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5 lessons from Hillary Clinton's campaign, to improve your business marketing and security

What running a political campaign can teach startups, businesses, and institutions about digital leadership, information warfare, and cyber security.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Robby Mook, who was the Campaign Manager for Hilary Clinton during her run up to the 2016 US presidential election. While he has taken a lot of heat for the campaign results, ongoing investigations have made it increasingly evident that disinformation warfare played a far bigger role in the final election outcome than his critics originally thought.

Since stepping away from the fray of everyday politics, he has taken up work as a Fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs on the Defending Digital Democracy (D3P) Project, which aims to identify and recommend strategies, tools, and technology to protect democratic processes and systems from cyber and information attacks.

Robby struck me as someone laser-focused on his beliefs, who approaches his missions with tireless dedication, and a star that will rise again. Those qualities were reflected during our wide-ranging discussion on the business of running a campaign and what it takes to build a diverse team of paid employees and unpaid volunteers who share that same level of dedication in pursuit of a common goal.

While the full interview will form a part of Accelerate 2018, being held in Sydney and Auckland in September 2018, here are 5 key insights I took away. We discuss what has become the ‘new normal’ for marketing communications and public relations.


1. Everything is digital now

Getting a political campaign off the ground is very much like launching a startup: it’s vision-led, driven by milestones, and highly dependent on fundraising cycles.

2016 was America’s first real presidential campaign that played out over wide-ranging digital-social platforms. Whereas Twitter chiefly defined the 2008 campaign, virtually every social channel became critical in 2016. Video (YouTube, in particular) and Facebook played their biggest roles ever, and engagement with micro-donors and campaign staff through mobile apps became the new status quo.

What this meant was that incredible reach and engagement could be gained, far beyond the footprint of the physical campaign trail. It also built and amplified news cycle hype in a way we’ve never seen before through our contemporary approach to digital-social communications. YouTube, Instagram, Medium, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Telegram, Facebook, and Twitter and the interplay between these and traditional media hype-cycles is redefining a ‘new normal’ for marketing communications and public relations.


2. Beware the enemy within

Phishing attacks prey upon the trust, gullibility, and naivety of people just like you and me. Orchestrators of cyber-attacks like those that besieged the Democratic National Committee (DNC) rely on the everyday sorts of digital breadcrumbs you may leave behind simply by ordering a courier, tracking a parcel, or even browsing Amazon. One piece of seemingly innocuous data (such as your recent browsing of shoes online), can be used to fool you into clicking on a link, which then fakes a login and captures a password. If you are not aware, vigilant, and disciplined, the biggest enemy can be your regular human susceptibility to good timing—combined with just the right amount of plausibility. You need to work harder than ever before, to make sure you and your people are not unwittingly colluding with the enemy.

3. Get agile or die!

Much can be learned about the agile practice of examining how campaigns are run. The digital development team on the Clinton campaign numbered in the hundreds, supported by an army of video content creators. Easily digestable pieces of content created en masse, pushed out with strategic regularity, and tested for resonance with an audience—with the best ones being amplified and rolled out on a greater scale. This was an approach that was entirely new for a political campaign.

There are many insights from this concept that can be applied to digital engagement strategies and tactics for your own business. But what you can accomplish depends on; how fundraising flows, the insights gleaned from post responses and app feedback, and/or media hype cycles. 


4. Disinformation warfare is real

The United States’ 2016 presidential campaign exposed the weakness of digital channels to disinformation and misinformation warfare. The internet trolls had a feeding frenzy. Malicious bots connected dots that just weren’t there, and the results conceived illusions that managed to scare people in wholly new and different ways. It showed that those wanting to damage or discredit you, can now use rumour and conspiracy theory in a way that leverages the human tendency to gossip through the hive-mind virality of social media platforms.

Brutally exposed was how, when something goes viral in the wrong way, people end up getting shot at. A gunman was led to believe a secret child sex-traffic ring was being run at a Washington pizza restaurant by a presidential candidate. The incident showed that incorrect information can be used against you in abstract ways that may be hard to fathom, but also in ways that can result in real physical harm.


5. Your brand and culture matter

To paraphrase Robby Mook: knowing what you stand for and the promise that you are making, as a brand or organisation, can enable your team to cut through misinformation attacks. If you understand your core beliefs, then you will be in a better position to weather disinformation warfare sensibly, coherently, and effectively.

Being able to clearly and consistently communicate the ‘why’ that is firmly rooted in your organisation's consciousness, leads to better business outcomes and success. Simon Sinek most notably articulated this in his talk on how great leaders inspire action. There is no doubt in my mind that this is also true for effective political leadership.

Sitting at the heart of this, though, is your culture. If you are deliberate enough in your approach, you can develop a culture that is more resilient to attack and disinformation, and one that endures beyond a single mission.

If you are interested in learning more from Robby Mook, Geoffrey Moore, and Pietro Boselli—all of whom will be featured at Accelerate 2018—be sure to follow Aamplify on LinkedIn.