tend to support nonprofits and the causes they champion because of an
emotional connection. When you’re not trading in cold hard cash, your
trading in hope, compassion and, yeah, maybe sometimes guilt or fear.
Emotion drives people to try to tackle the world’s problems. But
emotions are a human-scale response and the world’s problems are
anything but human scale. How do you bridge this gap? How do you keep
the emotional inspiration alive when your issue drowns you in a sea of
statistics, policy proposals and case studies?
were invented specifically to bridge this gap, to translate the
complex, gray area experience of the faceless many into the simple,
graspable experience of the single individual (or small group). “


6 Lessons We Can Learn From Barack Obama’s Online Marketing Strategy

Watching the US presidential coverage on the news always provides
entertainment, especially considering how intense the democratic
nomination was. While watching one of these segments they mentioned
that Barack Obama had raised 100% of his campaign funding through
online contributions.

He has not accepted any campaign contributions from large companies
or lobbyists. Instead, Barack Obama’s campaign has been one of
the most profitable in history, with the majority of campaign
contributions made online through over a million small contributions.

In fact, Barack Obama has raised nearly $200 million online, with a record $55 million raised in February alone, or nearly $2 million per day.

That hit my button.

It was a Saturday night and I immediately jumped on my laptop and brought up
The next hour was just spent in admiration of the level of detail and
expertise implemented by Barack Obama’s online marketing team.

When you know what to look for in a good website and marketing
campaign, you can really start to appreciate the level of skill behind
his entire online marketing strategy.

Although there are way too many positive elements to cover in this
article, here are 6 major strategies which really make the Barack Obama
online marketing campaign a raging success:

1. The First Time You Visit Your Site You Are Asked To Join His Mailing List

Before you can view any part of Obama’s site you are taken to a page where you are asked for your name and address:

Notice how he makes it very easy to subscribe, only asking for your
email address and zip code. Also notice that the main call to action
button ‘learn more’ is in red. This is done to attract the
eye to the primary action that he wants you to take on this page.
Importantly, you do not have to subscribe to view the rest of his
website, you can simply click on ‘skip signup’ to visit the
main website – but this is not the focus.

Of course I entered my details in to see what happened, and was taken to this page:

What’s impressive is the wording they use, such as ‘Join
the movement’ and ‘this campaign is about you’. They
are giving you reasons why you should fill out the form.

So the first step was a small yes, just email and zip code. The next
step is to enter your full name, address and phone number. If all of
this information was asked of you on the first page, the response would
be much lower. Remember, getting people to say ‘yes’ on a
higher number of small commitments is better than asking them to say
‘yes’ on one large commitment.

After you enter your details you are taken to this page:

There are 3 main actions he wants you to take on the ‘thank
you’ page. The most important, as we can tell from the red
button, is to ‘donate now’ (which I will cover shortly).
The others are to register to vote and to visit the home page. Every
image on the page is a link, ensuring that a visitor will be taken to a
different page no matter what they click. The site makes it very easy
to act.

Of course, once you subscribe you will start to receive high value
emails from him driving you back to his website to take action.

2. Every Web Page Furthers the Primary Action to ‘Donate Now’

No matter what page you are visiting on the Barack Obama website,
the red ‘donate now’ button draws your attention. It is
essentially the only red image on a blue, grey and white website, which
is a very subtle, yet powerful method of encouraging people to take the

When you click on the ‘donate now’ button you are taken to the following page:

This is a landing page designed to compel the visitor to donate to
the Obama campaign. When you visit the page a very short video
automatically starts playing, with very relevant information which
explains WHY you should donate to his campaign.

By giving options for the donation amount, it makes it easy for
people to make a decision on how much to donate. The website also
pre-populates the fields with the information you entered on the
previous page so that only minimum additional action is required of the
person making the donation. The main call to action button is a red
graphic, bringing attention to the action he wants you to take. Again,
you have a ‘skip donation’ link at the top of the page in
case you do not want to make a donation at the time.

The online donation process is by far his most valuable ‘sales’ system on the website.

3. Excellent Information Architecture

The way that the information is laid out and presented makes it easy
to use and, more importantly, to scan. Website visitors have the
shortest attention span of any mode of communication, quickly jumping
between pages and leaving sites where they cannot quickly find what
they are looking for.

When you visit the Barack Obama home page, the information draws you
in. You can quickly find what you are looking for, and it is easy to
take action to learn more:

A subscription box is included at the top right hand side of the
page, to join the mailing list, and a picture of Barack Obama and
inspiring quote is included to build instant credibility. Of course,
the ‘donate now’ button is visible immediately, as well as
additional actions which he wants you to take. All this happens BEFORE
you start scrolling down the page.

The main ‘banner’ of the page rotates the main messages
and actions of the day. An eye catching banner is used with a strong
headline and a clear call-to-action ‘learn more’ to
encourage visitors to visit the landing page. Each banner links to a
different targeted landing page, ensuring maximum response on every
click taken, such as:

“Fight The Smears” Campaign:

And ‘Supporting The Open Convention’ campaign:

Every call-to-action on the site leads to a landing page which is setup to convert.

4. A Blog Is Used To Communicate Messages

Posts are added to the blog multiple times per day to communicate
with supporters on a daily basis as well as providing a channel for
supporters who only consume news through RSS aggregator software such
as Feeddemon or Bloglines.

Blogs are one of the best methods of communicating and building
relationships with people, and Obama is using is very effectively.

He is also taking advantage of Web 2.0 websites within his blog posts, such as Flickr, the photo sharing site:

And YouTube, the video sharing site:

Notice the integration of social bookmarking ‘quick links’ at the bottom of every blog post.

5. Social Networking Is Used To Maximise Exposure

One of the most impressive elements of Obama’s online
marketing campaign is the reach achieved through social networking,
which is one of the fastest growing and far reaching methods of online
exposure available today.

If you scroll down to the bottom of Obama’s site you will see the following:

Barack Obama has an account with every high traffic social
networking site on the Internet. More importantly, each of those
accounts listed above are very active and drive traffic to the main
website. This type of strategy is not for the faint hearted, and
requires a significant amount of management to achieve the levels of
success achieved by Barack Obama.

Not only does Barack Obama actively participate in all of the
largest social networks online, but he owns his own social network,
where supporters can ‘network’ with other supporters:

Of course I joined to see what it is all about:

Giving supporters a voice on his website is a masterstroke.

6. Mobile Marketing Is Used To Further His Message

Barack Obama includes a mobile subscription section on his website where you can join his SMS mailing list:

This links to the following landing page:

Notice how you can select the SMS updates you want to receive. That
way, you can keep up with the latest updates on the topics which matter
to you.

The best part about mobile marketing is that the deliverability is
nearly 100%, that is, everybody opens a text message when they receive


If you have ever wondered what a perfect online marketing campaign
looks like, just look at the Barack Obama campaign. Their online
marketing team are implementing every online marketing strategy
available, including social networking, search engine optimisation, pay
per click advertising, email marketing, mobile marketing and a number
of other strategies. Not only that, but their implementation is

The cost of running an online marketing campaign like Barack
Obama’s would be outside of the budget and resources of most
companies, but we can learn a lot about any particular strategy which
we are thinking about implementing.

For example, if you are looking at ways to improve your
website’s conversion rate, look at how the Obama website is
designed. If you are looking at ways to implement social networking,
check out the profile pages on MySpace or Facebook.

Start thinking about how you can implement what I have just spoken
about in this article on your own website and online marketing campaign.


Negitive vs Positive Messaging

Borrowing from the health communication field, there are elements of
Kim Witte’s research on fear appeals (also known as “scare tactics”)
and her health risk message model, the Extended Parallel Process
Model, that can be applied to this discussion.

For those of you unfamiliar with her work or this theory, in a nutshell:

People who are threatened will take one of two courses of action:
danger control or fear control. Danger control seeks to reduce the
risk. Fear control seeks to reduce the perception of the risk. Danger
control is outer-focused and towards a solution. Fear control is
inner-focused and away from a solution.

– For
danger control to be selected, a person needs to perceive that an
effective response is available (response efficacy) and that they are
capable of utilizing this response to reduce the risk (self efficacy).
If danger control is not selected, then action defaults to fear control.
So what?

If you want a person to take an action, show them the threat, but also
ensure they can see that there is a solution which they can use.

However, the critical point is when percieved threat slips above
perceived efficacy, meaning that people no longer think they can do
something to effectively avert the threat. The minute that perceived
threat exceeds perceived efficacy, then people begin to control their
fear instead of the danger and they reject the message.

Here’s a link that might be helpful.

It also has a lot to do with “issue involvement” level. People who are
more involved will react differently to negative and positive messaging
than those who are not as involved.
Check scholarly research on
“valence-framing”, “gain-framed vs. Loss-framed”, “risky choice
framing”, “attribute framing”, “issue involvement”, and “goal framing”.

Authors to check on these subjects include:

P. Salovey, A. J. Rothman, Millar & Millar, X. Nan, and Tsai & Ts

Does moderating comments on a website make the website owner more liable?

Jason Schultz:
This is an important question that a lot of website owners have. The
short answer under U.S. law is that you are right, website owners
generally are not liable for comments on their site, even if they
moderate them. Here’s the longer answer:

First, one has to ask, “liable for what?” There are
essentially three categories of comment content any website owner
should worry about: (1) criminal content, (2) copyrighted content, (3)
everything else.

For criminal content, once you are aware that it is criminal, you
should contact law enforcement immediately and they will tell you
whether you should take it down. Either way, they will likely ask you
to archive it. But you should definitely not ignore it. Criminal
content includes things like child pornography.

For copyrighted content, you should (as you suggest) follow the
outline of the DMCA safe harbors. This means registering a DMCA agent
with the copyright office, having a posted policy and active email or
snail mail address for takedown requests, and complying with valid
requests in a timely manner. If one does this, there is little to no
risk of being held liable, even if you moderate the comment with the
copyrighted content in it.

The only exception to this rule is copyrighted content that is
considered “red flag” content – content where it is so
obvious that it is infringing, you cannot turn a blind eye to it. How
obvious is still being debated in the courts, but one court has held
that even hosting or linking to image sites named
“” or “”
was not sufficiently obvious to trigger the red flag requirement.

Finally, there is “everything else” which includes
defamatory comments, harassment, abuse, etc. Here, website providers
receive immense protection under Section 230 of the Communications
Decency Act. As long as the website owner does not herself write or add
text to the comment, she is pretty much exempt from any and all
liability for hosting it, whether or not it is moderated.

The only exceptions to this rule are where the website owner
encourages or suggests the offending language. So, for example, if you
were to provide pulldown menus for comments that said “This
person is a criminal” or “The above commenter has
HIV,” that could fall outside the protections of CDA 230.
However, short of something as blatant and directed as that, website
owners are generally safe from liability for any derogatory comments
posted by others.

Simply approving or denying comments does not make one liable.

There’s a lot of great information on subjects like this and others in EFF’s Blogger’s Legal Guide about Safe Harbor and Section 230 Protections.


Jason Schultz is an EFF Fellow specializing in intellectual property and Associate Director of the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic at U.C. Berkeley Law School. Previously, he served as a Senior Staff Attorney at EFF, where he lead its Patent Busting Project
and represented creators, innovators, and consumers in a variety of
matters involving fair use, free speech, and reverse engineering. He
received his J.D. from Berkeley and his undergrad degrees in Public
Policy Studies and Women’s Studies from Duke University. He
maintains a personal blog at


10 Ways Newspapers Can Improve Comments

The other day Bob Garfield had a good kvetch about dumb comments on newspaper websites on his show, On The Media, and I posted my two cents, but I still don’t feel better. I think that’s because Bob’s partly right: comments do suck sometimes.

So, instead of just poking him for sounding like Grandpa Simpson,
I’d like to help fix the problem. Here are ten things newspapers
could do, right now, to improve the quality of the comments on their
sites. (There are lots more, but you know how newspaper editors
can’t resist a top ten list.)

  1. Require Accounts

    Anonymity is important in journalism, but not for comments.

    There are a lot of good reasons to allow anonymity, especially in
    the news. Sometimes a source needs to speak out against an employer or
    the government without being named. Fine. But there is no reason,
    really no reason at all, to allow people to post comments without
    having to first sign up for an account.

    Simply requiring an account will remove 80% of your comment
    problems. If allowing anonymity is important, you can allow the user to
    remove their name on a specific comment, while still requiring them to
    be logged in. (In other words, the user must log in so the system knows
    who they are, but they can opt to leave a comment as
    “Anonymous” if they choose. Anonymous comments could then
    be held in a special moderation queue for approval to guard against any
    bad uses.)

  2. Set and Enforce Rules

    Nobody likes finding out about a rule after they’ve broken it. Write a human-readable set of community guidelines (Flickr’s are excellent).
    Make all new members agree to it when they sign up, and link to it
    prominently from every comment form. This way, if you have to take
    action later, you can say “We warned you.”

    Then enforce the rules. Delete bad comments and publicly promote the
    ones that are great. There’s a common misconception that
    moderating comments makes you more liable. This is not true. Managing
    your community does not have any baring on your DMCA compliance, safe
    harbor standing, or any other legal issue.

  3. Employ a Community Manager

    If you can’t name your community manager, it’s probably you.

    You wouldn’t let a writer put their work in the paper without
    having someone check it, so why let commenters do so? If you’re
    going to have people posting comments to your site, it should be
    someone’s job to moderate them. Think of them as the editor of
    the Comment Desk.

    You don’t have to read every comment before it goes online,
    but it should be somebody’s responsibility to remove any comment
    that runs afoul of the posted community guidelines. Like graffiti in an
    urban space, bad comments lead to more bad comments. But the Community
    Manager should be more than a cop – they should be a vital connection
    between the staff and the community. They should lead the community by
    example, participating in the discussion and being helpful, and also do
    a daily “community weather report” for the staff, feeding
    the community’s input back into the newsroom.

  4. Sculpt the Input

    Just because your users can post comments doesn’t mean you can’t help them shape them.

    Back in the day, when we had people posting comments to Fray,
    we were constantly tweaking the form’s automated responses. If
    you tried to post something too short, it asked you to expand on it a
    bit. If you posted something too long, it asked you to edit yourself
    down. If you posted in ALLCAPS, we de-capitalized it (Flickr does this
    now). These are easy things for computers to do, and they make a huge

  5. Empower the Community to Help

    If you think bad comments bug you, they bug the good commenters twice as much.

    Yes, you should be paying someone on staff to be the Community
    Manager. In addition, you can also enable the community to help. Give
    every post a “This is Bad” button. Then give the community
    manager a private page where they can see the comments with the most
    bad votes and take appropriate action.

    For bonus points, give each post a “This is Good”
    button, too, so they can also tell you about the good ones. Remember
    that your members are not the enemy: they want to help you keep the
    place clean, too.

  6. Link Stories to Comments

    The worst thing you can do is separate the “community
    section” away from your content. That creates a backchannel,
    where people feel safe being inappropriate because, why not?
    They’re at the kids table, anyway.

    So link stories to community conversations as closely as possible. This will give the conversation a central topic.

  7. Enable Private Communication

    The internet didn’t create the angry letter to the editor, but
    it definitely put it into overdrive. And that’s okay – sometimes
    people need to vent. Your job is to direct the venting.

    Some papers’ comments are so crazy because there’s no
    other way for the reader to respond. People will gladly communicate
    with you privately if you gave them a way to do so.

    So create a form people can use to email the editors, and link to it
    from the comment form. Say: “If you’d like to say this
    privately, go over here.” (Props to Vox, where there’s a “Send private message instead” link on every comment form.)

    You may get some angry email this way, but it’s better in your
    inbox than on the website where it will just start, or add to, a fight.

  8. Participate …

    Get your writers involved in the conversation. People chill out a
    lot when they know they’re being listened to by the writer (and
    they act out a lot more when they think no one’s listening). I
    know, writers can find this an onerous addition to their workload, and
    have probably already decided that they hate their comments. Too bad.
    This is part of journalism’s evolution, and you’re either
    on the boat or you’re not.

    One great way to get writers on board is to give them the ability to
    moderate comments on their own stories. They can do this on their
    blogs, they should be able to do it on their stories, too. (With
    supervision by the Community Manager, naturally.)

  9. … But Don’t Feed the Trolls

    Members participating with good intentions are generally pleased
    when the authority figures are participating. Unfortunately, that can
    also bring out the trolls – bad users who are playing a game called “suck up as much of your time as possible.”

    School your writers in the ways of online community. If someone is
    trying to get a rise out of you, don’t fight back, no matter how
    tempting. A good Community Manager can help train writers on how, and
    when, to join the fray.

  10. Give Up Control

    Newsrooms are top-down places, but the internet is not. Get used to
    the fact that people online won’t do things just because you told
    them to. In fact, the only thing you can absolutely count on is that
    something will happen that you didn’t expect. When it does,
    you’ll be defined by what you do next. Be ready to be surprised.

As you can see, embracing community tools on your site takes work.
If you just turn on comments with open-ended tools and no oversight, of
course the result won’t be pretty. That’s because you
haven’t done the job of an editor – to lead by example, direct
the conversation, and sculpt the results.

The real reason comments on newspaper sites suck isn’t that
internet commenters suck, it’s that the editors aren’t
doing their jobs. If more newspapers implemented these 10 things, I
guarantee the quality of their comments would go up. And this is just
the basic stuff, mostly unchanged since I wrote Design for Community seven years ago.

Imagine what we could do if we could get past the easy stuff.


Web Community Management Tips

Mac Slocum

Whether intentional or not, Bob Garfield from NPR’s “On the Media” reopened an old wound when he questioned the need for user comments on newspaper Web sites.

The “comments issue” is polarizing. Die-hard community advocates
believe comments are an integral part of the online experience.
Detractors draw a straight line between user comments and the
apocalypse. It’s a contentious topic with very little middle ground.

For our purposes, there’s no point in looking at all the arguments
and counter-arguments. The comments debate has been going on for at
least 10 years (much longer, if you count Usenet), and it will persist as long as trolls continue to lower the conversational bar. That’s just the way it is.

However, this latest flare up offers an opportunity to redirect the
focus to some of the time-tested best practices for managing Web
communities. Derek Powazek (whom we recently interviewed for an unrelated piece) offers an excellent starting point with “10 Ways Newspapers Can Improve Comments,” and Cory Doctorow’s “How To Keep Hostile Jerks From Taking Over Your Online Community” is also recommended reading.

I’ve also picked up a few bits of wisdom from my own experiences as a community manager:

  1. Nurture the Good — The majority of people want to do the
    right thing. They want to engage in fruitful and fulfilling
    conversations. They want to build and protect special communities. These are the people you focus on.
  2. Push Trolls to the Margins — All popular communities will
    eventually suffer through a troll infestation. The trick is the
    minimize a troll’s impact by not taking the bait. Moderators should
    never engage in a public argument, and key community members should be
    encouraged via private messages and back channels to ignore troll
    attacks. A marginalized troll is a useless troll, and they know it.
  3. Share Ownership — I focused on inclusiveness in my first
    community because I was unsure about my own voice and opinions. In a
    serendipitous twist, the “we’re all equal and we’re all in this
    together” perspective led to a shared sense of ownership. It took a
    while for folks to buy what I was selling, but a consistent focus on
    collaboration and equality eventually led to individual responsibility
    and effective self-policing. I’ve used this same technique on
    subsequent communities and the results have always been positive.
  4. Calm by Example — Experienced community managers know that
    the Web is a fickle place; today’s egregious opinion often evaporates
    within a matter of days. A measured community manager allows fiery
    debates to run their course without spilling out of control, and on
    those rare occasions when guidance is required, a calm force is far
    more powerful.