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According to jonathan-alterJonathan Alter‘s new book, The Center Holds, it was Barack Obama’s young geek volunteers who crushed Mitt Romney‘s “Mad Men” campaign out of the 1960s in the 2012 election. And while much of their success had to do with their collective beautiful mind, it also had to do with something that Mr. Alter said as a matter of fact: they got “over the fear of being annoying.”

The whole quote from the below interview on the Colbert Show is, “you’ve got to get over your fear of being annoying” (minute 4:30):

So, not only did the President’s merry band of geeks learn how best to microtarget and activate two million volunteers, they also learned how to push past their fear of rejection to ultimately realize the truth, according to Alter:

“The emails were annoying as hell…they studied this…they had all kinds of tests…the biggest conceptual breakthrough in the campaign, as the guy running the digital team said, was you’ve got to get over your fear of being annoying…and once they did, they found that the number of people who unsubscribed was much lower than the extra money they were getting by sending out more appeals.”

thecenterholdsThe result of this aggressiveness (maybe inspired by being headquartered in Chicago, known for being tough) was growing the revenue from online donations from $15 million-per-month to over $150 million-per-month; and, ultimately, beating the Romney campaign by over five million votes.

As you may well know from my blog posts, I am fully on board with pushing a little hard. With my blogger outreach campaigns, I reach out to bloggers three times instead of once or twice: people are busy. So, not only do you need to get your message out there (especially if you’re not the President or a presidential hopeful) but you also need to keep on asking until all the stars align and you get them at the perfect moment when they’re free, their wallet’s close, they’ve deposited their paycheck, they’ve had a change of heart, or they just have the right moment.

Nobody’s going to go into their Google archive and look for that one tentative appeal you made months ago, you’ll always need to remind, cajole, suggest, offer, repeat, and follow-up. And don’t be a wuss — don’t forget that if you can’t prove a ROI to your boss or to yourself, you’ll soon give up on content marketing — or be fired, if that’s what you were hired to do.

The level of messaging that the President engaged in was aggressive enough that it became a national joke. Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, and all your friends probably mentioned the deluge of fundraising email — from Michelle, from Barack, from celebrities and senators and everyone! We as a nation talked about the intimate subject lines, the insulting “Hey!” and any number of other attempts at getting our attention.


And, I am sure that loads and loads of people unsubscribed! But not enough people unsubcribed, blocked, spam-boxed, reported, or filtered out the fundraising appeals to change the fact that this sort of supposedly unforgivable behavior resulted in a 10x growth in months donations: $15M to $150M. Between you and me, isn’t that worth it?

Yes, do A/B testing. Yes, write the perfect appeal, tweet, Facebook post, or ad copy; however, if you’re not willing to take a little heat with the understanding that there will always be complainers, unsubscribers, haters, the forgetful (dude, this is an opt-in list, you subscribed to me!), and the general grumpy-by-nature (there are some people who treat their email Inbox like some sacred garden), so what’re you going to do?


Are you going to be polite or effective?

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Chris Abraham

About Chris Abraham

A pioneer in online social networks and publishing, with a natural facility for anticipating the next big thing, Chris is an Internet analyst, web strategy consultant and advisor to the industries' leading firms. He specializes in Web 2.0 technologies, including content syndication; organize search engine optimization (SEO), online reputation management (ORM), content marketing, online collaboration, blogging, and consumer generated media.



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