02/23/2014 07:31 EST | Updated 04/25/2014 05:59 EDT

Teddy Goff, Obama's digital guru, teaches Liberals new tricks

Teddy Goff is 28 years old. It's important to know that to understand why Liberals listened when he  told them Saturday they need to figure out how to relate to young people online in a world of rapidly changing technology.

Goff, already a veteran of two U.S. election campaigns as the leader of Obama's digital strategy team, was a keynote speaker Saturday at the Liberal policy convention in Montreal.

Perhaps a sign the Liberal party still has a way to go in terms of figuring out digital strategy was when Goff asked his audience of a few thousand party members how many had heard of the website Reddit.

It was hard to tell in the darkened room but it's possible only one hand went up.

Goff was talking about U.S President Barack Obama's 2012 appearance on the renegade, a site that has 50 million viewers and allows visitors to post any video on its pages, including hard-core porn and shots of dead bodies.

Reddit has a feature called "Ask Me Anything", often used by celebrities, who agree to entertain any online questions and answer them live on the site.

Goff told his Liberal audience the Obama appearance on Reddit generated 52 million views. As well, 30,000 people registered to vote on a link posted on the livestream of Obama at his laptop tapping out his answers.

Obama's Reddit performance couldn't have happened in the 2008 campaign, Goff said. In 2008, the smartphone hadn't been invented and Twitter was virtually non-existent.

In an interview before his speech, he said, "The world has changed since the last time you had an election here, and it will change before you have one again. It changed dramatically for us between 2008 and  2012."

Raised $690M online for Obama

In 2012, Goff's team raised $690 million for the Obama campaign in online donations.

"Five hundred and four million dollars of that was people who were just giving in response to social media, and not for going to an event, so about $500 million of it was small dollar," he said.

A large part with of the appeals for money went through Facebook, with people letting their friends know they should donate too. Goff says people trust the friends they interact with online much more than they trust government or the media or campaign ads.

Obama, he pointed out in his speech, has 34 million friends and those people connect with 98 per cent of people who are on Facebook in the U.S.

Asked how the digital world can convince young people to actually vote even if they are contacted online, Goff said, "I think older folks look at young people with some dismay and think all they do is text."

Only 38 per cent of young people voted in 2011

Although only  38 per cent of people under 34 voted in the 2011 Canadian election, in the U.S. the numbers of young voters increased in the last two elections, most of them voting for Obama.

It's vital to reach them through social media, says Goff, but warns the outreach must be researched and targeted.

"The age brackets in which people behave differently in terms of technology are tiny. So a person who's 18 is using a different technology than people who are 21 "

He concedes, for young people, to "do the deed and actually go and vote, it's probably useful [for a candidate] to be fun and interesting and cool."

Social media, he says, can be much more effective than ads, speeches or statements in fighting back against negative attacks on a candidate.

The example he gave the Liberal crowd was an incident at the 2012 Republican convention when iconic actor Clint Eastwood addressed an empty chair as if he were talking to Obama. The empty chair became a meme for an invisible President Obama.

'This seat's taken'

Goff's team countered with a picture of the back of  Obama's head, showing him sitting in a chair labelled "President." The caption said, "This seat's taken."

Goff told the crowd the picture was retweeted 75,000 times. Even his own mother retweeted it to him, saying it would be something he should know about.

As part of their digital learning session, Liberals also heard from Max Valiquette about the habits of a younger pool of potential voters that at times must seem like an alien species to seasoned election campaigners.

Valiquette described a generation he says enters "precocious puberty" earlier, in terms of being connected digitally.

Valiquette, a manager at the Toronto-based marketing firm Bensimon Byrne, said this "world of connected young people" share everything about their school, work, friends and media habits with each other. That characteristic, he said, is the most profound generational gap since rock n' roll.

If that group can't be spoken to in what he called its "native language" about the importance of voting, he warned, "We are creating a message that voting isn't important."

For Liberals, who have a spring in their step spurred by the continuing news of their lead in the polls, hearing about the tactics used in the Obama campaigns isn't hard to listen to. It adds to the narrative of the convention - that these are the beginning days of the 2015 election campaign.