Feb. 14, 2008 — -- The use of technology like blogs, mass texting and online phone banks has been key to Sen. Barack Obama's surprise sweep of recent primaries.
The Illinois senator's campaign has been making use of a range of technologies -- from ringtones to SMS -- to inspire Obama-mania. And it's working. Obama's recent parade of victories in the primaries has given him a slight lead over Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
"They've been using [texting] to get out the vote, which is incredibly smart because it gives people a way to take immediate political action," says Julie Germany, director of the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet. "It's just what mobile technology is suited for."
The Illinois senator is not the only candidate whose campaign is using online technology and mobile phones, but his has been one of the most effective in its embrace of new tech strategies.
On Tuesday, for example, Obama supporters who signed up with the candidate received a text message reminding them to vote. The text message included a phone number to help them find their polling station, a key feature that helped get out the vote.
Other campaigns have experimented with texting, but haven't been as effective, Germany says. Last summer, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards' campaign used text messaging to notify supporters of a televised speech. Germany, co-author of a study on the use of mobile phone technology in politics, says Edwards' campaign might as well as have used e-mail.
This week, the Obama campaign organized volunteers to make thousands of phone calls to get out the vote using an online phone-banking tool.
The technology helped the campaign target rival Hillary Clinton's base of Hispanic voters and female voters. The Obama campaign reports that volunteers made 5,000 calls in Spanish in Virginia alone, using its online Spanish phone-banking tool.
The tactic appears to have been successful. Initial exit polls on Tuesday evening showed that Obama won 54 percent of the Hispanic vote, a much bigger chunk than was expected of the electorate that up to now has mostly been voting for Clinton, according to inside-the-Beltway newspaper and website The Politico.
The campaign is encouraging supporters to use the online phone bank to reach possible Clinton supporters in Wisconsin and Texas, also. Wisconsin's primary is next Tuesday, and the vote in Texas is scheduled for March 4. Texas and Ohio (which also holds its primary March 4) have the potential to tilt the nomination quest in a decisive direction.
Hoping to take advantage of a surge of supporter excitement and momentum Tuesday night, the campaign immediately sent out a text alert around 10 p.m. Eastern time. It let supporters know that CNN had called the primaries for Obama. Campaign organizers included a request to spread the word.
"Fired up? Ask friends to join our movement by texting HOPE to 62262," the victory message read.
Online groups have also helped Obama. MoveOn.org, whose members recently endorsed Obama, raised $500,000 for him. MoveOn also created an online Endorse-O-Thon widget that enabled its members to engage in a peer-to-peer online endorsement campaign by sending out 500,000 e-mails and Facebook messages to their friends recommending the candidate.
Obama supporters all over the spectrum have in the last few months engaged in a multimedia viral marketing campaign with online music videos and humor.
All this wasn't, however, enough to win over a majority of voters in the big states of California and New York on Feb. 5.
The Obama campaign has also been using blogs and photo galleries to keep supporters jazzed and "fired up," hoping to spread enthusiasm for the campaign virally through the internet.
The campaign is even offering a ringtone mashup of Obama's speeches -- a 21st-century version of the campaign bumper sticker that is sure to be a conversation starter.
What could broadcast your hip, geeky, socially conscious status better than a phone with Barack Obama's voice ringing out to a club beat with: "We can have universal health care in this country! We can do that!"