Obama for America’s Digital Director Teddy Goff Shares Secrets of his Success

Cross-posted with permission from the CDO Club

image“People trust their friends, not political rhetoric.”

The implications of that truth were shared by Teddy Goff, Digital Director of Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns, and featured speaker at the inaugural Chief Digital Officer Summit, held at Thomson Reuters World headquarters in New York City in February 2013.

Goff was introduced by CDO Club Founder David Mathison, who highlighted some of Goff and his 200+ person team’s now legendary accomplishments on its way to raising $690 million in the 2012 campaign.

Those included:

  • registering more than 1 million voters online
  • building Facebook and Twitter followers of more than 45 and 33 million people respectively
  • generating 133 million video views
  • creating groundbreaking digital fund raising tools
  • mobilized hundreds of thousands of volunteers and events through their proprietary organizing platform

Messaging, Organizing, and Fundraising

Goff told the audience that the campaign’s goals were segmented into three fundamental camps: messaging, organizing and fundraising. He shared his team’s digital strategies for accomplishing each.jpg

When it came to messaging, Goff said that the primary directive was “don’t be lame.”

In other words, be creative, compelling, and sometimes even fun. For example, he discussed a message being crafted that critiqued Mitt Romney’s tax plan. The team’s challenge: how to get people to read a blog post about tax policy?

The solution was the creation of a simple little game on its Web site. After users read a short blog introduction to the critique, they were prompted to click on a “Get the Details” button. But for 8 seconds, that button would “fly” away to a different part of the site. After that 8 seconds, the button would stay in place, and only then when it was clicked on, would it bring the user to the associated page.

Within 24 hours, that blog post had a million likes on Facebook and was tweeted 70,000 times.

“Had we put out a white paper or press release,” Goff said, the campaign’s message “would not have been read by 1.5 million people, and it certainly would not have been liked by 1 million people on Facebook.”

Inform and Inspire

Whenever a message was developed, Goff said, the campaign worked to be at “the juncture of inform and inspire,” to keep its supporters “inspired, giving and sharing,”

The $64,000 question, of course, is: just how to do that?

Goff explained that his team figured out the kind of content most likely to be shared: it determined that there is one set of information, that people care about—the economy and critiques of Romney’s plans for example—but are not topics most people wanted their friends to know they cared about.

For other matters—education, the environment, LBGT and women’s issues—people not only cared, but also wanted to let their friends know that they cared about them.

Those topics represented a kind of sweet spot of caring and sharing.

goff Goff’s also discussed strategies in support of the Obama “get out the vote” organizing goal. His team built a tool to collect, aggregate and map that voter data on top of its supporters’ social connections. It did this by analyzing the public voter file and overlaying it with the reams of social data it had collected on its supporters, which together could verify who was who on Facebook.

This created powerful opportunities. The digital team could then share a message or video on a supporter’s Facebook page, and suggest to that supporter the names of undecided or unregistered voters with whom to share that content. The team, Goff said, was even able to prioritize those target voters based on their home states. This “friend to friend” recruiting tool has become particularly critical, Goff said, because it has become increasingly harder to reach people directly via a listed telephone number.

Goff also discussed digital fund raising strategies and shared the extent of the analytical rigor the team applied to its email campaigns.

He displayed two charts showing the results of an email fund raising campaign where a total of 18 different versions (6 versions of the message and 3 different subject lines for each) were “split-tested;” that test surfaced the winning combination, which itself was subject to even further splits.

That single campaign raised $2.4 million.

photo 3Another noteworthy fund raising strategy was ensuring that supporters could make donations as fast and easy as possible via the creation of a safe payment information site. Once a new donor added his or her information to the system, the campaign would simply send the person future emails, with a simple “click here to donate” button. When clicked, it would automatically and securely charge the supporter’s credit card.

Goff also shared his observations on how the 2012 campaign differed from the 2008 Obama campaign. By 2012, he explained, the public had a much higher expectation around what could and should be accomplished digitally and via social networks–and they had more power to express those expectations. After all, he reminded the audience, in 2008 the iPhone was only a year old, Facebook was only a tenth of the size it is today, and Twitter was barely known at all.

But some things had not changed.

What has not changed he said, were campaign goals: recruit volunteers, register voters, persuade people, turn them out and raise money.

What also has not changed is human nature. “Yes, people are a little busier,” Goff explained, and “they have a lot more devices.” But, he added, people want the same things they always wanted: “to be inspired, have connections, and read, watch, write and do interesting stuff.”

What’s Next?

Goff acknowledged he did not know what the next social tools, networks and associated strategies will be. But, he added, “I do know that the technology has been giving us more tools, resources, ways to connect, better information, and a more empowered life. I don’t expect that to change.”

For politicians, businesses, non-profits, government and everyone else, this means “we’re all at the mercy of ordinary persons talking with their friends, telling them what they like and don’t like.

And that, ultimately, means we all “have to do better work.”

Lessons from the Obama Campaign

Goff’s social media strategy for inspiring and motivating millions of people was of course grounded and in the service of a political endeavor. But it has clear and direct implications for businesses, nonprofits and other institutions strategizing how to best leverage social media for success.

Among these lessons from Teddy Goff’s presentation are the need to recognize the importance of:

  • aligning communication strategies with the values of social media: authenticity, connectivity, and transparency
  • knowing the full dimension of customers’ and potential customers likes and dislikes, and how they will spread enthusiasm about your brand, product, and organization
  • understanding what your audience truly wants to share with their friends, and what motivates them to do so
  • personalizing messages whenever possible, and doing split tests to better evaluate results
  • making the buying process as fast and simple as possible
  • being aware of the potential aggregated power of your customers—both the satisfied and the dissatisfied

Goff selected as first-ever Chief Digital Officer of the Year (2013)

The digital strategies used by the Obama campaign under Goff’s direction were extremely successful, and widely credited as being a key factor in the President’s election in 2008, and his re-election in 2012.

To recognize his accomplishments, CDO Club Founder David Mathison announced Teddy Goff as the Chief Digital Officer of the Year for 2013, the first year the award was given.

“I can think of no more deserving person to receive this award than Mr. Goff, who used the latest tools and technologies to help elect and re-elect the leader of the free world,” said Mathison.

“Teddy’s work demonstrates the increasing importance of digital, social, mobile, geo-location, micro-targeting, and other online tools and strategies, not just in political campaigns, but in business and society overall. These strategies can be utilized by individuals, nonprofits, and for-profits alike to increase awareness and improve audience engagement,” Mathison continued.

“Arguably, Teddy Goff served as the CDO to our nation’s CEO, and on behalf of the members of the CDO Club, it is an honor to recognize him and his team for their herculean accomplishments with this inaugural award,” said Mathison.

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