Social Media and The Making of the President

A small portrait of the translator

November 9, 2008 @ 23:03 UTC

Written by


Countries:
South Africa
Candidates:
Barack Obama, John McCain
Issues:
Media & Internet, Government & Politics, Activism & Protest
 

Like all forms of hindsight, post-election prophesies are always 20-20. But this year’s morning-after recollections have been especially grand, especially in terms of the Obama campaign’s use of social media tools to connect with supporters and help him secure the election.

With votes still being counted in a few states, New York Magazine’s John Heilemann claimed that the web played a transformative role in this year’s election, much like television did for the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon contest. Arianna Huffington boasted that without his mastery of the internet, Barack Obama would not be President-Elect today.

For politicians, the worst thing that can happen is to be ignored. ReadWriteWeb reports that between the two political conventions and Election Day, Obama-Biden recorded more than 500 million blog postings. Of course, it couldn’t have all been positive, but compare that to the McCain-Palin ticket, which only received 150 million posts.

Obama also beat out McCain on social networks. In the Summer of 2007, the President-Elect’s campaign began signing fans up to receive “tweets” on Twitter. Obama’s Facebook page has more than a million friends. There’s also the official Barack Obama blog and a separate channel on You Tube. The campaign also leveraged new media platforms like LinkedIn, MySpace, FriendFeed and MeetUp. All these tools helped keep the candidate in peoples' thoughts, help organize supporters and assisted in get-out-the-vote campaigns, especially important considering the number of people who turned out to cast ballots.

Then came the real-time connection with supporters, from Obama texting people to announce his choice for Vice President (http://voices.washingtonpost.com/the-trail/2008/08/11/obama_plans_novel_text_vp_anno.html) to posting Flickr photos from election night. (http://flickr.com/photos/barackobamadotcom/sets/72157608716313371/) These tools worked far from perfectly, but they allowed the campaign to circumvent traditional media and control the flow of information.

From ZenGuide in the United Kingdom, here is a good overview on the importance of social media in this election:

If anyone is still sceptical about the power of social media, all you have to do is take a look at its role in the making of America’s first African American president. Of all the candidates, Barack Obama has probably been the most socially connected online throughout the Democratic nomination race and also in the last year going head to head with John MCain….

But a bunch of social media tools in themselves are not going to make a president all by themselves. The key is how they were used by the Obama campaign. Supporters, fans and followers were encouraged to take an action to show their support for the campaign - whether by organising local events or giving a donation, however small or large, or raising funds. According to the BBC, Obama’s online campaign “attracted more than three million donors. They donated about $650m (£403m) - more than both presidential contenders in 2004 combined.” With an overflowing war chest, he could out-do McCain by buying more airtime in the traditional broadcast media and also extend his own on-the-ground real world contact through more local outreach offices than the Republican campaign.

Obama’s success was not entirely due to social media but he used it smartly in conjunction with other communication tools. Broadcast media is still hugely influential and there’s nothing that will replace face to face human contact whether it’s through speeches at rallies or simply walking among the people and kissing babies. But social media broadened his reach to those people he might not have otherwise been able to connect with and it also enabled ordinary people to do small things which came together as a whole to contibute to an enormous win.

Marc Rogatschnig writes in the South African site Ideate covering small business issues that “the politics of power may be disappearing right before our eyes.”

Obama has secured the most financial support ever in a US presidential campaign and has mobilized over 2 million facebook members to his profile. He has leveraged social media and relied almost entirely on the networks of supporters across the country to mobilize the population. He couldn’t have done that by giving each small support base a daily pep talk; he could only have done that by engaging high energy followship through trusting relationships!

An interesting comment on branding from Fred:

One thing that strikes me about Obama is his brilliant ability in personal branding. He has been consistent and pervasive, his ‘brand positioning’ has been spot on in differentiating himself from the opposition, and his provision of solutions within his message has been outstanding.

Now, the big question is (this is where many marketing and branding campaigns fall flat) is his ability to deliver on the very big promises contained within the message he’s conveyed.

Trevor Cook, who covers PR, social media and politics for the Crickey site in Australia doesn’t expect the Obama administration to put down these tools when it moves into power.

If Obama keeps using social media in the White House, and why not, the impact on corporate, NGO and government interest in social media is going to be huge.

Those of us who have been evangelising corporate social media are in for a fairly exciting time I reckon.

From Grant at One Rock at a Time, entrepreneurs have a lot to learn from the Obama campaign, which won with “perfect (marketing) precision.” Here are a few:

The brand and message stayed the same from start to finish (can anyone remember McCain’s first message??) - it incorporated ‘experience’

…The Obama online campaign didn’t waiver or deviate based on polls or public opinion – it had a well planned strategy and timeline that it followed to the letter. I’m certain there was some flexibility and ‘tweaks’ that happened, but with no prior roadmap or campaign precedent to learn from they leveraged non-political ‘real world’ experience and success to plan a multi channel branding & marketing campaign as if they were launching a new cereal or auto brand.

…Treating the Presidential Candidate as a consumer product, carefully packaged and promoted (and at the right price to make the sale easier), the Obama campaign stepped out of the ‘normal’ mold of big smiles, big promises and baby-kissing. Obama, as an eloquent and effective ‘brand ambassador’ was able to deliver and embody the brand message with a high degree of success (what greater change than a string of white to black?)

Finally, a comment on the blog The Lovable Rogue Also Known as Chris from Danny Brown asks us to get a little more realistic in how we approach social media:

Although I feel social media has more pros than cons, I'm not naive enough to think it's going to solve the world's ills or make your business suddenly take off into the stratosphere.

It's like anything - it has its pluses and benefits. What you get out of it is down to how you use it and using the right tools for your needs.

The one thing I don't like about social media is the surge of self-pronounced experts and gurus. There are definitely some that stand head and shoulders above anyone else in knowledge, but even the best of these experts admit to still learning.

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  • 2 comments

    1. bernardo parrella Says:

      i think we’d stress a simple but often overlooked reality in such a complicated event as the election of any US president: “Obama’s success was not entirely due to social media but he used it smartly in conjunction with other communication tools” (UK’s zenmedia)

      his overall campaign was well organized and carried out, he built a strong support on the ground and reached out to millions of actual people that didn’t use (or know about) the internet – otherwise proabably we would have witnessed another “web 2.0 fiasco” a la howard dean

      and let’s not forget that Obama campaign had/raised a record of $ 600 million, so he could really threw lots of cash in both traditional and new media

    2. Grant Simmons Says:

      Appreciate the quote on my analysis of Obama’s domination of Social Media to gain younger and more fervent support of his platform.

      No doubt, approaching brand development with one consistent (believable) message is a lesson all entrepreneurs and business persons should follow for longevity and success.

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