Whatever your political views, it’s hard not to be impressed by the way in which Barack Obama used the internet to get his message across.

From YouTube channels to Twitter and Facebook accounts, Obama’s team showed a real understanding of online media to campaign and raise funds for the candidate.

There is plenty that charities could glean from the Obama campaign’s online marketing, and much of it didn’t cost the earth…

Social networking

Barack Obama and his team ensured that his campaign had a presence on the major social networks. This meant pages on Facebook and MySpace (with a relatively tasteful profile page), as well as networks like BlackPlanet.com and even LinkedIn.

On each of these sites he has managed to gather a big following – 500,000+ on both MySpace and Facebook, many more than John McCain could manage.

More importantly though, he (his campaign team at least) got involved with the sites; constantly uploading photos, videos and updating his profile pages.

This constant updating and general engagement encourages more people to get involved and help spread the message. This kind of involved approach to social networks could also work, albeit on a smaller scale, for charity campaigns.

The NSPCC provides a good example of this with its Facebook page. It has 6,000+ fans, and the profile has been frequently updated with messages, photos and videos. It also has a Facebook app which asks for volunteers and donations.

Other social media

As well as social networks, Obama used Twitter, Flickr, and a blog during his campaign.

As with his social network activities, the blog and Twitter accounts were regularly updated, providing new content for search engines to crawl, and ensuring that it was worthwhile for people to keep coming back to check for updates.

While charities like Oxfam have a blog, which is excellent for getting noticed on Google as well as getting the message across, I couldn’t find any evidence for some of the UK’s better known charities on Twitter.

A Twitter account is free to set up, and charities could easily start to use the microblogging site to promote events and campaigns without too much effort.

Own Google results for your brand

If people type your name or brand into Google, you want the results to be as positive as possible and, while you cannot possibly control everything that is written about you online, you can maximise the number of Google results under your control.

Obama’s presence on social networks, Twitter Flickr, YouTube, and blogging, as well as on YouTube, are all great for achieving this, as each of these, as well as his own website, can potentially take up one of the positions on the first page of Google.

This means up to ten positive links related to your charity, all of which could be leading to more information about your campaign.

Take a look at the first page of Google for Obama, in which seven out of ten results have been created by his campaign team;  Twitter, Facebook and MySpace pages, as well as his own blog and website.

Few charities seem to have picked up on this; results for Oxfam, Cancer Research and other online charities are mostly from third party sites.

NSPCC seems to have made more effort here though, with plenty of its own results, as well as some YouTube videos coming up on the first page of Google.

Search marketing

Obama’s team seems to have known what they were doing when it came to SEO. Key phrases were targeted and paid search ads used to ensure prominence on Google.

The President elect had spent nearly $5.5m on online advertising by the end of September, with the vast majority going to Google, which must indicate a sizeable paid search budget.

In the examples on this blog, Obama has targeted search phrases connected to his tax plan, and ensured that his site ranks highly while search ads are also prominent. McCain’s team targeted the same phrases, but with less success.

Most charities will not have huge marketing budgets, but they can still do the basics of SEO well; using blogs and social media to get more search engine visibility, optimising keyphrases on their websites, and avoiding any mistakes which may incur penalties from Google

Web design

The barackobama.com website is well designed, and well optimised, ranking highly on Google for many key election related keywords.

For visitors, the site is well designed and well laid out – a clear call to action is provided asking for donations on the top right, and even the checkout process is well thought-out:

We covered this in our Charity Website Benchmarks report last year, and found that many charity websites in the UK had plenty of room to improve in terms of usability and accessibility.

Charities should make sure they get the basics right on their sites, make information easy to find, and make it nice and easy for people to donate or sign up.


Obama’s campaign team clearly appreciated the potential power on online video, and YouTube in particular, and have done their best to exploit the medium during the election.

YouTube offered a way for Obama to get his message straight out to on online audience without having to rely on traditional news media. His channel on the site was constantly updated with video content, and attracted a huge audience.

His team has uploaded 1,800 YouTube videos which have attracted millions of views. The highest was 5.27m, but many more attracted impressive viewing figures.

An added bonus was that, with universal search, many of these videos come up in search results for various election related search phrases, and tend to stand out more than traditional text results.

Charities should take a leaf out of Obama’s book, and make full use of YouTube for their campaigns.

Oxfam and the NSPCC both have their own YouTube channels, but plenty of other charities haven’t picked up on this yet. Online video is big and still growing(more than 11m UK web users visited the site in May this year), and charities should make the most of it.

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Related articles:

Q&A: Mia Woodford of charity auction site Buy Once Give Twice

Breast Cancer Care’s Bertie Bosrédon on charities and new media

Related research:

Charity Website Benchmarks 2007