Obama digital director praises social media

Teddy Goff ’07, digital director for Obama for America, emphasized the importance of data analysis in politics.
Teddy Goff ’07, digital director for Obama for America, emphasized the importance of data analysis in politics. Photo by Jiwon Lee .

According to the Digital Director of President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign Teddy Goff ’07, Facebook is a big deal.

Goff discussed the role of digital media in political and social movements before an audience of roughly 30 students and community members at a Saybrook Master’s Tea on Monday. After leading Obama’s digital efforts on both the 2008 and 2012 elections, Goff argued that the influence of social media in both politics and business is growing. He said accurate data on voter behavior was critical in forming successful online strategies for the Obama campaign, in which Goff helped raise over $500 million and ran the largest online advertising program in political history.

“Obama had 34 million Facebook fans,” Goff said. “[These fans] were friends with 98 percent of U.S. Facebook users.”

The sudden growth in the use of social media in the years between the 2008 and 2012 elections required the campaign to utilize technology more effectively in the re-election, Goff said. He predicted that as these forms of technology become even more widespread in the near future, political organizations and businesses will have more “accountability and visibility” — forcing them to care more about how they “treat ordinary people.”

Campaign operatives must carefully design their campaign strategies based on extensive research on voter behavior, Goff said. He added that the Romney campaign had made many predictions that assumed that voters acted spontaneously, but the predictions turned out to be false.

“[Members of Romney campaign] definitely weren’t using the data as we were,” he said.

Goff said that through data analysis, his team has found many interesting aspects of electorate behaviors. For example, people were more likely to be persuaded by the statement “You should be a donor” than “You should donate” because nouns were found to be more powerful than verbs.

Goff argued that the three critical factors that effectively persuade people are data, stories and digital tools. Persuasion in political context is “quite analogous” to consumer analysis, he said.

Audience members interviewed said they enjoyed the talk because Goff brought a new approach to campaign work.

Zach Maher ’13 said that he found the discussion “fascinating” because he learned that “appreciation for data leads to practical application.”

Jacob Wasserman ’16 said he thinks Goff showed a “different way of running a campaign using database[s].”

Currently there are about 155 million Facebook users in the United States, slightly exceeding half of the population.

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