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New Media Transformed the Obama Campaign, Can it Transform Your Hotel?

Dan Siroker Shares Lessons Learned From the Unprecedented Campaign

January 2010 - Dan Siroker, former deputy New Media Director of the Obama Presidential Transition, gave a keynote presentation at SES Chicago in December about how he and his team used Data to win the Obama presidential election, and the lessons they learned along the way. Your hotel can learn from these lessons and apply them in your own internet marketing campaign.
Before joining the campaign, Siroker was a product manager for Google Chrome. He saw Obama speak at a visit to Google1 and he was inspired to help him with the new media aspect of his campaign. Two weeks later, Dan moved to Chicago for a month where he did whatever he could to help the campaign. He then officially joined the campaign as the director of analytics.
Dan showed us how the campaign structure worked with Barack Obama on the top tier, followed by David Plouffe, the campaign manager, and then the departments of correspondence, field, policy, operations, communications, new media, paid media, and finance. New media was then divided into marketing, e-mail, blog, analytics, design, video and organizing.
Before going into the details of the campaign, Siroker reminded us that Obama won with 365 electoral votes as opposed to 173 electoral votes for McCain. In the popular vote Obama had 53% percent of votes (69,456,897), and McCain had 46% of votes (59,934,814).
As we all saw, the Obama new media campaign triumphed over McCain’s. Below is a screenshot of one of Dan’s slides which reveals the drastic difference in the number of Facebook friends, YouTube video views, and unique website visitors that the Obama campaign attracted as opposed to the McCain campaign.

Through their online efforts, the Obama team dramatically surpassed the McCain team in terms of money raised. The Obama team raised a total of $656 million and $500 million of that came from their online campaign as seen in the slide below.

The online marketing campaign was unprecedented in any other presidential election. You have probably read articles and seen interviews about the innovative process and the talent of the people involved. Barack Obama wrote about it himself in his book, ‘The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream.’ Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe, also recently wrote a memoir about the campaign titled, ‘The Audacity to Win.’
Dan Siroker helped mastermind the online efforts and we were eager to hear what he had to say about the campaign. Below is a re-cap of the lessons they learned, and our thoughts on how your hotel can benefit from those lessons.

Lessons Learned
Lesson #1: Define Success
Or rather, Define Quantifiable Success Metrics. Obviously the main goal for the Obama team was for Obama to win the election. For the team managing the online campaign they defined it this way: website > email signup > raise money. They could measure the success by cost-per-click, sign up rate and money per recipient.
What is the definition of success for your hotel’s online efforts? Most likely it is to increase bookings and revenue. Have you set specific goals for your internet marketing campaign? Are you measuring the success of your campaign?  Success can also consist of increasing your online presence, building a brand voice, capturing e-mail addresses, managing your online reputation, or building relationships with your audience through social media.
Lesson #2: Question Assumptions
Dan never just followed assumptions that their online material would be effective in achieving their goal of gaining supporters and raising money. Instead he and his team tested different layouts of the material and used the data to determine what elements motivated people to take action.
As an example, Dan showed us how his team used testing on a splash page they created to encourage people to sign up for the e-mail list. They did not just create a page that thought would be effective, rather they created different versions and used multivariate testing through Google Optimizer to test which button and image proved most effective in getting people to sign up. They tested four different buttons, Sign up, Learn More, Join Us Now, and Sign Up Now. They also tested 3 images and 3 videos. 
Before Dan showed us the splash page that was most effective, he tested us to prove his point that assumptions are often wrong. He showed us the variations of the splash page and asked us what we thought would work the best. In the end only 2 people in the audience had assumed correctly. Below is the image of the winning splash page which was most compelling in encouraging visitors to sign up.

The new layout resulted in an increase in conversions from 8.2% to 11.6%, which is an observed improvement of 40%. This means that they went from 1000 conversions to 1500 conversions. Dan explained that it may not seem like much presented that way, but through the life of the campaign it would translate into 4 million more people that signed up.
Does your hotel make decisions based on assumptions about what will appeal to your audience, or do you test to see which layouts of your online material are most effective? You should test everything from website pages, landing pages, e-mail campaigns, and PPC ads. You can also test landing pages for free with Google Optimizer.2 Testing helped the Obama team increase conversions, and it can also help your hotel increase bookings.
Lesson #3 Divide and Conquer
Another lesson the team learned is that different elements appeal to different users. This became clear when the team attempted to test a donate button.  The variables included, Donate Now, Please Donate, Why Donate? Donate and Get a Gift, or Contribute. Again Dan conducted a quick test with the conference audience to see what we thought would be most effective. Again, we were wrong.
This time it turned out that there was not just one correct answer because it depended on who you were as a visitor. Through testing they discovered that people who had never signed up before favored the ‘Donate & Get A Gift,’ those who had signed up but didn’t donate preferred the ‘Please Donate’ button, and those who previously donated preferred the ‘Contribute’ button, as seen in the slide below.

Your hotel can also divide and conquer. You must profile your guests which will allow you to send very targeted messaging to individuals. Learn about your guests and record if they are at your hotel for leisure, a wedding, a meeting, or business. Note their interests. Did they use the fitness center or visit the spa? Did they dine at the restaurant or do they prefer room service? It is also important to segment your guests into new guests, return guests or regular guests. Once you have this information you can create e-mail campaigns that will appeal to the individual guest. Again, test your landing pages and e-mail campaigns to learn which combination of design elements will be most effective in encouraging conversions.
Lesson 4: Take Advantage of Circumstances
Dan stressed the importance of taking advantage of circumstances. He gave us an example of a time when Sara Palin specifically mocked Barack’s experience as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago. David Plouffe and his team then sent out letters to their supporters explaining the situation and asked them to make a donation. This e-mail resulted in 10 million dollars within 24 hours! Below is a screenshot of the letter.

Is your hotel taking advantage of circumstances? Circumstances can include everything from the weather, the economy, holidays, school vacations, your competition, to conferences or special events in your town. Listen in social media to find out what people are saying about your hotel, or your town, or upcoming events. You can use Twitter search or Tweetbeep to listen in. If you see that someone may be looking for a hotel in your city, respond to them. Take advantage of circumstances and you can greatly increase bookings.
Lesson 5: Turn Your Customers Into Evangelists
Dan said they turned their supporters into evangelists everyday through their blog and YouTube channels. Here they focused more on the supporters rather than the candidate. He feels that other campaigns missed the boat here.
For example, the Obama team created videos that motivated others to get involved. One such video, Charles Meets Barack3, focused on one of the volunteers who won a raffle to meet Barack. This video was released only 28 days before the election but generated over ½ million YouTube views. The video also received a lot of press coverage because of the process story of social media transforming politics. Social media made it easy for supporters to share content and recruit new supporters.

Do you have evangelists for your hotel? You probably do have regular guests who recommend your hotel to their friends and family. Encourage them to share your offers and content by placing Share With Your Network icons on your e-mail campaigns. These icons can link to Facebook and Twitter and make it very easy for them to pass your message on to their own contacts. Find out who your evangelists are and encourage them to write a review of your hotel. Encourage guests to create their own photos and videos about your hotel. Again, listen in on social media to learn what people are saying about your hotel and create new relationships that could result in new evangelists.
Create Evangalists for your hotel with Spreadly
Dan took the idea of social media and combined it with affiliate marketing to create a new program called Spreadly4.  Spreadly is a social affiliate marketing program any online merchant can use to turn their customers into evangelists. The idea behind Spreadly is that a business can help support a cause and the cause is the reason why people start talking about the business.
Spreadly provides users with a widget that they can place on their purchase confirmation page. Customers can then choose a cause they are interested in and Spreadly creates a referral link where users can easily share the information through Twitter, Facebook, or E-Mail. Your company vows to pay $5 (or amount agreed) for every purchase that their friend makes. If you are interested in using this program you can request an early partner account on the site
In closing, below is a quick re-cap of the Lessons Learned From the Obama Campaign:
Lesson #1 Define Success
Lesson #2 Question Assumptions
Lesson #3 Divide and Conquer
Lesson #4: Take Advantage of Circumstances
Lesson #5: Turn Your Customers Into Evangelists
Try some of these tactics in 2010. If they were effective enough to help win the presidential election there is a high probability they can help your hotel increase bookings.

* Slides courtesy of Dan Siroker

1 Candidates@Google: Barack Obama Video

2 Google Website Optimizer

3 Charles meets Barack

4 Spreadly


If you would like to learn more about how Internet Marketing can help your hotel, call us at 978-465-5955 or send an e-mail to


O’Rourke Hospitality Marketing
44 Merrimac Street
MA 01950

Also See: 20 Secrets of Top-Converting Websites and How they can Boost Your Hotel Bookings; Re-cap of Bryan Eisenberg’s presentation at SES Chicago / December 2009

Has Your Hotel Ever Asked, “What Would Google Do?”; Recap of Jeff Jarvis presentation at SES Chicago / December 2009

Install Analytics on Your Hotel Website / December 2009

Attract Guests to Your Hotel by Producing Video Content Related to Travel; O’Rourke Interview with Tubemogul Co-Founder Brett Wilson / December 2009

Prepare Your Hotel for Google Sidewiki Comments! Tips on What your Hotel Should Do, and How to Monitor Reviews with RSS Feed / November 2009

Innovative Hotel Website Ideas for 2010; O’Rourke Interview with Chris Brogan / November 2009

InterContinental Hotels Online Videos Prove More Effective / November 2009

How can Social Search Impact my Hotel? / November 2009

Sir Martin Sorrell’s Forecast for 2010, Is Your Hotel Looking Ahead? / November 2009

Chris Brogan Interview - Hotels that Listen to Social Media Generate Business / October 2009

Create Videos about Your Hotel - Your Guests Already Are! / October 2009

Thought, Reason, and Emotion Affect Consumer Decision / October 2009

Southwest Airlines is Riding the Blogosphere Like a Wild Horse! / October 2009

Don’t be Invisible Online - Learn which Websites Travelers Use to find Hotels and be Seen! / September 2009

What can a Blog do for my Hotel? The General Manager from Hawthorne Hotel Shares Insight! / September 2009

How to Edit, Export, & Upload Your Hotel Videos – Easy Technical Tips / September 2009

How Hotels Can Build Links by Leveraging their USP, PR, and Organic Growth; an O’Rourke Video Interview / September 2009

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Don’t Hide From Trip Advisor Reviews! / August 2009

5 Ways Hotels can Improve and Track Return on Investment from Twitter – Oh wait, there is no investment! / August 2009

Leverage Blended Search and Boost your Hotel’s Search Ranking Position / August 2009

How to Optimize Your Hotel Website for Natural Search / August 2009

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