Friday, March 6, 2009

By the Numbers: An Obama Style Digital Makeover for India Politics?

I attended the Accel Stanford Symposium on Feb 25, 2009, The Impact of 2008's Dramatic Events on the World of Digital Media and Technology. Like others who know about Obama's tech savvy youth following, I have been curious about the nitty-gritty of the digital (My.BarackObama.com) campaign so I was all ears for the panel "Technology Priorities in an Obama Administration: Lessons from the Campaign" with Matthew Barzun (National Finance Team for Barack Obama) and Chris Hughes (co-founder facebook who time off to be Architect of Obama's digital Campaign Strategies). But I am not just curious for the sake of curious (as anyone who knows me would guess). I have been thinking; India elections are coming up next year, with Mumbai attacks and India's growing economic abilities, India-youth is willing and able to engage with the political system to free it of corruption and bring in young leaders (avg. politician age is 70 I think).

The question is How? Viola - Like Obama did.

Barzun explained the Hunting vs. Farming Model (from Purple Cow, Seth Godin) strategy. Obama realised he didn't have a long list of large-amount donors to chase (hunting) so he decided to grow new ones (farming). Some numbers: Feb 2007 Clinton starts with database of 250,000 names and Obama has 20,000 names; March 31, 2007 Clinton supporter calls convert names to 50,000 donors (divide by 5) and Obama digital campaign converts names to 100,000 donors (multiply by 5)- How? 1. Ask never-heard-of people to get 10 donations at $25 each and get the emails of the donors- all did it. 2. Raise expectations (ask for another $25) and so on. The goal was to have email lists larger even than the donors - to increase reach. Eventually -they ended up with an average $90/person donation. Chris explained the architecture and said they did regular surveys for course correction. They found that people like to donate via email and they liked to form community over facebook. So they did both. For example Barzun paraphrased the kind of email letters that were written - designed to show - in a young people way- Respect, Empower, Include - the campaign theme. But the panel was skimpy on financial detail. So, I cornered Chris Hughes (thanks Martha!):

ME - Really Chris, so how did you do it? I want to do the same for India elections next year

CH- I don't know how popular facebook is in India. It won't work. Besides its expensive and I can't do numbers for India

ME: Just give me US numbers; I'll do the conversion. My background is software development.

CH: It took 8-10 full time developers to create the platform, $15-20 million investment, and most importantly the push has to come from the top. It couldn't have worked without Obama pushing it. and he was right to push because we raised 3-4 times that in funding; not to mention the large number in popular support that converted to votes.

ME: And you also had lots of free time donated to the digital campaign - like yourself.

CH: Ah yes. Not just me but hundreds of staffers and campaign people gave time.

ME: thanks.

And here I am thinking - for India - money can be got, expertise can be got, digital model can be adapted to allow for lack of PC penetration in rural India, BUT- who is this leader? Rahul Gandhi are you listening? Or send this to your favorite candidate - I have no allegiances yet.

1 comment:

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