Internews Center for Innovation & Learning

Internews Center for Innovation & Learning
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
RSS icon

Learning from Obama's Campaign

Technology, social media and data analytics played a significant role in Obama's 2012 campaign win. Digital campaigners and movement builders around the world are deconstructing the campaign strategies in order to replicate them.

Inside the Cave is an in-depth look at the digital, technology, and analytics operations of Obama for America. The report is compiled from various sources.

A couple of the main takeaways for me included:

  • use of analytics to hone the messaging and audience targeting,
  • designing the user experience to make participation or donation a no-brainer.

The Obama Campaign's front-end lead, Kyle Rush,  gives a rundown of Obama's donation platform and the process of building it. Optimizely was used extensively to conduct A/B testing to improve user experience. The pre- and post- page layouts below demonstrate the impact of conducting user research.

Before and after user testing (from
Before and after user testing (from

Optimizely is a SaaS and costs from $17/month upwards. It has a simple interface to modify text and html content on a page, enabling you to create different variations of the page. Then, Optimizely will generate a javascript line that you need to insert inside the <HEAD> tags of your webpage. After that, you can run the experiment and Optimizely will track and report analytics so you can evaluate the impact of the different variations.

Optimizely is just one tool that's available to a digital team. There are many other strategies and tactics that can be adopted and utilised to gain better insight into what works and what does not.

Learning from the Obama Campaign

There is an awareness of usability among web projects implemented by civil society organizations, but there is some way to go before there is a commitment to testing language and conducting ongoing optimization of web page layout, wording and design.

The timeframes involved, and the lack of ongoing support, do not motivate organizations to commit to the long-term. For example, one of my current projects has an overall duration of 6 months, with a multilingual web platform being constructed over the course of 2 months. There is simply no time for any proper testing.

However, there are some things that can and should be done:

  • A small user test group - both physical and online - should be set up to give feedback on key aspects of the site design before launching. Colour schemes, logo/banner designs and general layout can easily be tested by watching user behavior.
  • Once launched, a tool like Optimizely should be used to offer up alternative variations and test what is most effective. This would help support (or not) the pre-launch user testing. Label and button names, as well as descriptions, are critical to get right.
  • Optimization should be seen as an ongoing process. A website should be considered a living site that always needs adjusting and adapting to user needs and the changing environment.

Email is a significant player in a web strategy, and this blog post hasn't gone in-depth on email strategies. However, the same testing and optimization principles apply. Most email managers (like Mailchimp) offer A/B testing and detailed analytics. More on email strategies in a future post!