When Obama announced his candidacy in 2007, Twitter had only just started and there wasn’t even an iPhone yet. In 2008, McCain’s campaign was as social-media-deaf as Obama’s was social-media-savvy. Like JFK was the first president who really understood television, Obama is the first social media president. In 2012, Obama not only had the expertise on his team, he had an established social media machine up and running. Since social media is about relationships, having a running start building those connections is a distinct benefit.
The Competitive Problem
President Obama realized the value of social media to a greater extent than anyone else in politics. During the 2008 election, Obama incited a younger generation of voters and actively discussed and posted his political views on social media sites. Obama won by nearly 200 electoral and 8.5 million popular votes. A major success factor was how Obama’s campaign used social media and technology as an integral part of its strategy, to raise money, and, more importantly, to develop a groundswell of empowered volunteers who felt they could make a difference.
In 2008, the Obama presidential campaign spent $643,000 out of $16 million Internet budget to promote his Facebook account. On June 17, 2008, after Hillary Clinton ended her campaign, number of followers of Barack Obama’s Facebook account increased to one million. Meanwhile, in addition to Facebook accounts of Barack and Michelle Obama and Joe Biden, the Obama team created ten more Facebook accounts for “specific demographics, such as Veterans for Obama, Women for Obama, and African Americans for Obama.” Obama’s campaign garnered 5 million supporters on social networks. By November 2008, Obama had approximately 2.5 million (some sources say 3.2 million) Facebook supporters, outperforming McCain by nearly four times. Obama had over 115,000 followers on Twitter, more than 23 times those of McCain. Fifty million viewers spent 14 million hours watching campaign-related videos on YouTube, four times McCain’s viewers. The campaign sent out 1 billion e-mails, including 10,000 unique messages targeted at specific segments of their 13-million member list. The campaign had garnered 3 million mobile and SMS subscribers.
Last year when the 2012 presidential election began to kick off, Obama had five times as many Twitter followers and eight times as many Facebook fans as the combined Republicans. He was also quite active on YouTube to answering questions submitted on the video-sharing network. Obama had more than 13 million followers on Twitter and 25.5 million likes on Facebook, while his opponent Mitt Romney had about 376,000 followers and 1.5 million likes, followed by Newt Gingrich who had more than 1.4 million followers and 295,979 likes. The disparity in social media focus was a major component to the Democratic campaign success. Google dedicated a website to tracking or documenting the digital campaign trail on social media’s impact on the 2012 election. http://www.google.com/elections/ed/us
The topic of Barack Obama’s usage of social media in his political campaigns, including podcasting, Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube has been compared to the adoption of radio, television, MTV, and the Internet in slingshotting his presidential campaign to success. Obama’s official website is barackobama.com. It is run by Chris Hughes, one of the three co-founders of Facebook, and has been described as a “sort of social network”. Steve Spinner, a member of Obama’s National Finance Committee, says that while previous campaigns have used the internet none had yet taken full advantage of social networking features. The website included online tools that allowed members to identify neighbors that the Obama campaign thought might be potential backers and then report back on any resulting conversations.
Members (my.barackobama.com) could also create blogs, post photos, and form groups through the website, but each member must publish limited biographical profile and no more than one photo. According to Hughes, during the 2008 campaign, over two million accounts were created for the website to “organize their local communities on behalf of Barack Obama”. He estimates that more than 200,000 events were organised through the website. Moreover, 400,000 articles were written in blogs. 400,000 videos that supported Obama were posted into YouTube via the official website. 35,000 volunteer groups were created. $30 million were spent by 70,000 people into their own fundraising webpages. In the final four days of the 2008 campaign, three millions phone calls were made through the website’s internet virtual phone.
President Barack Obama made a surprise half-hour visit to the social news website Reddit on August 29, 2012. Using an Ask Me Anything (AMA) format, the President garnered 3.8 million page views on the first page of his self-post. Users left 22,000 comments and questions for the President, 10 of which he answered. The answered question’s topics included more serious topics, from the most difficult decision made during his first term to a plan to end the corruption of money in politics. Some included a more lighthearted focus, like the recipe for the tasty White House beer. In response to Obama’s use of Reddit, many noted the bypassing of generally established channels of mainstream media in use during the 2012 campaign in favor of less-filtered and closer forms of communication. When asked why Obama logged on to Reddit, one campaign official responded “Because a whole bunch of our turnout targets were on Reddit.” By using a newer, underutilized media channel like Reddit, Obama’s campaign acknowledged a largely unaddressed demographic of unlikely voters on social internet boards.
Here is how granular the Campaign got (and still is!). Very few people know about Klout, do you? Every state has created a social entity for the official “Obama for America” campaign, such as; “Obama for America – Nevada”. The Klout account for this entity is http://klout.com/#/OFA_NV (with a stand-alone Klout score of 62, compared to Barrack Obama’s personal Klout score of 99 – including what is purported by Klout to be the most important page on Wikipedia). This official state campaign entity also has a dedicated Twitter account at https://twitter.com/OFA_NV (25,533 followers) and a dedicated Facebook account at https://www.facebook.com/OFA.Nevada (25,540 likes). There are similar accounts for each state, such as “Obama for America – Florida” (Klout score 63, https://twitter.com/OFA_FL 35,070 followers, https://www.facebook.com/ofa.fl 90,835 likes) – and “Obama for America – Ohio” (Klout score 62, https://twitter.com/OFA_OH 34,211 followers, https://www.facebook.com/ofa.oh 93,263 likes) and the pattern is repeated for each state which has its own network of social media accounts. These accounts are still actively posting issue information! Consistent brand…consistent messaging…consistent participation.
“Obama for America” has now been rebranded into “Organizing for Action” (conveniently making the OFA brand reusable) and is continuing even as you read this to bring the tools, knowledge, networks, technology and volunteers together (post election now) to fight to enact the President’s agenda.
The Required Solution
Social Media has introduced an entirely new dynamic to the political landscape and created a new political dialogue. It takes the power of political messaging away from the mass media model and places it firmly into peer-to-peer, public discourse. The most important aspect of social media is that more than ever before, the average citizen can be heard. More than just being heard, the average citizen can impact the outcome of political events in ways never before possible. The impact of social media represents a unique opportunity for the individual to shape the future of our political landscape. There has never been a more important time where the collective “we” can make a change in the way solutions are achieved. This is all about helping individuals figure out what their contribution to solving issues of our time is going to be and then getting them connected to where they can contribute. This is all about ingenuity, intelligent design, technology and rapid adaptation being used in advancing the human involvement in politics never before seen. Being a part of the Social Media sphere releases individuals to impact the political landscape, compared to being a part of the traditional entrenched political establishment which traditionally builds silos and does not recognize the involvement of the individuals. Unshackled by centuries of limiting conditions defined by the traditional powers, we are at a unique crossroads in history where advances in technology, communication and global awareness provide the ingredients to change how political agendas are advanced.
However, that being said, there needs to be an over-arching solution that helps guide the implementation of a national social media strategy that can provide a balancing solution to what is right now a lopsided platform favoring the Big Government agenda.
The birth of a social movement to share the vision of Small Government needs what sociologist Neil Smelser calls an initiating event: a particular, individual event that will begin a chain reaction of events in the given society leading to the creation of a social movement. For example, American Civil Rights movement grew on the reaction to black woman, Rosa Parks, riding in the whites-only section of the bus (although she was not acting alone or spontaneously – typically activist leaders lay the groundwork behind the scenes of interventions designed to spark a movement). The Polish Solidarity movement, which eventually toppled the communist regimes of Eastern Europe, developed after trade union activist Anna Walentynowicz was fired from work. The South African shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo grew out of a road blockade in response to the sudden selling off of a small piece of land promised for housing to a developer. Such an event is also described as a volcanic model – a social movement is often created after a large number of people realize that there are others sharing the same value and desire for a particular social change.
Social Media SuperPAC is the initiating event required to launch the Conservative Agenda into a competitive social media presence. The current GOP Establishment just doesn’t get it, as evidenced by their virtual lack of any cohesive strategic social media plan.