Two Key Things Filmmakers Can Learn From the Obama Campaign 2012: The Era of Big Data and Data Mining Has Arrived

A Nov. 7th, 2012 post to Time magazine's website, entitled "Inside the Secret World of the Data Crunchers Who Helped Obama Win" should be essential reading for every 21st century filmmaker - no matter what their political party or ideology.

That's because the Time Magazine article (written by Michael Scherer) describes how big data and data mining allowed the 2012 Obama campaign to micro-target its fundraising and advertising - putting "data collected, stored and analyzed in the two-year drive for re-election... to [devastating] use."

In particular, the data mining and resulting social media techniques that were a part of how President Obama won a second term should be studied and discussed by every filmmaker interested in using the new tools to reach an audience online.

"[F]rom the beginning, [Obama] campaign manager Jim Messina had promised a totally different, metric-driven kind of campaign in which politics was the goal but political instincts might not be the means. “We are going to measure every single thing in this campaign,” he said after taking the job."

How did Jim Messina - serving in a role filmmakers might recognize as the PMD of the Obama campaign - go about using big data and data mining to make marketing history?

"He hired an analytics department five times as large as that of the 2008 operation, with an official “chief scientist” for the Chicago headquarters named Rayid Ghani, who in a previous life crunched huge data sets to, among other things, maximize the efficiency of supermarket sales promotions."

What can filmmakers learn from the Obama campaign about using databases and algorithms to target users who might have an interest in a particular film?

1) Build a Better Database

To start with the Obama campaign went after a single searchable and useful database - A well-structured trove of data "that could merge the information collected from pollsters, fundraisers, field workers and consumer databases as well as social-media and mobile contacts with the main Democratic voter files in the swing states."

This single massive database "allowed the number crunchers to run tests predicting which types of people would be persuaded by certain kinds of appeals."

Doesn't this make sense for filmmakers tailoring an online message as well?

For example, "[m]any of the e-mails sent to supporters were just tests, with different subject lines, senders and messages. Inside the campaign, there were office pools on which combination would raise the most money, and often the pools got it wrong."

2) Use the Power of the Social Network

Next the Obama campaign understood and utilized the power of recommendations via the social network: "[T]he get-out-the-vote effort continued with a first-ever attempt at using Facebook on a mass scale to replicate the door-knocking efforts of field organizers. In the final weeks of the campaign, people who had downloaded an app were sent messages with pictures of their friends in swing states. They were told to click a button to automatically urge those targeted voters to take certain actions, such as registering to vote, voting early or getting to the polls. The campaign found that roughly 1 in 5 people contacted by a Facebook pal acted on the request, in large part because the message came from someone they knew."

The power of a single database, that allows for test marketing and narrowly-targeted messages, and the powerful use of user recommendations that spread via social media were proven in unprecedented ways by the Obama campaign.

It remains for New World filmmakers to learn these valuable lessons - and to apply them to the next generation of motion picture victories.

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