Obama digital guru says it can work for Labour
Good piece in the Guardian today talking to Thomas Gensemer who was behind Barack Obama’s groundbreaking digital campaign.
Gensemer is in town to launch an office of his agency Blue State Digital, which was recently appointed by a group fighting the British National Party’s attempt to win seats in the European parliament elections this June.
Gensemer reckons he has some lessons for Gordon Brown and Labour having recruited 13.5m supporters and raised $500m for the Obama campaign via barackobama.com.
He told the paper that it isn’t about the technology, but that the real questions are: “What are your goals, and how can you use technology to achieve them? Our biggest sales pitch is that we couple the services along with the technology. A lot of our competition just sells technology, and the types of organisation and causes that we like to work with, if I go in and sell them really powerful technology, it doesn’t do them any good, because they don’t have the wherewithal to make sense of it.”
He says he wants to demystify online campaigning and argues that organisations can build very quickly if they do the messaging right.
We’ve seen that a lot recently with the anti-Israeli protests. I don’t agree with these groups, but it has been interesting how these grass roots groups have used social media to organise very effectively.
Gensemer is right when he says that any campaign, be it the Democrats or Labour, has to nurture active supporters, rather than passive donors. It has to be about the grass roots, down to what the CLPs and wards are doing as much as anything.
Labour and Labour activists have already made a start with a couple of sites, which we’ve written about here. With the launch of Derek Draper’s LabourList.org and the Party’s Labourspace.com.
There’s also been digital agency Tangent One appointing former Labour Party head of corporate comms, Paul Simpson, to manage its Labour Party account and Labour turning to Twitter and Facebook to keep in touch with constituents with a The new campaign that allows MPs to upload communication targeted at their constituents on Facebook, Twitter and through email.
Launching all of this is fine, but Labour like any party has to work hard to ensure that it gets the simple stuff right (Gensemer relates a story about people asked to email in their views – but four days and 78,000 emails later nothing had been read) and ensuring that social media becomes part of the DNA rather than window dressing. It is also essential, Gensemer says, that it is not about gimmicks, which is always a danger when new things (like Twitter) suddenly emerge and the bandwagon is boarded.
“They have focused too much on gimmicks and what they can sell to the press. Now Labour MPs are using Twitter, but the political capital that went into getting a couple of MPs to Twitter probably wasn’t worth it. Prescott’s petition on the bankers has 15,000 signatures, but what are they asking people to do? You could have asked for different things that would create a greater sense of engagement. None of this is a technology challenge; it’s an organisational challenge, being willing to communicate with people.”
Gensemer tells the paper he is convinced that the social media digital approach can work even in the much less geographically disparate UK.
And then he gets to what he is really here for: to win the Labour Party digital election campaign for Blue State Digital having already set out their stall with work on Jon Cruddas’s bid in 2006-07 for the Labour deputy leadership and Ken Livingstone’s unsuccessful re-election bid last year for London mayor.
“We’re very eager, and I think it would work equally well here. I don’t think they’re going to raise a half a billion dollars, but it certainly would raise far more money than it costs and you could make a big difference. As our work with Jon Cruddas and Ken Livingstone shows, if you ask people to do things they will do it, in similar numbers that we see in the States.”