Since his 200-person data-crunching, A/B testing, social media-focused communications and technology team helped deliver President Obama reelection, those who led his strategy have taken to speaking tours to spread the gospel.
Among them is Mike Conlow, the deputy chief technology officer for President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign who helped design a revenue process that raised more than $1 billion for the campaign, who spoke Thursday at Callowhill incubation space VentureF0rth.
The Philadelphia native, raised in Germantown, spent more than a year in Chicago figuring out ways that the campaign could best reach constituents, which ultimately began with the most powerful tool in their arsenal—technology. Conlow managed teams responsible for some of the most visible and technical achievements of the campaign, including online engagement platforms, data integration, analytics infrastructure and social media outreach tools.
OBAMA TOOK REDDIT ON HIS OWN
One of the president’s first cultural influences came way of a Reddit AMA, which is question and answer based thread where AMA stands for ask me anything.
Conlow said, initially, there were “elaborate” plans to figure out what questions the president would answer and which to avoid, but following the event’s announcement, Reddit’s site went down for a short time due to a traffic overload. Once it rebooted, Conlow said the president told the room of 20 advisors ‘I got this,’ and took it himself without assistance.
“He answered his own questions and skipped the drug questions all by himself,” Conlow said to the audience of 40 attendees. “All of the credit goes to him.”
Another aspect of the campaign’s technological success was open-tweeting, which Conlow said, after the first few weeks, allowed campaign members to tweet whatever they wanted, whenever they felt an important message needed to be made.
“With the staff the size ours was and as digitally connected as ours was, we can get something trending on Twitter very quickly,” Conlow said. “That was the evolution over the course of the campaign that really struck me.”
Conlow said while at a conference in New York, a Republican noted that the Romney campaign had hired just four people to manage an equivalent operation, to which another party member retracted and said it was closer to 25. Conlow said that was a surprise, as his staff consisted of 200 members.
Conlow said the campaign’s “incredible analytics team” took full advantage of the program Optimizely, which runs the common A/B testing used to identify changes to web pages in order to maximize an interest’s outcomes—in this case, it was constituent engagement.
“The main metric is not dollars raised,” Conlow said. “The main metric in technology is the number of people you talk to and how effective you are at convincing them on your point of view and after that, how effective you are at getting them to actually turn out.”
DASHBOARD OF INTERACTION
A main component of the campaign’s engagement was through Dashboard, a program utilized to act the as the central hub for constituent involvement, whether it was through volunteering, organizing, donating or a handful of other interaction methods.
“It’s a place where you can make phone calls and meet your local neighborhood team,” Conlow said. “We really wanted this to be the center of your online life.”
The team also developed a single-click donation system called Quick Donate that would save a donor’s information the first time around so that future donations wouldn’t need the average data input, which may make someone reluctant to continue.
Given the campaign used Amazon for most of its infrastructure, Conlow said, it was refrained from using the Amazon’s trademarked 1-Click. Regardless, Conlow said the system alone raised $100 million.
One of the more vital facets of message spreading was through email that typically directed its list of more than 10 million constituents to the Dashboard tool. Conlow said about 16 million emails could be sent each hour, with a record of 89 million in a single day, which came in the week before the election.
As for the campaign’s technology budget, Conlow said he did not know exact numbers, but said it was in the “mid-to-upper tens of millions of dollars,” though less than $100 million.
When asked about the 2016 election, Conlow said “everything is going to be different,” noting that during the 2008 election, Twitter was a slower rising service and therefore didn’t offer nearly as much influence and benefit as today.
For the future, Conlow said he is trying to figure out how to keep a majority of the members as the campaign’s success has opened doors for the staff, such as startup ideas.
“I’m hopefully keeping as many as them as possible involved,” Conlow said. “But, they’re off doing cool, awesome, new things.”
This report was done in partnership with Temple University’s Philadelphia Neighborhoods program, the capstone class for the Temple’s Department of Journalism.
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