At last month's Digital Britain Summit a surprise appearance by Prime Minister Gordon Brown saw him emphasise the importance of the internet to the UK economy. With a general election a certainty before June 2010, the main political parties are now thinking about how they can use the web to enhance their campaign strategies.
Scott Goodstein could certainly teach them a thing or two. He is the man widely recognised as President Barack Obama's digital guru, having been responsible for the biggest mobile and social media campaign in history. Apple's iPhone, BlackBerry apps and Google Android emerged as powerful marketing tools during Obama's enduring campaign, while the growth of Facebook and Twitter exploded, demonstrating how quickly technology moves on.
At the beginning of the campaign, Goodstein was getting people to sign up for SMS updates (he managed more than a million subscribers in total), but by the end voters were receiving video feeds of the inauguration through Obama's iPhone app.
"During the campaign we were using more and more multimedia messaging," says Goodstein. "We did more photos and videos at the inauguration than during the campaign simply because the technology had advanced so quickly. The amount of people downloading the iPhone app and the amount of time they were spending on it was amazing. It was great to see a technology that barely existed before the campaign evolve, and then to work out a strategy."
The message from Goodstein is that anyone looking to base their marketing on the latest technology and media platforms, which British political parties should be, does not require vast resources. "We didn't start the campaign with 50 social networks and a huge staff," he says. "When we set up our Twitter account we only had four staff, but if voters wanted information and weren't sure what their friends were telling them, then at least they had a place where they could get up-to-the-minute news on the campaign."
While it is likely that brands, organisations and political parties will come to recognise the huge success of the Obama campaign as a blueprint on how to utilise digital marketing, it's clear that lessons have yet to be learned. "A lot of people are only now starting to concentrate on email as part of their campaign strategy," says Goodstein. "Times have changed. Mobile is getting smarter and organisations need to catch up quickly."
What's important in any digital marketing campaign, according to Goodstein, is the dual policy of focusing on proving the effectiveness of new tools and tactics, while ensuring the campaign message is strong. "Like everything else in the campaign we had to prove how new digital tools could help," he says. "It was an amazing campaign because new media had a seat at the top table. Being allowed to experiment and prove technology, while having a voice in the discussion was something new and something that worked."
A bold strategy
One of the highlights of the digital campaign behind Obama's election was the 3am text message sent to more than a million subscribers announcing Obama's running mate Joe Biden. It followed the famous TV ad run by an increasingly desperate Hilary Clinton, which went: 'It's 3am, and your children are safe and asleep. But there's a phone in the White House, and it's ringing - something's happening in the world. Your vote will decide who answers that call.'
Goodstein and his web team were widely credited for coming up with a genius marketing ploy, with many claiming that this 3am text message signalled that Obama and Biden were the people to answer the ringing phone in the White House.
It has since emerged that this was not a deliberate ploy, and that the Biden text message was sent at 3am to prevent CNN breaking the news first. However, what the 3am text demonstrates is the incredible buzz the digital campaign created and the extent to which supporters and commentators were bursting to heap praise on what they saw as the most innovative Presidential campaign to date.
Goodstein says the campaign was based on logic, not genius. "If you're trying to reach people you have to use the channels they're using," he says. "Smart politics means communicating with people where they spend their time."
With the dust settled on the campaign, Obama's digital team is now turning its attention to making democracy more transparent - something that Goodstein says is already happening, due to a strategy reliant on technology. "Twitter's done amazing things," he says. "I feel so much more connected to the Senate because I follow a few senators and know a bit about their personal lives."
Life beyond the administration
For Goodstein, life has moved on too. He's not part of the administration and has instead set up a new venture: Revolution Messaging. It promises to provide (mainly non-profit) organisations with all the things he did for Obama. "A lot of non-profit organisations are scared to jump into social networks and user-generated content," he says.
Revolution Messaging's corporate branding comprises a crest featuring the iconic American eagle, signifying that Goodstein intends to cash in on his role in Obama's campaign. Having run the biggest mobile and social media campaign to date, it is a proposition the kind of which few people can afford to ignore. And one that the UK's political parties should familiarise themselves with if they want to be in power come next summer.