This is the third in a series of how the Obama campaign is using the new web in creative ways (see How Barack Obama is Using Web and Enterprise 2.0 in the US Primary Campaign Through Central Desktop and Rolling Stone Magazine and More on Obama’s Use of the New Web). In the beginning of 2007 as the Obama campaign was getting started, it began to generate a lot of email traffic, tens of thousands a month. The campaign needed a way to respond to this dramatically increasing incoming flow and approached the on-demand service, RightNow, for CRM help. It is interesting that RightNow positions itself as a CRM tool from the customer’s perspective, while many of the other CRM vendors design their tools from the sales person’s perspective. This is consistent with themes of the Obama campaign. I was familiar with RightNow as they are a case study in the WebEx book covering on-demand services, Why Buy the Cow?
Last week I spoke with Colin Jones, a Senior Account Executive for the Public Sector, and the RightNow project manager for the Obama effort and Andrew Hull, Director of Product Marketing. RightNow constructed two tools for the campaign. One tool they implemented was an email response system, Invite Barack, in two weeks to handle non-(news) media requests for Barack or members of his campaign to attend local events. There is an online form to fill out which gets into a work cue with a team assigned to properly acknowledge and respond to the request. This helped streamline non-media requests to ensure nothing got lost, all requesters were acknowledged, and responded to quickly. In addition, the system allows the campaign to monitor trends in requests such as location, requesting organizations, outcomes, etc.
The Invite Barack system brings you to a form in which you can click on “Online Invitation.” There you find a form with three tabs: submit an invitation (default), invite profile, and FAQs to answer any questions. There are clear fields for the required information that also helps to generate reports about the nature of requests. One of the first questions is, “What does it cost for Barack to speak?” The answer, “Nothing. Barack does not accept honorariums or travel reimbursements.” You can also submit questions if you do not find what you want to ask. To make an invitation you need to set up an account that provides useful information to the campaign. Once you do this and create a password, signing in is simple for return visits.
The more comprehensive of the RightNow initiatives is the Obama Answer Center. This was mentioned in the Rolling Stone article I covered in my last post. When you come to the Answer Center the first question is, “What is the Answer Center and how does it work?” The campaign can then adjust the next questions depending on the topics of most interest. For example, when I looked the next question was “Has Senator Obama released his tax returns?” Clicking on this you go to a format used for all questions. This happens to be the standard RightNow template for answer centers so many people remark that they have seen this format before in such places as Environmental Protection Agency, Electronic Arts, and Nikon, understand it. There is first the answer. In this case, there is also a link to his actual tax returns. There is also the section, “Users who viewed this answer have also viewed.” And you see a series of related questions to encourage more exploration. Once you view a question, you also see your previously viewed questions. You can search questions by category and key word and browse the most popular answers.
Because the system captures all the actions and inputs of people who participate, The Obama campaign can use web analytics to sort the most popular key words, questions, etc. by region to better understand the concerns of people in different parts of the country. This allows for more targeted ads and other messaging, but more importantly it provides another window into the issues voters feel are important. This type of data analysis will be very useful to any elected officials who want to better serve their constituencies. The Obama campaign can also see the questions rated as most effective and least effective to understand what works and improve the answers. This data mining also helps the campaign position which questions to feature through positioning in the lists. Like a blog post, each answer has its own unique web address so you can do better web analytics.
The Answer Center has had close to 2 million visitors since 3/07. From 3/07 to 12/07 there were a bit over 260,000 visitors. Then a big jump occurred before Super Tuesday and this trend has continued. I wrote at the end of my first post on the Obama campaign, “It is nice to see the campaign use participatory web 2.0 tools to further enable people in this process. I hope that whoever gets elected will try to engage more people in the political process through tools such as these.” Here is another example of how the new participatory web can enable greater participation in the political process and, hopefully, the process of government. I will cover RightNow, itself, in more detail in a subsequent post.