By all accounts, the 2012 Presidential campaign was one of the biggest “big data” events ever. Not only that, but IT is said to have played a major part both in President Barack Obama’s win and Gov. Mitt Romney’s loss – not only did President Obama’s work, but Gov. Romney’s failed. You might not be running a Presidential campaign, but there’s probably still some advice you can take away from the experience.
1. Trust your data, not your hunches; link all your data; and test everything. President Obama’s campaign ran as many as 66,000 election simulations per night to incorporate new information and possibilities. Voter databases were linked with fundraising databases and included people’s “friends” and “likes” from social media sites. Material from the campaign was constantly tested with different groups of people to see which aspects drew the best responses from each group.
2. Investing in people and open-source tools can save you money. Instead of relying on consultants and spending money on software, the Obama campaign hired technical staff and had them develop their own tools using open-source software.
3. Execution is everything; you need to plan both technology and process. Gov. Romney’s campaign relied heavily on a single get-out-the-vote system for Election Day that ended up failing, partly because process aspects such as doling out passwords weren’t well thought out.
4. Microtarget your audience. Don’t assume that every person will respond to the same thing. Put people in different affinity groups and test various approaches with each group.
5. There is an important role for social scientists, as well as for techies. Social scientists can help develop a story and a narrative and test aspects that people respond to emotionally, such as the fact that people tended to respond well to pictures of the First Family.
6. Be agile: decide on something to try, iterate, and pivot. The perfect is the enemy of the good. Something imperfect today is likely going to be preferable than something tomorrow even if it’s better.
7. Avoid silos and infighting among data owners. If each department or group has its own data and refuses to share it or demands to control it, there won’t be the synergy that can occur when all the data is put together.
8. Don’t fight the last war (or campaign) with the last tools; continue to innovate. The 2012 campaign took what worked from the 2008 campaign, and built on it, using technology that had come along since 2008. A campaign that simply tries to duplicate the efforts of the 2012 Obama campaign is likely to fail. The successful campaign will learn the lessons from the 2012 campaign and incorporate leading-edge technologies.
In response, the Republican National Committee is reportedly doing nothing less than undergoing an entire restructure that will put data and analytics at the core of everything it does. (Meanwhile, there is some debate on the Democrats side about whether to release the open-source tools, though the database itself was passed to its activist organization Organizing for America.) If the 150-year-old Republican Party can restructure, so can you.
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