In late May, the Obama campaign unveiled its latest innovation in the usage of social media: The Dashboard. The rollout was impressive and the tool itself was well-received. It is more proof, as if any more is needed, that Barack Obama is a master of the deployment of social media in political campaigns.
When I was asked to explain the Dashboard to MSNBC's Chris Jansing, I did so readily. I am normally a big fan of television as a medium to convey complex information quickly and powerfully; I am also no stranger to the pressures of on-air delivery. But I was a bit frustrated by the constraints of the venue, which may have limited what I could have said -- and more importantly, what I should have said -- about the campaign's latest leap forward in the social media wars.
How does it work? It's frightfully simple, really --as most ingenious things tend to be.
Let's start at the beginning: registration. All campaign volunteers are required to register online by giving and address and a ZIP code. On the next screen, they are asked to log in with an Obama campaign account. (If a volunteer does not yet have an account, this is a chance to create one.)
Once in the system, the volunteer can sign up for just about any activity, whether it is going door-to-door or working an event or even answering phones at the local headquarters. The Dashboard also tells the volunteer who else is working the campaign that day. ("Hey, Jill is working the phones with me today! Great!") This means that working on the campaign can becomes a truly collaborative and social endeavor, allowing the volunteer to invest emotion and energy with others. It strengthens the sense of community, of working toward a greater good, which is the real reason why people choose to work for free in a political campaign. Strength in numbers was never so easy to achieve.
But here is the real reason why the Dashboard is a game-changer: It is equally useful and seamless as an activity tracking tool for the people who actually run the campaign -- from the ward captains all the way up to David Ploufe -- and can help them move volunteers into the activities where they are most needed.
Using a supervisor's version of the Dashboard, a campaign official can see that John Smith and his friend Jill are working the phones today -- right now, in fact. But what if there is a quickly-organized rally taking place in just a few hours, and the campaign needs volunteers to go door to door to drum up support? The ward captain can look at his dashboard, see that John and Jill are working today, and can also see how much experience they have in going door to door. Guess what? They are perfect for it! So by sending a text message, he can immediately ask John and Jill to change what they are doing, put on their walking shows and ring doorbells.
This is an example of how one tool can have many uses -- a church key for social media campaigns. It can be adapted for commercial and public relations activities as well. As it is constructed, the Dashboard allows real-time connection of interests and activities for volunteers, while enabling instantaneous pivots in personnel and activity for their supervisors with seamless execution. The Dashboard helps bridge the gap between online and offline activities as well. It is a formidable weapon.
Furthermore, I am not sure how the Republicans can respond to this. They will try, for sure, and it will be interesting to see what the Romney people can come up with. Whatever tool or procedure they may implement in reaction to the Dashboard, it may be too late for this election cycle -- which will make the next cycle four years from now even more intriguing.
Social Media Scorecard as it stands today:
Obama continues his domination of social media with more than 20x the Facebook likes and 30x the number of Twitter followers. Romney's Klout score has increased greatly, though, which is an indication that his social media platform has gotten busier, if not necessarily more populated.