Tech & the convention - now Obama's got Biden emailing

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Barack Obama's new running mate has joined the online campaign by sending out his own email today which links to a "personal" video from the Senator thanking supporters and giving them a chance to know who he is.

"Hi, this is Joe Biden," he says.  "I want to thank you for the way you've welcomed me into the campaign.  I'm deeply honored to join Barack and the millions of supporters like you in this movement you've put together."

Biden's email, the video, and of course, the much-discussed text from Obama are part of an online campaign that is getting a lot of attention.

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The "old media"

Never before - at least in the U.S. - has there been a more talked-about text message.  On Friday night, when the vice presidential speculation had hit a frenzy, some bloggers seemed to be laughing at the mainstream media's struggle to keep up.

Marc Ambinder, a political blogger at The Atlantic posted a message entitled "Triumph of New Media over Old Media" that simply stated, "Wolf Blitzer on the Situation Room begging viewers to stay tuned so CNN can bring them coverage of a text message."

Well,  as it turned out, the mainstream media was able to get the scoop on Obama's selection before the actual text went out.  But only by a couple hours.  (Obama's vice presidential selection "cone of silence," however,  was more impressive than Rick Warren's).

This was, after all, the first time a presidential campaign choose to deliver the announcement via the "new media" (texting and emails to supporters) rather than going to the mainstream media first - regardless of how it played out.

There have been complaints by some people who say they didn't receive the text until late yesterday.  Some are saying they haven't received it at all.  But the Obama campaign is saying the distribution of the text message went very well.

Just how many people signed up anyway?  They aren't telling.  But the number "three million" is bandied about often.

It ain't the text, it's the contact info

If you are focused on the text message itself, say online strategists, you are missing the boat.  Andrew Rasiej, the co-founder of techpresident.com, a web site which tracks how the presidential candidates are using the web, says getting contact information of supporters was of paramount importance.

The text campaign "was very effective in achieving its primary goal which was to build up Obama's already massive database of supporters and develop yet another way they can be reached and mobilized during the final run up to the election," Rasiej said.

What will the Obama campaign do with these cell numbers?

"[They] can start to mash all the data they have collected from multiple places, such as their e-mail list, their ... contributors, their donors, and now these cell phone numbers, with voter files and ... give themselves the potential to identify key activists who might volunteer to make calls, canvas, or help with GOTV (Get out the vote)," Rajeiv said.  "This info will also help them identify people who are still making up their minds or haven't fully committed, and the campaign can redouble its efforts to make the final sale."

The 3:00 am call

What about the fact that the text message came in the middle of the night?  Did it lose a personal touch?

Phil Noble, the director of Politics Online, said he doubted there were many people who stayed up staring at their cell phones waiting for the text.

"I don't think folks expected that Barack himself keyed in the message on his Blackberry and sent it out," Noble said.  "But signing up for the alert and then getting the word directly to your own mobile is a lot more personal than seeing it in a newspaper some kid threw up on your front porch. Beside, many of the younger text generation don't read newspapers anyway."

Noble said the text campaign was part symbolic and part substance.  It signaled - and delivered - a new way of communicating with people that will pay dividends far past the initial text message.

"Obama's use of the new tools is not like a single silver bullet that has one big impact," Noble said.  "Instead, what they are doing is using the new media to reach a whole new generation the way they want to communicate, over and over again. Every time the Obama campaign touches these folks in the new media and they respond back, it's another strand of connectedness that eventually forms a strong web of connectedness and activism, and that is very powerful."

What's next?  The word is Senator Biden will be challenging John McCain's yet-unannounced running mate to a duel in World of Warcraft instead of a vice presidential debate.  But that's just an email that's going around...

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