The theme of this keynote conversation, the last session I was able to attend, wasn't particularly supposed to be money. Joe Rospars (Former Director of New Media, Obama) and Michael Palmer (eCampaign Director, McCain) talked about what they did, their results, and lessons for future campaigns, but from early on the focus was definitely resources.
Why resources? Well, aside from being able to buy more TV ads, the Obama campaign had more staff. Probably a lot more staff. One New York Times story about August campaign spending, for instance, said "Mr. Obama, the Democratic candidate from Illinois, spent $2.7 million on salaries in August, compared with $1.1 million for Mr. McCain, the Republican of Arizona."
So what can you do with extra staff time?
- Be in more places - Obama had profiles and updates on Facebook and MySpace and LinkedIn but also Eons, BlackPlanet, MiGente....
- Build tools - Online phonebanking. iPhone app (built by supporters, not the campaign itself). Election day turnout system. Polling place finder. Investing in technology to make the campaign more efficient.
- Send many targeted messages - Segment, use the ladder of engagement to get people more involved over time, identify your best advocates - all of those strategies take time.
- Create your own news - From the NYTimes Bits blog: “The campaign’s official stuff they created for YouTube was watched for 14.5 million hours,” Mr. Trippi said. “To buy 14.5 million hours on broadcast TV is $47 million.”
With less money/time, you should probably focus on the sites with greater returns and find existing tools. It's still worth targeting your messages and creating your own news, even if you can't follow those strategies to the same extent.
As Palmer said, McCain's campaign tried to keep up with Obama's, but I'd say one place they might have done better is the last point: they started out offering reporters and bloggers lots of access, but that tightened as they did more poorly. If you don't have a national campaign's ability to get messages out with TV ads, etc., you can't afford to follow their example. In the age of Google, more content about you means finding more supporters. More supporters gets you more donations gets you more staff time gets you more supporters - you can win an election that way.