Obama’s New Media Strategist Rahaf Harfoush Shares Social Media Tips

I went to a great lecture last week held by Rahaf Harfoush who was a new media strategist on Barrack Obama’s campaign. Kudos to the organizers at the Rotman school for a very well run event. Ms. Harfoush, all of 24, was incredibly insightful.

Some of the highlights:
• All new media tactics should lead to an offline action
• Obama campaign had a consistent message they used everywhere
• The campaign “top” believed in new media, committed to it and then got out of the way and let the “net” generation do it
• Give up control

• Both Republicans and Democrats were aware of the high percentage of Internet usage in US (and experience of previous campaigns)
• The real questions about using social media is how to transfer a crowd to an audience to a partnership
• Both the iTunes app store and the Obama campaign shared the same strategy: the crowd exits. I will give them the tools they need.  The result is a crowd that is engaged.
• She was genuinely passionate about Barrack
• She worked on the community that gave tools to the grass roots organizers
• She found 3 differences between this campaign and others
1. 50 state strategy (Howard Dean pioneered. All the states count. Try to win them all. BO went after McCain’s Arizona and near the end they were close)
2. Target the disaffected center
3. Focused on small donations
• Ex. Palin’s derogatory comment about “what are community organizers” pulled in $10 mill in 24 hours; 130 million in 30 days. 67% of these donations came online.
• What the Obama campaign did very successfully with social media was that everything networked together (This is something we are working on at Harlequin)

 Six Lessons to Apply:
1. Give new media a seat at the table
• New media needs to be a department with a voice
• The department doesn’t necessarily need to be large but you need at least a few (3) dedicated people
• New media is an executional tool for your strategy and vision
• New media takes investment in the form of time, people and money
• Good examples of companies that get it are Wells Fargo and Dell

2. Tools are Useless without a blueprint
• ½ of all new media campaigns fail
• There is no off-the-shelf solution – will be unique to each company
• Find the sweet spot (core vision but with room for maneuverability. )
• Obama campaign had the same message everywhere – Hope, Change, Action. Another good example is Apple.

3. Know the Lay of the Land
• Map out your digital landscape
• Find the conversations
• Easy to find, easy to use
• Create a series of questions that you must answer. Why are we entering this space Are we a good fit? Etc.

4. Build Relationships
• Learn the social etiquette – it varies by network
• Listen
• Be authentic – you can’t fix it later

5. Call to Action
• have a purpose / mission
• for BO online organizing lead directly to offline action

6. Give up Control
• Empower brand ambassadors
• Embrace cocreation (Obama followers were on blogs to refute wrong statements; the rumor that Obama was not born in the US was quickly rebutted by bloggers, people on networks
• Let your brand evolve (let people remix your image, videos, text. She had a great example of a graffiti art on a wall with Obama image and text. While some of the words were different the artist even highlighted 3 key words which meant hope change action

Since social media or new media is still such a new concept I thought it worth blogging the key points of Rahaf’s speech.

As an author or marketer what aspects of this can most directly apply to you? Does giving up control scare you?




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