Exclusive: Obama’s 2012 Digital Fundraising Outperformed 2008

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Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images

Twitter co-founder and Executive Chairman Jack Dorsey listens while President Barack Obama speaks during an online Twitter town hall meeting from the East Room of the White House July 6, 2011 in Washington, DC.

Nearly a year ago, Barack Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina took to YouTube with an expletive-laden post-holiday message for supporters. “People have speculated that this is a billion dollar campaign,” Messina said. “That’s bull—-.” And he meant it, at the time.

But when the final numbers are counted, Obama’s aides now expect more than $1 billion dollars to have been raised by the 2012 campaign and its affiliated party committees, breaking the 10-figure milestone for the first time in history. The reason is simple: the campaign brought in more small-dollar fundraising through email, social media, mobile and its website during the final months of the race than initially projected.

In total, according to new campaign calculations acquired exclusively by TIME, the Obama team raised about $690 million digitally in 2012, up from about $500 million in 2008, according to a senior campaign adviser. That number includes all contributions that were given electronically, including some donations that were generated by high-dollar fundraisers but logged through the website.

(MORE: The 2012 Money Race: Romney Relies on Big Donors, While Obama Taps the Grassroots)

When counting only fundraising that was initially generated by digital efforts, including email, social media, mobile and the website, the 2012 campaign raised $504 million, up from $403 million in 2008. Much of that digital campaign cash came in the final months of the campaign. September 2012, for instance, was a better month than September 2008 online. And in October 2012, when there was significant voter excitement and anxiety generated by the presidential debates, digital fundraising increased on a month-over-month basis, instead of decreasing as it did in 2008. The total number of donors to the campaign also increased in 2012, the adviser said. In all, 4.4 million individuals gave to the Obama re-election bid, up from 3.95 million in 2008.

This success runs counter to the conventional wisdom, which held that Obama’s re-election campaign would struggle mightily to approach the enormous grassroots enthusiasm of his first presidential run. It is also a testament to the campaign’s leadership, including Messina, who invested heavily in digital efforts early, and the campaign’s digital team, run by Teddy Goff, Marie Ewald and Blue State Digital’s Joe Rospars, who were able to fine-tune their tactics and techniques for raising money electronically. It may also suggest that American voters over the last four years have become more comfortable with the idea of giving small amounts of money to a presidential campaign online.

Here are some other digital milestones that the 2012 campaign has been celebrating, according to the senior adviser who spoke with TIME:

–The number of likes on Facebook pages for the campaign, including everyone from the President to Michelle Obama to Joe Biden, increased from 19 million to 45 million over the course of the race. The number of Twitter followers increased from 7 million to 23 million. Partly as a result, an image of President Obama embracing his wife, which was tweeted and shared over Facebook on Election Night, became the most shared pieces of content in both social networks’ histories. As of today, the Facebook photo has more than 4.4 million likes, and has been shared more than 582,000 times. President Obama’s interview on the social site Reddit gave the aggregator the biggest traffic spike in its history.

–The campaign’s new social network for supporters, Dashboard, organized more than 358,000 offline events over the course of the campaign. There were 1.1 million RSVPs for those events.

–More than 1 million people downloaded the campaign’s Facebook App, which allowed the campaign to overlay its own voter files with the friend networks of its supporters. In the final weeks of the campaign, the campaign used this information to ask its supporters to directly contact their friends who were targeted voters in key swing states via Facebook, with specific requests for everything from voting early to watching a specific persuasion video. In all, more than 600,000 supporters shared items with an estimated 5 million individual targets through this system. The exact number of people reached, however, is not known; traffic on the system was so high on Election Day that logs of voter activity were taken offline to free up server space.

LIST: Six Things We Learned from Obama’s Facebook Timeline