The Obama 2012 campaign is already famous for its groundbreaking use of social media as a political and fundraising tool. Two of its architects, Joe Rospars and Stephen Muller, offer an overview of how it was done at the 2013 Sydney Writers' Festival.

Who can forget Barack Obama’s historic 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns? We all remember the iconic 'Hope' posters by Shepard Fairey that came to represent the 2008 campaign, or the slightly less memorable (but not less effective) 'Forward' posters that followed in 2012. However, the biggest game changer for these political campaigns took place online.  Both campaigns were amongst the first to exploit the internet, social media and community organising, turning it into a powerful political tool that managed to unite and mobilise 13 million online supporters toward a single goal of electing President Obama. Twice. 

The two guys featured in this session recorded at the 2013 Sydney Writers' Festival are Barack Obama's Chief Digital Strategist Joe Rospars, and Video Director Stephen Muller. They were at the digital heart of the team responsible for shaping the campaigns that managed to attract a new generation of voters that totally outclassed the US Republicans.  The campaign engaged a record number of Americans through social media which, Joe Rospars says, gave people a genuine sense of involvement in the election and re-election of Barack Obama. 

What was interesting about their sessions was the sense behind the approach to their craft. The two men focussed on how his team tried to have as integrated an offering as possible. While the campaign needed people to knock on doors they also wanted people to move across channels from online to offline, from email to social. That was the aim: to have as holistic a relationship as possible. Part of that strategy was arming supporters with stories of real people, told during speeches, on YouTube and via emails from the campaign. The most inspiring and persuasive videos in Obama’s campaign rarely even featured the President. They turned the cameras away from him and onto the communities whose support they required, putting names and faces to the facts. The notion of storytelling as part of political campaigns – the example Rospars gave was telling what Obamacare means for a woman in Arizona whose child has a heart defect – 'helps get it beyond sound bites and nonsense politics'.

It’s hard not to be impressed and inspired by these two people who not only survived two presidential campaigns but also spearheaded the use of multimedia to facilitate these types of campaigns. It seems strange no one has tried, let alone managed, to utilise the same level of resources to their advantage in the political sphere.

This session was recorded live at the 2013 Sydney Writers' Festival. Watch it here: