Obama Taps New Online Tool to Engage Campaign Supporters

Aug 4, 2011 2:47pm

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ABC News’ Devin Dwyer (@devindwyer) reports:  

There’s no shortage of ways to connect with President Obama these days.  He’s on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. His public events are live-streamed on the White House website.  He gives media interviews, holds press conferences and televised town hall meetings. Soon Obama plans to launch a bus tour through the Midwest. 

But the president and his re-election campaign proved Wednesday night that they are still interested in pushing their outreach to the technological edge, for the first time publicly showcasing a new video teleconferencing tool that exclusively connects Obama and his aides with thousands of supporters all across the country. 

Seated before a computer camera backstage at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, Obama spoke to grassroots volunteers gathered at more than 1,160 locations around the country using a custom “Skype-like” software program developed by Adobe Systems Inc. for his campaign.

“I’m beaming in from Chicago,” Obama said with a grin and a wave as he came on screen.   

Invited users could access a password-protected interface that featured streaming video of the president, a live chat room, and twitter feed of messages tagged for the event by participants.  Aides said Obama could also see the chat and twitter feeds, as well as a selection of participants’ faces who were also online and seated before their computer cameras.

“He can’t see everybody, but he can see dozens of faces in a Brady Bunch-style checker box,” the Obama campaign’s Virginia state director Brandyn Keating told a crowd of 40 volunteers huddled around a TV in a west Alexandria, Va., living room. 

While Obama spoke, the Alexandria crowd appeared captivated by informality and intimacy of having the president directly – and exclusively – speaking in their neighborhood home. The campaign did not make video of the remarks or exchange otherwise publicly available. 

Wide-eyed viewers had occasional chuckles and applause while Obama rattled off his administration’s accomplishments and offered tips for being an effective campaign volunteer. The president then opened up the session for questions, and the video interface split in two, juxtaposing Obama in Chicago with three sets of questioning supporters in North Carolina, Ohio and Michigan. 

“I have difficulty answering some of the detailed questions on taxes and the wars,” one organizer from Greensboro, North Carolina, asked Obama. 

“When you go out and talk to people, you’ve got to listen as much as you talk,” he replied. “Part of what people want to know is that they’re being heard.”

Obama campaign aides say the new software tool, which the president tried out for the first time Wednesday, also helps ensure their base of loyal volunteers are heard.  

National field director Jeremy Bird and battleground state director Mitch Stewart  have been using the platform to hold several national, online training sessions for organizers and gather their feedback through interactive, real-time polls. 

“This is a relatively new technology and there are some bumps we’re working through, but it lets us interact with you and you interact with others,” Stewart told participants in one of the online training meetings last month.

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