Opinion: Barack Obama’s text message guru talks to the Ticket -- Pt. I

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President-elect Barack Obama is expected to name the nation’s first-ever federal chief technology officer sometime soon.

According to Obama’s website, the role of the CTO will be to “ensure that our government and all its agencies have the right infrastructure, policies and services for the 21st century.”


It’s not surprising that Obama plans a major emphasis on technology. His presidential campaign relied heavily on the latest forms of communication -– like Internet social networking sites and text-messaging -– to organize volunteers, raise funds and get voters to the polls.

Scott Goodstein, a D.C.-based campaign manager, ran all of the text-messaging and mobile communications for the president-elect’s campaign. The Ticket recently talked to him in detail about the campaign’s new media strategy, the size of its phone book and that much-talked-about 3 a.m. text message. This is the first of two parts of the interview that will be published this morning.

KL: What was your role in the Obama campaign?

Goodstein: I got involved in February 2007. I had been running a public relations consulting business out of D.C. and I basically closed it and moved to Chicago so that I could help Sen. Obama in the primaries. I had been working for a bunch of antiwar causes and I really felt that Obama was the strongest, clearest voice against the war. I felt he was going to be the best candidate for me and my friends.

KL: When you first got to Chicago, what was the vision for how technology would be used in the campaign?

Goodstein: We were creating both internal online organizing and external organizing. So while we were building out our own social network and tools, I was working on building out our Facebook, MySpace and YouTube pages and about a dozen or so other very specific social networks.

KL: What is the difference between internal online organizing and external organizing?

Goodstein: We like to say that internal organizing is building your own shopping mall and external organizing is campaigning in shopping malls that already exist.


The problem with MySpace or Facebook (which are examples of external organizing) is that you as a campaign don’t own all of the data. You may not have the person’s e-mail address or you may not have the person’s phone number -- if the person opts out of that social network, you have no....

. . . way of getting in touch with them. But they are useful because there are hundreds of millions of people that use these social networks as a daily part of their life.

KL: Was a lot of what you were doing data-driven?

Goodstein: The goal for us was to make sure that we were providing people information on all of these different social networks so that if they never came directly to our website or signed up for our e-mail list they still knew that the campaign was reaching out to them.

The treatments for each of these social networks may be different. It may be that sending out three bulletins a week on MySpace might be all that the folks on MySpace want. But if you’ve signed up for the Barack Obama Twitter feed, you want information from us at least once a day.

I think that a challenge for organizations moving forward is to figure out how much information supporters want and where they want that information. Do they want it on their phone. Do they want it from their Facebook account. Do they want it on e-mail?

Let’s say Barack is appearing on a late-night TV show. If you send it by e-mail, by the time people check their e-mail, the show could be over. Different types of announcements now warrant different types of communications.


KL: Is text-messaging geared to a certain niche?

Goodstein: It obviously skews younger. But 262 million Americans are using mobile phones. That’s roughly 84% of the total population. It’s one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S.

And with the decline of TV viewership audiences, I think it’s a must for campaigns to be using mobile technology. It’s the only device that’s truly with people for 15 to 24 hours a day.

KL: Was there an “A-ha!” moment when you realized that this was really fertile ground?

You can find Goodstein’s answer here.

-- Kate Linthicum

Spkg of txt msgs, reg here 4 cell alerts on ea new Tkt item. RSS feeds also avail here. Now on Kindle 2.

Photo credits: Jae C. Hong / Associated Press (top); Associated Press (Obama in car, bottom).