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President Obama and First Lady celebrate their win. Photo: (Twitter/President Obama)

With A Single Tweet, President Obama Revealed How To Become A Powerful Social Brand

As of this writing, "Four more years" has been re-tweeted almost 900,000 times and favorited by almost 300,000 people. But what the tweet reveals about social branding is far more telling.

"Four more years." Three simple words that could have been written by any Democratic supporter but in this case they came from the President of the United States himself to announce his second term.

This tweet is notable for several reasons, not the least of which is that it has now entered the history books as the most re-tweeted tweet of all time. In fact, as of this writing, it has been re-tweeted almost 900,000 times and "favorited" by almost 300,000 people. But what it reveals about social branding is far more telling.

A social brand is an organization that engages in a real-time dialogue with its community using social, mobile, and gaming technologies to build its reputation, profits, or social impact. In this case, the brand was the president and the message he chose to send was three short words that gave expression to his supporters' voices rather than congratulating himself. And by being so succinct, it was readily shareable (given Twitter's 140-character limit), even leaving room for people to add their own comments as they re-tweeted the message. As such, this seemingly simple message was a powerful example of using social media in a community facing rather than self-centered way to leverage the powerful emotions sweeping the country to amplify the message.

Equally instructive is the image the president and his team chose to represent this truly historic moment. No doubt the options were endless ranging from a photo of the president waving from a POTUS podium shrouded in confetti, to the president and Vice President Biden standing arm in arm, to a formal portrait of the president and vice president with their wives.

Instead, the Obama team again struck at the heart of powerful storytelling by sharing an image that was intimate and vulnerable instantly humanizing the president and first lady, making them accessible and the image compelling to share. The private moment seen in the photo beautifully captured the mixed emotions of anxiety, relief, and joy that the couple were sharing with at least 53% of the voters in the nation. Again, by choosing to use that moment to give expression to the feelings of their supporters, rather than to merely focus on the president himself, the Obama team inspired millions of Democratic voters to share the tweet with their friends and peers.

There are several important social branding lessons that can be drawn from this now historic tweet. First, social media is not an end in itself but rather new channels through which to trade in the timeless currency of human emotion. Second, to deeply engage and audience and inspire them to share a message, a brand must position itself as the chief celebrant rather than celebrity of its community. Third, every social brand must design its messaging to drive fan action (in this case, sharing), rather than mere acquisition.

This single tweet demonstrated all three qualities by revealing a private moment in public, by giving expression to the feelings of their supporters through the image of the president and first lady, and as a result, by creating a tweet was exponentially shared. Perhaps, more than anything, the tweet demonstrated that to communicate effectively as a social brand, an individual, company or institution must focus on the "story" as much as the "telling." Too many brands treat social media as a one way, broadcast channels, rather than a two-way dialogue through which emotional storytelling can be transferred.

This single tweet represents the high-water mark in social branding by leveraging a historic moment, the emotion of a divided nation and the strategic storytelling dynamics of social media to create the most shared tweet in history. The same potential to reach millions of people so economically is open to all brands that consistently combine the power of human storytelling and social technologies to inspire countless citizens and consumers to amplify their message. In doing so they will not only dramatically build their reputation, community, and social impact, but also ensure they too have a place in our future.

—Simon Mainwaring is the founder of We First, an award-winning social branding firm consulting to Fortune 100 companies, and author of the New York Times bestseller We First (voted Best Marketing Book of 2011 by strategy+business) and an international speaker.

Photo: (Twitter/President Obama)

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10 Comments

  • MrBrownThumb

    What the article fails to mention is that this was probably the most successful instance of advertising on social media. The tweet in question was a promoted tweet, shown to millions and even Emailed by Twitter to non-followers of the President. I don't follow his Twitter accounts and I got an Email from Twitter about this very tweet on November 8th. The takeaway  here is that if you advertise to millions of people hundreds of thousands will take action. 

  • Simon Mainwaring

    Thanks so much and thanks a great point I overlooked. It's a multi-platform strategy and that drove it's success. thanks so much for sharing. Simon

  • Emm

    Justin Bieber also gets lots of tweets. Doesn't mean people know how to elect an economically sound president. This picture is nice, and paints a rosy picture. So do diet pills. But in the end, they never work. 

  • Simon Mainwaring

    Thanks E,mm. the focus of the article was not the economic views of the President or whether they will work but what made that single piece of communication so effective. Media is a powerful tools that serves any interest when used correctly so it's important to understand what works. Thanks for the feedback. Simon

  • Simon Mainwaring

    Thanks for your feedback, Coug. Is there anything you'd like to add to the thoughts?

  • Cesar Merlos

    "Three simple words that could have been written by any Democratic
    supporter but in this case they came from the President of the United
    States himself to announce his second term."

    That's not true.

    In the bio description of Barack Obama it clearly says "This account is run by #Obama2012 campaign staff. Tweets from the President are signed -bo."

    So all the praise you've given thinking you were praising the President actually should be praising his campaign team.

    Please clarify that, your readers deserve to know that the POTUS is not an expert and savvy social media communicator but has just an excellent media staff.

  • Simon Mainwaring

    asar and I hear you. Twice in the article I mention his team as well as it's obviously a collaborative effort. But they are all committed to serving his personal brand during the election, so the President should not be excluded as ultimately he has responsibility and oversight. Thanks for the feedback. Simon