On top of delivering a second term as president to Barack Obama, the Obama for America 2012 campaign gathered up accolades on how it efficiently it was run and how it utilized the vast reams of data the campaign gathered to maximum effect in electoral strategy. But on Tuesday, the campaign gathered up one of the highest awards for Internet affairs, a Webby for breakout of the year.
The award was based on the campaign's utilization of the vast amounts of data that it collected. Obama for America receiving the Webby is an acknowledgement of the growing importance of gathering data and utilizing it efficiently in electoral politics.
The Obama campaign built an enormous data operation, going beyond the voter lists of the past. They integrated them with hundreds of sources of publicly available information such as hunting license and other public information that people provided such as signing up for Facebook or mobile phone apps.
From there, the data had to be translated into a plan of action on how to utilize it. Various programs were developed, such as Narwhal. Narwhal was utilized to synchronize the information in databases with a user's on-line interactions. People concerned about the environment would see a higher percentage of e-mails concerning Obama's record on the environment in their in-box. Users would get fundraising e-mails with suggested amounts that varied based on user data in order to nudge them to make a donation in line with their supposed income.
The data was utilized to plan advertising as well. Working backward from the data gathered from field teams, they determined where it would be most effective to advertise on TV to target certain markets. This led the campaign to advertise in unusual places to reach their audience, such as on TV Land, a cable network dedicated to reruns, and on late night TV shows such as Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and The Walking Dead. Traditionally advertising focuses on broad strokes, like advertising for older audiences by running ads during 7 p.m. basic network shows like Jeopardy!
Social media was a key part of this data offensive as well. The campaigned leveraged the huge army of people who had downloaded their app in the campaign effort. On Facebook the app user received a message urging them to encourage their friends to do something that would help the campaign such as registering to vote or voting early, as well as offering tools to automatically do it. The campaign found it got a one in five response rate from such tools because people they knew were asking them.
The Obama Campaign receiving a Webby award is formal recognition of the monumental importance of big data and IT in the new age of politics. The Romney campaign had a similar effort but instead of sailing smoothly, their system disastrously crashed on its Election Day launch. As campaigns grasp for more and more advantages in future races, expect them to study this Webby winner quite closely.
Another big winner was Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, who won Athlete of the Year.