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What Businesses Can Learn from Barack Obama's Social Media Strategy

What did Barack Obama get right in his use of social media, what opportunities were missed, and what can business leaders learn from all this?

It's the day before President-Elect Obama becomes President Obama, and I'm sitting at my desk prepping for a TV segment on our first wired president.

I'm obviously not the only one aware of Obama's comfort-level with technology: he had 3 million online donors during the election and 2 million people were passionate enough to create profiles on my.barackobama.com.

Barack Obama gets the Internet and social media the way that Kennedy got TV. You've heard the story of how radio listeners thought Nixon won the debates but televsion viewers saw it the other way around? Kennedy was built for TV and Obama is built for the Internet age.

Where can you find Obama online? Well at his Web site he lists no fewer than 16 social media sites where he has a presence, including MySpace, Facebook and Twitter.

Although he's famous for his Blackberry addiction, I don't think anyone actually believes he's handling all of his social media activities himself. I'd question whether he even knows all of his passwords. (God knows I don't.)

However, since no president is expected to know all and do all (this is why they have a VP, cabinet and about a million other people to whom they delegate,) I don't think we should be upset about this.

What Obama did so successfully is that he went to where his customer base was. He could no longer afford to meet with everyone at their kitchen tables, but he could friend them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter. He could connect with specific ethnic groups through MiGente (Latinos), BlackPlanet (African-Americans), Glee ("gay, lesbian and everyone else") and others. (Note to self: is JDate the only Jewish social media site? Can't be.)

Further, he used sites like Flickr and YouTube to distribute his "message of hope." He encouraged supporters to create their own content and that idea, and those images and videos, went viral.

In addition to social media sites you can sign up for a few different email mailing lists, or text "HOPE" to 62262. There are even a dozen or so Obama apps in the iTunes store, although none of them appeared to be officially sanctioned.

The takeaway for businesses. It seems obvious: go to where your customers are; join their groups, participate in their conversations, and contribute to their communities.

Now, the difference is that many of us don't have the built in support and name recognition of Barack Obama, nor do we have the DNC behind us. Nor do we have a built-in audience of about half of America or the luxury of only one true competitor.

Also, although Barack Obama contributed to social media, I don't know that I'd say he participated. In other words, I didn't see any tweets from the Obama team that included @therichbrooks or other Twitter users. My LinkedIn request is still in his inbox (admittedly, I only reached out to him on Friday.) On Facebook I'm a supporter of Barack Obama the politician, not a friend of the man.

I'm expecting that we'll look back on this election as the beginning of the Internet age for politics, when politicians realized that they couldn't ignore social media, and it wasn't just a bunch of geeks on these sites. Future candidates will need to participate in social media, not just use it as a marketing channel.

Early TV programs were basically just radio shows with moving pictures; they didn't understand this was a completely new medium. Likewise, politicians currently use social media like enhanced TV or radio spots; in the future they'll need to experiment in this medium and learn how to use it to its potential.

We'll always be able to look at President Obama for being the first candidate to successfully (sorry, Howard Dean) use the Internet and social media to get his message out. But we're just crossing over into the Promised Land.

Big thanks to Barack 2.0 which has a lot of great, deep material on Obama's use of social media.

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2 Comments

  • Jill Bullock

    Hi Rich,

    President Obama's understanding and application IS fascinating isn't it. I wanted to thank you for your poignant thoughts. Regardless of one' personal political affinity, you can't argue with success! President Barack Obama's utilization of social and other emerging media has been phenominal. You do an excellent job of bringing this accomplishment to light. Thanks for the find and the assistance your research provided in my Emerging Media blog. www.blog.leighpublishing.com

    Warmest Regards,
    Jill Leigh Bullock
    TWITTER: @LeighPublishing

  • Carolyn Phillips

    Amazing, Rich. I miss being in the office and gleaning all that you learn while we make coffee in the morning. But I still follow your lead and your amazing advice. I too have been stunned by the power of Barack's online presence. I am too entrenched in client work to keep up with all of the social media and other news. I lean on you for that. Thanks for being the best resource I know for promoting business on line.