Obama Builds Data Team That Could Inform Digital Ads, Social

Some of the millions of dollars raised by President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign could be used to build one of the most innovative internal data operations ever for a political campaign. Obama for America has been hiring data quants, and recently posted job openings for predictive modeling and data mining analysts, along with state data directors. The strategic approach to data inside the campaign could help it better integrate offline and online data gleaned from social media and other online interactions.

OFA is developing an in-house Analytics Department to be based at the Chicago campaign headquarters. Staff there will work with state data directors to be based in several states, according to a job posting on the OFA site. The Chicago office will also have data desks responsible for various regions of the country.

The campaign is also seeking predictive modeling and data mining analysts who would be responsible for developing statistical and predictive models to assist in digital media, as well as for fundraising and other media. The analysts will be expected to have experience with digital media, online advertising data, Nielsen, and Arbitron data, in addition to text data. The job description, posted on data mining resource site KDnuggets, notes that text mining and social media analytics “is a plus.”

“It points to an extraordinarily high level of data integration inside the Obama campaign,” said Alex Lundry, VP and research director at TargetPoint Consulting, a microtargeting and data mining firm that works with Republican candidates and organizations, including the Republican National Committee, Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential primary campaign, and John McCain’s ’08 presidential campaign. “It’s a much more holistic view of the voter from a data perspective, and you don’t see many GOP candidates doing that,” he added.

More often than not, if a campaign has the wherewithal – and cash – to fund a data operation such as what OFA is putting together, it is outsourced to a consulting firm rather than conducted in-house.

Predictive analytics allow political campaigns to infer how likely specific people are to vote, and which issues are important to them. While much of the information Obama’s data team will handle will be collected offline and employed offline for direct mail, phone banking, and door-to-door canvassing, it has implications for the digital campaign.

The job descriptions suggest that the Obama camp might mine social media posts for patterns that could indicate key issue interests, or conduct A/B testing on display campaigns targeting different groups of potential voters. Although display ad A/B testing is common for sophisticated political operations, the ability to inform those tests with information from a comprehensive database including online and offline data, and potentially have those test results inform other aspects of the campaign, seems unique.

Potentially, the campaign might connect individual data profiles with an online targeting system to create microtargeted online ads that enhance online behavioral data with context.

“The big challenge to people in my line of business is merging offline and online data. The ability to connect an online impression to a terrestrial voter file would be immensely helpful in the predictive targeting process,” said Lundry.

Although the Republican presidential nominee could very well build a savvy data team like Obama’s, the fact is the President’s campaign is way ahead of the game, able to raise funds toward the general election now and put that money to work months earlier – in this case to build an internal data operation much earlier than the GOP nominee could.

“I think it’s a distinct strategic advantage for Obama to have a data and analytics shop and infrastructure inside the campaign,” said Lundry.

Which GOP campaign is poised to battle Obama head-to-head on the data front? Some observers think Romney for President appears to be inclined to take a data-centric approach if Romney wins the nomination. He was one of TargetPoint’s first clients in 2002, working with the firm during his winning campaign for Massachusetts governor. The campaign is among the few if not the only one that has hired an in-house digital director.

“Romney’s people understand data; they understand data-driven campaigns,” said Lundry.

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