Obama speaks about the sequester in Washington

Monday, April 1, 2014  marked the end of the open enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act. For all the bad press the Obama administration received for the launch of HealthCare.gov, the reality is they did a number of things right. Over the last few months, the President and his staffers helped get the word out about the ACA, successfully embracing social media in a way that few brands have been able to. And I was fortunate enough to have a front-row seat for a small portion of it.

Youth outreach was the Obama administration’s main focus because of how important young, healthy enrollees are to helping offset the costs of the older patients who need more care in the insurance markets. The White House learned how to get young people invested in politics and the incredibly boring issue of health care in a way that no one in US history has been able to. According to an email the administrations sent out at the beginning of April 2014 “7.1 million Americans have now signed up for private insurance plans through the new Health Insurance Marketplaces. 7.1 million. That doesn’t count the more than 3 million young adults who have gained insurance under this law by staying on their families’ plans.”

Based on initial data from several states it appears as though March showed significant increase in signups among young adults over previous months. The process the White House went through to reach those Young americans, and their use of YouTube and online video in particular, likely had a significant impact in driving enrollment. While Obama’s appearance on Zach Galafanikis’ web series Between Two Ferns dominated headlines in mid-March, Obama was also incredibly strategic in tapping the YouTube community in a number of other ways.

Research – Find Out What You Don’t Know

The White House recognized the fact that they didn’t know how to get millennials interested in signing up for healthcare, so they asked.

Back in December 2013, I was invited to the White House, along with 160 other 18-35 year old thought-leaders working in media or non-profits, as part of a White House Youth Summit. I rubbed elbows with staff from Collegehumor, various YouTubers, bloggers, Radio DJ’s, and activists. Obama spoke with the group, but the majority of time was dedicated to breakout sessions where we met with the White House digital team and discussed what campaigns that would be most effective in reaching millennials and getting them to actually sign up for healthcare.

The overarching sentiment of the group I was in was that rather than Obama try to create his own campaign or meme or viral/shareable advertisement, he should instead tap into existing communities online – YouTube communities in particular.

Onboarding – Get People Invested And Excited 

Obama went on to do a number of social media activations to help drive awareness, tapping numerous celebrities to help get the word out, all with varying degrees of success. However, what I’d argue as being one of the more effective activations was his dedicated visit with several top-tier YouTubers.

In late February, Obama took the time to meet with Hannah Hart of My Drunk Kitchen, Tyler Oakley, Iman Crosson (AKA Alphacat) best known for his Obama impressions, Michael Stevens of VSauce, Benny and Rafi Fine of The Fine Bros., as well as s well as Mark Douglas, Todd Womack, and Ben Relles of Barely PoliticalPeter Shuckoff and Lloyd Ahlquist of Epic Rap Battles of History, and Mickey Meyer and Daniel Kellison of JASH. Obama had an hour long round table with the group, sharing the importance of the Affordable Care Act before asking them to help get the word out.

Execute – Let the Talent Do What They Do Best

Starting March3, 2014, the YouTubers began posting their videos publicizing their experiences with the president and driving awareness of the Affordable Care Act. The content ranged from vlogs (like Tyler Oakley’s My Gossip Session With Obama to branded content (like as Nice Peter’s Epic Rap Battles in History news bulletin). As of March 31, 2014, the last day of open signups, the content created by the YouTubers in attendance advertising their experiences generated in the very least over 3.3 million video views and 2,500 shares.

Prior to activating YouTube influecers, The White House posted over a dozen videos to their YouTube channel dedicated to driving signups to Healthcare.gov in the three months leading up the the March 31, 2104 deadline. The videos attracted nearly 500,000 video views, or less than 1/6 the amount of views driven by the select set of prominent YouTubers. (It’s also worth noting that the most viewed video on The White House’s channel about the initiative was YouTube Stars Talk Health Care at the White House, recapping the meeting with the YouTubers mentioned above).

I’ve noted in previous posts, the kind of engagement that established YouTube personalities can drive often far surpasses that of traditional marketing methods, and collaborating with YouTube personalities in particular is a tactic that I often recommend. As Zefr noted in their blog (which has a great deal of data on the success of this initiative), “if the President can rock YouTube as well as he did, then brands and agencies shouldn’t be far behind. Moreover, if the White House is willing to loosen up its grip on an otherwise carefully crafted political message for the sake of inspiring a wider action, so can your brand.”

Brendan Brendan Gahan is a YouTube expert helping Fortune 500 brands with their YouTube influencer and community building campaigns. He was named Forbes 30 Under 30 in Marketing & Advertising and one of the 25 Top YouTube Business Power Players for 2013. You can follow him on Twitter @brendangahan

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