Barack Obama’s digital team got the better of the Republican online operation in most respects, but Romney Digital Director Zac Moffatt had the edge in one key metric--talking on the record to reporters.
Moffatt explained his press strategy in a campaign postmortem hosted by Google and moderated by CNN’s Mark Preston on Wednesday. While it was helpful to the campaign to have news of its digital operations out there for donors and supporters, the real point of Moffatt’s musings was to keep the Obama campaign’s digital team guessing.
Team Obama was paying attention, said Andrew Bleeker, a senior digital strategist for the Obama campaign. Romney’s Facebook ad strategy was among the biggest question marks for the Obama team. The Republican nominee spent heavily on Facebook ads nationwide to boost his follower numbers. Obama outspent the GOP ticket only in a few key swing states.
The reason, said Moffatt, was that the Romney team was under pressure to try to compete with Obama’s huge social-media advantage. “The low-hanging fruit was still there,” in terms of list-building and follower acquisition, he said. Additionally, Romney’s Facebook following was highly engaged, and Moffatt was able to spin those engagement numbers in the press.
By contrast, Obama’s digital team maintained a “Don’t talk about Fight Club culture,” Bleeker said. In the aftermath of the election, news of how the Obama team tested its fundraising e-mails and honed its social media pitch is emerging.
As early voting started, for instance, the Obama team used splashy “takeover” ads on big sites in battleground states, like the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, to encourage and track early voting. “It couldn’t have been more central to our campaign,” Bleeker said. The Obama campaign was “able to drive phenomenal early vote lookups through digital targeted advertising,” he said.
Obama’s digital team was able to apply intelligence from their 2008 effort to the 2012 election, but they faced new challenges, including an increased reliance on social media as a channel. Bleeker cited the problem of getting social-media followers to take part in offline activity, such as canvassing in a battleground state or helping out in a field office. Some supporters were happy to just like something on Facebook, or share it with their networks. “That doesn’t get us where we need to go,” Bleeker said.
The Romney campaign is bequeathing its digital legacy to the Republican National Committee. That legacy includes e-mail addresses and other data on 1 million new donors. “Whatever we do in 2013 and beyond, the party is in a stronger place,” he said. On Thursday, Moffatt and other leading Republican campaign operatives will make this pitch to party digital specialists behind closed doors at an RNC event, where tougher questions are likely to be posed.
Moffatt said that presidential aspirants would be well advised to start early, cast a wide net for talent, and go big with a large dedicated digital team.
“If I could do it again,” he said, “I’d do it as an incumbent.”