[Digital Strategist], Digital Director and key senior advisor to [Candidate]. (Startup Stock Photos)

Every political reporter’s campaign tech article ever

A behind-the-scenes look behind the “best digital operation in history”

By: [Gullible Reporter]

Since President Obama’s re-election campaign set the standard for technology in politics in 2012, campaigns have been struggling to match their groundbreaking success online. [Campaign] has been no exception, using cutting edge technologies like Meerkat, Vines, Infographics and even Emojis to engage with their supporters on their smartphones.

Over a dozen operatives interviewed for this story say [Campaign] has been quietly building a digital and data operation which may rival Obama’s vaunted machine. “This is the best digital operation in history.” Said one operative familiar with [Candidate]’s digital operation.

Many operatives point to advanced digital media strategies employed by the campaign. [Campaign] has built renown for using unique tactics online, including buying a sports-themed Snapchat filter during the Olympics, posting clever #tbt (Throwback Thursday) photos on Instagram, and even buying search ads on [Opponent]’s name.

Team [Nerd Cliche]

[Campaign] gave [Gullible Reporter’s Political Rag] an exclusive look behind the scenes of their digital and data operation. Buried in a nondescript office building on the outskirts of [State Capital], [Candidate]’s digital and data team (internally referred to as Team [Nerd Cliche]) pounds away at their keyboards.

Their office is an open floor plan plastered with posters of [Candidate]’s face overlaid with “[Pop culture reference]”. Its occupants are crammed into tight rows of tables; many are sitting on workout balls instead of chairs. Clad in jeans and t-shirts, an army of 20-somethings are glued to their screens, hacking away at new cutting-edge apps designed to engage [Candidate]’s supporters online.

One Team [Nerd Cliche] member is showing off a new app they’ve just unveiled which allows supporters to send a pre-written tweet directly from the candidate’s website. Another is working on the beginnings of a new app that will allow people to build custom Twibbons, which overlay [Campaign]’s hashtag over their profile photo on social media.

“Cher just tweeted at us!” One staffer suddenly exclaims.

“I’m on it.” Another replies, scrambling to her computer to draft a reply.

Behind the busy staffers, a giant TV screen hangs on the wall. On it, charts and numbers whirl across the screen showing engagement metrics on Twitter, including mentions by people identified by the campaign as Key Influencers.

“We call this the [Nerd Cliche] Lair.” beams [Digital Strategist], the campaign’s Digital Director.

[Digital Strategist], a veteran thought leader in political tech, has just strolled into the room. In his early thirties, he wears a beanie over his unkempt hair. He’s holding a Starbucks coffee, which fuels his code-addled days. He’s wearing a t-shirt with “Erlich Bachman 2016” scrawled across the front, a reference to Silicon Valley, a TV show popular among his fellow nerds.

Behind him, a huge sign hanging on the wall reads “Move fast and break things.”

“We came up with that slogan out of the blue during one of our early planning sessions,” Says [Strategist]. “It’s helped set the tone for the kind of innovation we’re doing around here.”

Members of Team [Nerd Cliche] coding and doing other technology-related activities. (Startup Stock Photos)

Project Cookie Monster

Behind [Campaign]’s online success is a secret data operation Team [Nerd Cliche] refers to internally as Project Cookie Monster, a clever reference to the Sesame Street character known for gobbling up delicious cookies.

“With Cookie Monster, we built on what the Obama campaign did in 2012 to bring digital and data to the next level. We’ve married digital and data so that we can gobble up massive amounts of data about our supporters. Our data-driven approach allows us to explore voters at a microscopically granular level.” said [Digital Consultant].

“With Cookie Monster, we built on what the Obama campaign did in 2012 to bring digital and data to the next level.”

For example, [Campaign] uses an advanced tracking tool built by Google which tracks users who land on their website, giving advanced analytics about them including their location, what device they’re using, which pages they view, and how long they stay on the site. Aggregating this data gives [Campaign] a complete view of their website visitors, enabling them to build complex data models.

The campaign has also spent months building a rich voter data mining operation, allowing the campaign to find where voters live, what their party registration is, how many times they’ve voted in past elections, and even give them a “score” on how likely a voter is to vote.

[Campaign] has also hired a firm specializing in big data and advanced intrapsychologic modeling. [Data firm] then takes data from Cookie Monster and analyzes it using their own proprietary Artificial Intelligence-powered (AI) algorithm, which allows the campaign to not only identify key voters, but to also identify key parts of their brains that are activated by certain messages.

“Most campaigns only look at individual voters. We take it a step further and dig down into key parts of the voter’s subconscious. That way, we can say, ‘This meme penetrated a voter’s volitional association area of their prefrontal cortex — let’s double down on this message.’”

[Campaign] says this unique approach to data modeling has allowed them to identify vast swaths of untapped voters and allocate resources to them. [Campaign] claims this approach has led to a 5,000% increase in anticipated voter turnout for [Candidate].

Mixed success

The campaign has not been without technical glitches. [Campaign] failed to buy the domain name for an obscure variation of the candidate’s name, an embarrassing stumble during launch. Then during the primaries, the campaign once double sent a press release to reporters. A report released by [Obscure Analytics Firm] claims that only 1% of [Campaign]’s social media followers are real. [Candidate] has also faced technology troubles of [his/her] own, famously including [Incident remotely related to computers but not remotely related to Campaign].

It is generally known that [Campaign] is still lagging behind [Opponent] in digital and data. For instance, [Opponent]’s recently posted infographic on Facebook got over 1 million likes, a clear sign of their technology superiority. Of course, it has not be a stumble-free ride for [Opponent]. [Opponent] was dinged when it was discovered that their logo vaguely resembles a Taiwanese tire shop’s logo, an embarrassing mistake that has haunted them throughout the campaign. The campaign has been dogged by a Twitter hashtag called #[Candidate]Plagiarisms ever since.

It remains to be seen how much of a difference [Digital Strategist]’s efforts will make. After all, [Campaign] still has to contest with [Narrative unrelated to tech]. Not all operatives are convinced their strategy will make a difference on November 8th.

“A good digital operation will generally see a 10–20% bump in your vote margin, but it will be difficult given the dynamics of the race,” said [Plugged-in Thought Leader] “The fact that they still buy TV ads is worrisome.”

“I would take this with a grain of salt,” [Operative from opposing party] claimed. “Literally, everything you’ve described to me is either nonsense or can be done using free online tools. Do you realize how stupid your article is going to sound?”

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