The woman who played a key role in drumming up support for President Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign has been bringing her know-how to Switzerland.
Amelia Showalter, 32, served as Director of Digital Analytics for Obama in 2012, leading a team which implemented hundreds of experiments to improve the performance of digital outreach. Now she gives courses on e-campaigning.
At the end of April she was in Zurich for training on digital acquisition, which was organised by Kampagnenforum. At virtually the same time comes the launch in Switzerland of wecollect.ch, an independent non-profit platform for collecting signatures for politically “prudent” people’s initiatives and referenda.
Vote campaigns are increasingly being played out on the internet. Those who target their followers with better digital communication – emails, websites and online ads – than their competition have a real advantage. It’s not just about votes, but also about collecting donations and getting people to volunteer. swissinfo.ch met the American digital analytics expert after one of her courses in Zurich.
swissinfo.ch: Would you say that digital analytics is a bit more in its infancy in Switzerland compared to the United States?
Amelia Showalter: I think so. This is my fourth time in Zurich helping train people in digital analytics and e-campaigning and I think there are still some areas of digital campaigning that are new in Switzerland.
swissinfo.ch: Such as?
A.S.: We are doing a training about acquisition, which is the idea of going out and getting more supporters though running petitions, putting online ads up or through social media. I think that’s more rare here.
swissinfo.ch: Do you think that’s due to cultural resistance or people worried about data protection?
A.S.: There’s definitely more concern about data protection here than in the US. I think also when something isn’t normal, if people aren’t used to getting asked for money in an email, then the first person to try it is worried about whether it is appropriate. Then as something becomes more widespread, nobody thinks about it anymore. So I think it’s just getting over that hill.
swissinfo.ch: What kind of impact is digital communication having on democracy?
A.S.: Social media is very good at helping ideas spread, and also helping connect people to life experiences of other people. In the US, we are seeing a lot of activism around the way people of colour are treated that we would not have seen without videos being posted online, like police brutality and protests. Social media helps spread those and that’s a really good thing.
swissinfo.ch: Is digital analytics the future for democracy?
A.S.: (Laughs) It’s part of the future. Knowing more about data is always going to be helpful because there is just more and more data to digest. One of the problems in digital analytics right now is that there is almost more data than any one person can know what to do with. So figuring out how to get through the noise is a big part of what we do now.
swissinfo.ch: What’s then your piece of advice for people in Switzerland wanting to use digital analytics?
A.S.: My main advice is have fun with it. Set up a google analytics account for your webpage, or even just for your personal page. Take a look at the analytics on your personal Facebook page or Twitter analytics. All these things are available to you, so you might as well take a look and see what’s there and just familiarise yourself with data.