Blue State Digital
It's easy to think of Blue State Digital as the IBM of political technology. As one of the brightest-burning stars to come from the 2004 Howard Dean campaign nebula, the firm has long since become part of the industry's firmament. Blue State's work for Barack Obama in 2008 further established the company as a technology leader.
To paraphrase the saying about IBM, nobody (to whom the Democrats-only firm will sell) will ever get fired for hiring BSD.
Blue State sells campaign management technology and web design work, and offers Internet consulting for political campaigns, advocacy organizations, and corporations. It build the Obama campaign's online fundraising, social networking, peer-to-peer fundraising and online issues advocacy infrastructure.
Though Blue State's team is expanding beyond politics — it took on Vogue as a client in November 2009 — Chief Technology Officer Jascha Franklin-Hodge says political campaigns will always be the firm's primary focus.
"Politics is in our DNA," says Franklin-Hodge. "We know intimately what it's like to be in a campaign."
The firm has had success repurposing its technology both within and without the political sphere. The Service Employees International Union, a union for health care workers, used BSD's tools to mobilize its members as advocates for Obama during his presidential campaign and again to curry support for health care legislation.
That said, Franklin-Hodge isn't entirely happy with the Blue State-IBM comparison.
The company "innovates more than it toes a safe line," he says.
Going forward, Franklin-Hodge says, the company is focused on finding ways for campaigns to capitalize on volunteer interaction online. BSD tools can already turn a volunteer into an advocate, for instance, by having that person allow a campaign website to post to his or her Facebook news feed whenever the volunteer sends an e-mail or makes a phone call on behalf of the campaign. Look for BSD to also polish its ability to reach into other social media sites like Flickr and Twitter.
Post-Obama '08, Blue State Digital is a frequent purveyor to large organizations and Democratic political campaigns, like statewide campaigns and mayoral campaigns in large cities. The company promises a full-service suite of tools and comes with a reputation built on several successful and innovative campaigns — including arguably the most innovative presidential campaign to date, where technology is concerned — and that pedigree does not come cheap. Its social networking and peer-to-peer tools are built to be useful for large operations who are seeking to involve people spread out across multiple states or areas of interest; BSD software allows people to organize themselves by county or city to work towards client goals, whether it's spreading support for an issue or a political candidate.
Blue State Digital sells a suite of products built around a core constituent relationship management system; broadcast e-mail, online fundraising, social networking, peer-to-peer advocacy and website content management all interact with that database, passing it information a campaign manager might find useful.
Like other database offerings in the field, BSD's software is designed to allow highly granular segmentation of a single donor, volunteer and contributor database. In layman's terms, that means every person who interacts with the campaign — from the campaign manager to its bumper-sticker vendor to its top fundraisers and street team — has an entry in a single database, and all of the campaign's interactions with each person are tracked. The campaign, says Franklin-Hodge, can query the database in sophisticated ways using "plain-English kind of interactions." Searches for donors who gave at least a certain amount in the last election but have yet to give in the current one, for example, can supposedly be accomplished without knowledge of the scripting that relational database geeks use to make data useful.
Customers can do a lot of things that are becoming standard operating procedure in the marketing world — send e-mails with different asks or subject lines to different segments of a database, for example. But what made Blue State famous during the Obama campaign was its ability to produce workable two-way communication tools: mechanisms for creating location-based social networks and allowing them to take action.
Obama's campaign used those tools to create MyBarackObama.com, and BSD powered volunteer phone-banking sessions in kitchens across America. Later, similar peer-to-peer technology allowed Democrats to meet in local dining rooms, hash out their own visions for the Democratic Party's national platform, and send those planks to the party for consideration. The BSD Online Tools suite also includes the ability for supporters to write letters to the editors of local publications or to their elected officials.
The tools enable campaigns to pursue what is becoming a large-campaign best practice: keep the online constituents active, all the time, even if they aren't active raising or donating money.
And, professing to embrace another emerging best practice, Franklin-Hodge says BSD's software is now built with open APIs so it can integrate well with other applications and home-brewed tools cooked up by their clients' own developers. The days of "walled gardens," he says, are over, and BSD has embraced a mashable ethos.
Franklin-Hodge stressed that BSD owns its own server equipment, which is hosted at a location that he says can keep clients' online fundraising cash coming in even when the servers are processing a high volume of content — to the tune of millions of dollars per hour.
- Service Employees International Union is using Blue State Digital phone-banking tools to allow supporters to lobby voters who are represented by senators on the fence about health care legislation to call their senators and persuade them to support the Democratic Party plan for health care.
- A segment of the telecommunications lobby uses Blue State Digital for its website in favor of new cable TV regulations to open the door for competition to major players like Comcast and Time Warner.
The Jewish Federations of North America went to Blue State to help it build Jewish Community Heroes, an online contest to inspire community service efforts in the continent's Jewish community — and build a list of potential supporters. Blue State says the site collected 570,000 votes on more than 450 nominees, collected 40,000 e-mail sign-ups, and had 230,000 unique visitors.
A full solution could be between $20,000 to $30,000 set-up and $1,000-$2,000 monthly hosting/maintenance, Franklin-Hodge says, based on tools and list size. Set-up fee based on how much design work is involved. Advanced social networking tools also up setup costs, he said.
Democratic National Committee, Organizing for America, SEIU, OFA, AmeriPAC