wiki-power (or whatever we call it) is being used to power old fashioned pester-power, top-down lobbying.

Is there nothing better the Obama campaign can do with its wikimasses then get them on the phone cold-calling poor reluctant voters.

Not only does this seem a waste of a huge amount of potential but also likely to put people off getting involved in the social network momentum. If I was an Obama supporter and interested in joining that 'crowd' to not only change America and US politics (and all associated rhetoric) but also change the way politics works i.e. campaigns and I found my buy-in was just to become part of an assembly line call centre, I'd be disappointed.

No, I'd probably just not join in.

Just modest thoughts from the other side of the water! I still hope he wins, but it's your party, I'm keeping quiet.


good article

thank you for informations.


(a) This is not a new technique - Moveon.org has been using this for years!

(b) Clinton's got the same service available on her site too! So what's the difference?

Mike Volpe

What's also interesting about all of this is that it seems like Barak really has done a PR campaign about his use of social media, so he is promoting himself using stories that cover the techniques he is using to promote himself. Crazy. There was a piece on TV that I saw, plus an article in the Boston Globe as well, plus other mentions.

A while back I did an analysis of the candidates websites using Internet marketing data:

Emma McCreary

I agree Paul.

The first time out, the Youth of the Nation will excitedly use social media to elect their hero candidate. If they get duped though, and after it's all said and done it was just another campaign strategy to get him elected, they will be disaffected and it won't work again. So hopefully he really gets it and uses it for good - to listen to his supporters, to the public -- to create a different way of doing government. Not just to get elected and do the same old B.S.

Ranjit Mathoda

You may find my latest post, The Coming Digital Presidency,
about how social network technology will transform not just getting elected, but governing, of interest:


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