Building a Barack Obama-style online community.

One of the other featured speakers at this year’s League conference was Ben “I raise lots of Benjamins” Self from Blue State Digital.  You may know Ben’s work from, oh, I don’t know, that little 2008 Obama campaign that busted fundraising records by the ma-zillions.

The core of the program, as Ben described was its use of the world wide interweb in creating a long term relationship with its donors instead of just hitting ’em up for a quickie cash donation.  They got the Obamers to donate, canvas, attend events, get their friends to donate, get their friends to attend events, and . . . vote!
Guess what?  It worked.
Ben spoke to us about the process of engaging customers and turning them into hard-core advocates for your product, whether that’s a future president or a pop-sical (my new term for a musical with a pop sensability, i.e. Legally Blonde).
But here’s the difference between online organizers for Obama versus other products:
Online or offline advocates work best when they have two things:  incredible passion for a product AND a specific goal to reach, i.e. a party wants to elect a President, a mayor wants to Plant A Million Trees, or even when a theater wants to raise $500,000 so it doesn’t disappear.
Obama’s online campaign had some incredible things going for it in the first place – a great candidate and the people’s desire for change – once again proving that your PRODUCT is the best form of marketing you can have, combined with an understanding of your audience.
And two, it had, perhaps the most specific and most important all-effecting competitive goal ever, with a firm deadline when YOU would find out whether you achieved your goals or not.
Translating this theory to a for-profit production isn’t as easy.  Once you have built your product and assembled your team, what is going to be your goal to give to your advocates?  Recoupment?  Ahh, somehow I don’t think the public is going to respond to that message.  Winning a Tony?  Ok, better.  Running for a year?  Then what do you do after that (hint: learn from Obama as he continues to mine his community even after he has been elected)
Lots of people are out there trying to build communities around projects, but you have to give them and yourself a purpose.  What are you trying to do?  And what do you want them to do?
No matter what race they are in, presidential or the race to recoupment, you have to figure out a way to show them the finish line.
If you do, they will run faster.

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