John F. Kennedy was helped into the White House by the increasing popularity of a new medium: television. The same can be said about President-Elect Barack Obama, who was greatly helped by a new medium: social media.
Colin Powell’s October 19 endorsement of Obama was posted on the Web within minutes. This election forced traditional broadcasters to quickly adjust how they covered election news; otherwise, people would find and get the content elsewhere (YouTube, Wikipedia, blogs, podcasts, etc.). Hence, after Powell’s endorsement on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” NBC had it ready to go on msnbc.com.
NBC was also wise enough to post the clip before the show aired on the West Coast. Obviously, they learned from their prior mistakes with the summer Olympic coverage. It’s essential that traditional broadcasters embrace social media, otherwise they will be overrun into oblivion.
Users look at several media sources in combination to formulate an opinion. Networks that recognize this and attempt to work effectively with the new forms of social media will survive.
“We should be careful of these zero-sum games where the new media drives out the old,” Andrew Heyward, a former president of CBS News who consults for the Monitor Group, told the New York Times. “I think what we see is growing sophistication about making the channels work together effectively.”
Social Media as a Strategy, Not an Afterthought
Perhaps due to his large appeal to younger audiences, but more likely due to limited funding at the outset of his campaign, Obama embraced social media from the beginning. He knew he had a chance to dominate this medium over his Democratic opponents, whereas dominating traditional media (newspapers, television, radio) would be far more difficult against his well-known opponent, Hillary Clinton. Because of the hard fought primary battle, he was already in a great social media position when he won the nomination and entered the presidential race.
His social media followers and supporters didn’t go away. Rather, they grew substantially and contributed in record sums — with $5 and $10 donations quickly adding up to a multi-million dollar advertising arsenal.
By the time Obama was elected, he had more than 3.1 million fans on his Facebook fan page. This number didn’t include the various other fan pages and groups like “Students for Obama,” “Pride for Obama,” “Michelle Obama,” “Florida for Obama,” “Michigan for Obama,” “Pennsylvania for Obama,” “Women for Obama,” etc.
This is in stark contrast to John McCain, who had 614,000 supporters for his fan page the day of the election and whose next-largest fan page was for his wife Cindy with only 1,700 fans. On MySpace, Obama had 833,161 friends to McCain’s 217,811 and this disparity held true on Twitter where Obama attracted 113,000 followers to McCain’s 4,650.
Looking to YouTube, the disparity was even greater near the election. The barackobamadotcom YouTube channel had more than 20 million views, whereas the johnmccaindotcom channel had just over 2 million views. A year and a half before the election, a very attractive and slightly talented girl released the “I Got A Crush…on Obama” video. Items like this helped fuel “Obamamania.” This video was viewed 11.5 million times by Election Day.
Again, in McCain’s defense, his voting base skewed older and they don’t use these tools as prevalently, if at all, but what a huge advantage for Obama. Obama used social media to his advantage in the Democratic and national races.
Lessen the Violent Swings of Broadcast News
This leveraging of peer-to-peer communication helped mitigate the violent swings that can be caused by traditional media, and is one big reason why he overcame the Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversy.
“No one knows the impact of quasi-permanency on the Web yet, but it surely has changed the political world,” said Allan Louden, a professor who teaches a course on digital politics at Wake Forest University. “The role of gatekeepers and archivists have been dispersed to everyone with Internet access.”
Obama’s team also creatively provided their own footage of things that the network would die to have, such as behind-the-scenes items showing how the man acts when the lights aren’t on and how he interacts with his family and those closest to him. These had decent production quality, but even if they had the money, you wouldn’t necessarily want top level editing since that somewhat destroys the authenticity of this grassroots piece you’re attempting to create.
“I have been an Obama friend since early on,” said social media user Lance Muller of Decatur, Georgia. “In social media, he actually pokes you and sends memos and stuff. I don’t know if it is really him, but it makes you feel more in touch with the process. The campaign was genius to utilize the social network.”
Country’s First CTO
Knowing that social media users rely on the general freedom afforded the Web, the Obama camp smartly appealed to their base by introducing a chief technology officer position to the president’s cabinet. The main role of the CTO is to “ensure that our government and all its agencies have the right infrastructure, policies and services for the 21st century.”
Advertisers need to become more providers of content. Obama’s campaign did just that when they placed ads pushing an early voting message in EA games, most prominently in a racing game called “Burnout Paradise.” These games are socially interactive, and users are able to compete with each other around the globe. Obama’s campaign for this particular campaign targeted them to players in 10 battleground states.
The key to this form of advertising: it provides benefit to the player of the game. It appears more real-time with seamless and wireless updates to the game to allow for such real-time product placement. In this case, the product placement was Obama with the specific message of early voting.
While social media isn’t the entire or even main reason Obama was elected (e.g., economy), it’s probably one of the main reasons why he was even at the “dance” in the first place.
Can your business and marketing efforts learn from how Obama was able to build his “brand” from obscurity to the Oval Office using social media?