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Social Politics: Rahaf Harfoush On Using New Media To Win Elections
Digital and Social Media | April 11, 2013

Social Politics: Rahaf Harfoush On Using New Media To Win Elections

Sometimes called the world's first "digital" President, Barack Obama used social and digital media in a highly effective way during his first presidential election campaign. As new media speaker Rahaf Harfoush tells the CBC, his strategy "allowed him and the campaign to act like a start-up—agile, flexible, responsive—instead of being limited by a decades-old political playbook." Now Justin Trudeau, a candidate for the Canadian Liberal Party leadership position, is taking a page from the President's book. As CBC reporter Kady O'Malley says, Trudeau is one of the first members of Parliament to create his own unique messages on Twitter. A move that Harfoush says is "resonating with at least a certain segment of the population."

The author of Yes We Did: An Inside Look At How Social Media Built the Obama Brand, Harfoush spoke to the pros and cons of incorporating a digital media strategy into an election campaign in the article. When she volunteered for the Obama campaign, Harfoush saw the presidential team's revolutionary use of social media first hand. While it doesn't always correlate to more votes, an active online presence has proven to help engage and mobilize voters and present a candidate as being more relatable. In President's Obama's case, voters and volunteers were provided with micro-level opportunities to get involved in the campaign (by watching and sharing a video or email, for example). Not only that, but the digital platform provided a unique opportunity to capitalize on micro donations of less than $200—a strategy that allowed both Trudeau and Obama to raise millions through individual contributions.

Harfoush, who also authored Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World, told the CBC that "It's nice to see a digital native [Trudeau], if you will, using these tools in an authentic way." Rather than re-posting press releases and canned content, the politician created a platform for voters to get to know him and mobilize into action. As the former Associate Director of the Technology Pioneer Programme at the World Economic Forum in Geneva, Switzerland, Harfoush worked with start-ups that used technology to improve the world. Currently, she works as the co-founder of Red Thread Inc, a consulting agency that provides clients with out-of-the-box thinking to tackle strategic challenges. In her talks, she discusses the rapid changes taking place in industries across the board. She shows us how to use data, mobile tech, and digital media to not reinvent the way our companies and institutions operate.
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