Page members heard a familiar phrase as Jim VandeHei, Co-Founder, President and CEO of POLITICO, kicked off the Lessons from Washington panel with a question about the New Model. VandeHei was joined by Jen O’Malley Dillon, Partner at Precision Strategies and former Deputy Campaign Manager for Obama for America, and Brad Dayspring, Communications Director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, for a candid conversation on communications lessons from Washington.“Communicating your company’s character,” VandeHei posed to the panelists. “How have you applied that to your campaigns?”

The Obama campaign is well known for its successful use of digital and social media to drive voter engagement.  But O’Malley Dillon was quick to point out that this success wasn’t about “big data” – at the end of the day she said that their campaign was driven by peer-to-peer interaction and an understanding that “the communities of people they were targeting had networks that were more important than any network the campaign could build.” Going where those communities were with the campaign’s message was how they effectively got their messages out. Success was also driven by leadership buy-in, something that Dayspring admitted wasn’t as strong on the Republican side in 2012. He deemed it a bit of a “culture war” within the party, as the old guard of Republicans look to accept the new guard, which understands and embraces the importance of social media and big data. The biggest barrier in 2012 was that the people who understood social media didn’t have a seat at the table.

It’s a common problem that communicators face today as well, as evidenced by the Page Society’s latest white paper, Social Engagement: Trends, Cases & the New Model in Action. C-suite support and participation is critical to successful adoption of social strategies – simply look at the outcome of the 2012 presidential race to understand why.

Social media also challenges brands to consider the best platform or channel to communicate their message. Dayspring and O’Malley Dillon both talked about “smart risk” – understanding their candidates’ comfort zone, but also where their constituents communicate, and determining where and how to reach them.

O’Malley Dillon pointed to President Obama’s recent “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit, where he discussed the Affordable Care Act. What could have been seen as a risky proposition was instead embraced by the President and his staff. The key to success for them, said O’Malley Dillon, was to understand how people use these platforms and “communicating as part of them,” not as an outside voice.

No conversation about DC could happen these days without touching on the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, a topic Dayspring and O’Malley Dillon understandably don’t see eye to eye on. But regardless of which side of the aisle you sit, the ACA has brought messaging into focus, particularly the effectiveness of how the law has been communicated to the public. Dayspring’s response to that: “Good policy makes good messaging; but good messaging doesn’t always make good policy.”