I wrote this letter during the campaign and posted it to my other blog. Although it wasn’t acted upon, I still think there are many opportunities for Web 2.0 applications like this to politics and international relations.
Barack: You’ve brought a lot of new players to the table—now keep us here!
It’s one thing to bring us to the table, it’s a whole other thing to keep us sitting. So I’m going to let you in on a little secret, Senator Obama: we like our money, but we think our opinions are much more valuable.
This is a problem facing campaigns: making the supporter (and the donor, for that matter) feel engaged in what’s going on with the campaign day to day. It’s not enough anymore just to donate money, we want to have a say in what’s going on. Everyone has their own opinion on what a campaign should be talking about, who they should be targeting, and what issues they should focus on—everyone has their own vision. But, it’s hard to incorporate millions of visions into one presidential campaign—we can’t all be on the strategy committee!
So I propose a new approach to fundraising, an “open-source” approach—fundraising 2.0, if you will. Open source is when programmers release their programming code to the public so that anyone can improve and expand upon it. It’s not just for programming; the business community is pouncing on the idea of “open-source” business models. And so I ask—why not politics, as well?
What would this look like? Obviously, David Plouffe can’t release his strategy online and simply ask for comments—what a disaster that would be! Instead, here’s a simple idea: the Obama campaign can take all of their television ads and put them on a special section of their website (there’s no harm in this, you can already see all of them on Youtube anyways). Then, they can point their supporters to this page and ask them to watch the ads and rate them. When they see an ad which really speaks to them, or is particularly good at finessing a point, supporters will have the opportunity to directly fund airtime for that ad. In doing this, the Obama campaign can turn their website into a focus group of sorts. Except the beauty of this focus group is that the campaign doesn’t have to pay them; in fact, quite the opposite—they pay you!
Simply sending e-mails asking for money is an antiquated approach to fundraising, and it does nothing to address this engagement problem. Open-source fundraising engages the supporter without confusing the message. The Obama campaign still controls what gets voted on, they’re ultimately deciding where the spots are played, but they’re opening up the decision process on which ads get the most airtime to those who are actually voting on November 4th. It’s sometimes hard to know what will resonate the best with the voter, especially when you’ve been working in a campaign bubble for the last 18 months; this system quickly tells you which ads you were right about, and more importantly, which ones you were wrong with.
I certainly know I would donate money this way. And I’m willing to bet I’m not alone…