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Hillary Clinton's digital director: Social media is now 'ubiquitous'

The digital director of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign discusses her career choices, her vision for digital in 2016, and what her spirit animal means.
Katie Dowd, New Media Director at the U.S. Department of State, on a Foreign Press Center Tour, February 23, 2008
Katie Dowd, New Media Director at the U.S. Department of State, on a Foreign Press Center Tour, February 23, 2008

On Saturday, Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took the stage on Roosevelt Island in New York City to speak at her first official 2016 campaign rally.

Ahead of the big event, Katie Dowd, digital director of Hillary For America, answered questions from the campaign's headquarters in Brooklyn about career choices, lessons learned from Clinton’s 2008 campaign and Dowd's vision for the role of technology in the 2016 presidential election.

Dowd previous served as the innovation adviser and new media director at the U.S. State Department and as director of digital strategy at the Clinton Foundation.

Here's what Dowd had to say.

How did you get started in digital politics? Were there many women in the field then?

During my time at Wittenberg University, a professor told me that you could make change from the inside or the outside – and something about that really struck me. I thought if I could learn the system by being a part of it, I would understand how to really make a difference.

Following graduation, I worked on a local campaign in Chicago; then took a grassroots fundraising job in Washington, D.C. – which at the time meant mainly direct mail, telemarketing and a tiny bit of online money. It was then I began to get more interested in understanding how to use the Internet and digital platforms to communicate, raise money and mobilize voters.

The field at that time was small in general – let alone there were not many women in it. It’s definitely an industry that could sure use a lot more cracks in its ceiling. I’m thankful to be able to use the skills I’ve obtained to help our team highlight Hillary’s values and her record of fighting for everyday Americans.

What motivated you to take on this role as digital director of the Hillary Clinton campaign? Why not pursue a high-paying job in the corporate world? 

Having worked for Hillary Clinton for nearly eight years, I continue to be inspired by her vision for America, and this was a unique opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. I believe with all my heart that she can do incredible things for this country and help everyday Americans get ahead and stay ahead, and that digital is going to play a huge role in helping accomplish that task. 

Hillary For America has hired several Obama campaign veterans to help build what will be the foundation of the Hillary 2016 digital operation, and the campaign is employing many of the successful strategies that helped President Obama win re-election. How then will your campaign differ from the Obama 2012 campaign?

We must leverage best practices from today and yesterday. That means using the best practices of the 2012 Obama campaign, but also incorporating new approaches and tools to reach people where they are. Hillary Clinton is running a grassroots campaign that’s about the American people, not her … From Twitter, Facebook, Instagram to Snapchat, these are all the kinds of platforms where millions of people are talking, learning, sharing every day, and we’ll be incorporating these to share stories.

Is there anything you learned from your experience as the new media director of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign that you’re applying to 2016?

Since 2008, there have been a million things to learn from our efforts, but also from the eight years of development and advancement in the digital space. Successful digital campaigns make everyone’s interactions with the campaign more meaningful, but also easier and faster.

Campaigns work well when the tools and content created and shared empower people to be our best advocates and we make it easier for them to help work for one more vote. As Hillary continues to travel across the country, having conversations, asking questions, listening to folks’ concerns and sharing ideas about the future of the country – we’ll be using these tools to help us earn every vote. 

Additionally, a big point to note is the degree to which social media is now a part of people’s daily lives. It is so much different than in 2008. Twitter, Facebook and smartphones are now ubiquitous; and our team will not underestimate their ability to revolutionize communication, engagement and organizing in modern campaigns.

How will the campaign innovate in the use of digital in politics for future campaigns?

Our goal as a digital team is to continue creating new and innovative ways for people to own a piece of this campaign – to make this their campaign and to empower them through any piece of technology in their hand to be a fundraiser, a storyteller, an organizer and a voter. That’s why digital is so important. I believe we have a special opportunity to invite people into this process of helping campaign and elect Hillary – and we’ll have a lot of fun along the way doing it.

Winning aside, how will you measure your success as the digital director of the Clinton campaign?

We will be successful as a team if each day we help hear everyday Americans’ stories, give them a voice and talk together about what we can do to move this country forward.

We will also measure our success by the strength and talent of a great team, the happiness of a team, by how many people we bring into this campaign and the number of ways we allow people to have ownership over the campaign.

In April, the Google Doodle team created a “1,000% accurate personality quiz” that can determine anyone’s Earth Day animal. Did you take Google’s quiz – and if so, what was your animal?

I took the quiz! I’m proud to say I am a giant squid. I’m told that means I can achieve anything to which I put my mind and/or my “massive tentacles” to … and if that means I can help Hillary Clinton win this election, I’m definitely okay with it.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.