Originally posted on the NetSquared blog.

Earlier this month, the world watched as America elected a new president who came from a campaign rich with social media.  The campaigns had much more money and resources than all the nonprofit organizations that I know, but were really succeeding with free, or nearly-free, tools.  The question this month focused on lessons for nonprofits:

What was the best example or lesson learned about leveraging social media from the political campaigns this year?  We saw candidates speaking to citizens through various mechanisms, but we also know that candidates have a lot more money than most of our nonprofit organizations (even if the tools are free, staffing and strategy development isn’t).  What social media tools, tricks, and strategies were employed that could be used successfully with nonprofits?

Answers poured in from all over the web.  Here’s what Net2ThinkTank responders thought were some of the best ideas for nonprofits:

Holly Ross, at NTEN, explained Obama’s success with leveraging the under 30 voters thanks to talking to them in the communication styles they prefer – social media:

In this election, Obama rode a tidal wave of youth vote to the presidency, with 66% of voters under 30 casting their ballot for the Democrat. What the campaign realized, early and often, is that the under-thirty crowd communicates differently from the rest of us.  As Allison Fine writes in Momentum, this group is “… likely to engage in two-way conversation with staff, volunteers, and clients, rather than in one-way broadcasts, the style of communication most often used by organizations now.”

Joitske Hulsebosch, of Lasagna and Chips, reminds us that “you have to go out and be where your people are online,” but has a good reminder for us that it is more than just good tools that make campaigns and projects great:

Social media can help and support you when you have a strong service or product, but can also amplify weak services or product. At times I have the impression that is forgotten and that people think a web2.0 tool will automatically give you a good reputation. Take the example of a weblog: a weblog can also worsen your reputation because your work and ideas will be exposed.

Tim Brauhn explains that it wasn’t until the Obama campaign that his organization, and others, was able to really see the benefit of social media.  He also points out a simple lesson that, “It was always a very simply ask, “Please help us do good things. Donate $5 before midnight.” It worked, and it worked like a charm, too.”

Brian Reich, of Thinking About Media, says that the best lesson is yet to come:

I was personally disappointed that the Obama campaign didn’t do more with its big database, its command of social media and new technologies, and its giant war-chest to dig deeper into serious issues and give voters – struggling to find some little bit of serious discussion amid all the mud-slinging – the real facts they needed to make a choice in this election.  They basically ran a substance-light, play-it-safe, don’t-make-any-mistakes kind of campaign.

The MixedMedia blog picked up on the DIY message of the Obama campaign.

I have a hunch that more people made more use of Barack Obama’s imagery – and made it their own – that at any time in history. At the same time, more people independently produced more images, videos, songs, raps, apps and sites to promote Barack Obama’s candidacy *in their own voice* than at any other time.I think this is powerful – politically, socially, and culturally.

Shari Ilsen, of Great Nonprofits, points to Obama’s innovative uses of social media as the biggest lesson for nonprofits.

He took technology that had been around for a while and used it in a new way. He applied web 2.0 to a realm that had never met it before, and in so doing he changed the face of modern politics. What’s scary about what Obama did is the risk he took- putting large amounts of resources into an untried strategy. But his success reminds us all that anything new, exciting, and ultimately worth it requires risk.

I want to close this with a challenge from Brian Reich and hope that you will weigh in with your answers and ideas!

So, NetSquared, rather than looking back at the Election for lessons that nonprofits can use, I would challenge you to look ahead and help the Obama Administration brainstorm what is possible for using technology and the internet to improve our Democracy and bring nonprofits more directly in contact with the Administration as they start to tackle tough issues.

Share your ideas and responses on the NetSquared blog here.

Net2 Think Tank: Lessons from the Campaign
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