The political parties continue to bicker over the actual numbers, but even the most conservative estimates show that millions of previously uninsured people now have health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, more popularly known as Obamacare. Democrats are trumpeting it as a success, one due at least in part to an aggressive campaign by President Barack Obama.
From Internet talk shows to Twitter marketing to online question-and-answer forums, the president employed many of the same information age techniques to sell the American public on his health care bill that got him elected and re-elected in the first place.
Many attributed Obama’s success in 2008 directly to his Internet strategy, and the New York Times, among others, noted that his campaign’s use of YouTube and Facebook forever changed the face of American politics. Data analytics and a recognition of new platforms helped perfect this strategy in the 2012 campaign, and it proved to be successful once again in the ACA push.
In early February, a YouTube channel called Get Covered America played on the Internet’s love of animals by posting a video featuring pets imploring their owners through song to sign up for the ACA. The video was hardly a viral sensation, attracting nearly equal “thumbs down” and “thumbs up” votes, but it did attract nearly 66,000 views.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services followed with a social media campaign aimed at mothers, or at least at getting younger Americans to talk to their moms about signing up. CMMS flipped the right-wing attack on Obama’s “mom jeans” to share an image promoting the Obamacare deadline, with the #GetCovered hashtag to promote sharing on social networks.
In March, with the deadline approaching and data showing that 18- to 34-year-old Americans were still not signing up for insurance through Obamacare, the Internet campaign kicked up a level.
On March 11, Obama appeared on “Between Two Ferns,” an interview show hosted by Zach Galifianakis on the comedy site FunnyOrDie.com. There was plenty of right-wing rumbling that Obama was disrespecting the dignity of his position, but after 20 million views the video has been overwhelmingly labeled as “Funny.”
Obama joined Quora the following week, becoming the first verified user on the question-and-answer site. Obama posted two answers there to discuss improvements to the troubled HealthCare.gov website and the benefits of the ACA.
“The whole point of health insurance is to protect you from massive medical bills that come with illness or injury,” Obama said in a Quora session that attracted more than 12,000 views. “So for young people, health insurance is about peace of mind. It gives you the freedom to try several jobs until you find the one you love, chase that new idea, or start your own business, without fear that the unexpected will derail your dreams.”
Like seasoned digital media marketers, Obama’s team reached out to social media “influencers,” people with millions of social media followers like basketball player Kobe Bryant and actor Wil Wheaton, to spread the Obamacare message. The president himself produced several videos with various YouTube celebrities to draw on their viral power.
It’s unclear how many 18- to 34-year-old Americans enrolled for Obamacare, but if the 7.1 million number that Obama is touting is accurate, it will once again prove the effectiveness of savvy Internet strategy. It’s likely that many of these methods will be used again as the November midterm elections approach.