2/23/09

Presidency 2.0

A month after the election, Barack Obama’s Myspace page is quiet. A large graphic says “Thank You For Your Support.” The last blog entry posted on the site is dated November 5, a day after the historic presidential election. It’s a copy of the text message he sent to his supporters before giving his acceptance speech in Chicago.
I'm about to head to Grant Park to talk to everyone gathered there, but I wanted to write to you first. We just made history. And I don't want you to forget how we did it. You made history every single day during this campaign -- every day you knocked on doors, made a donation, or talked to your family, friends, and neighbors about why you believe it's time for change.

I want to thank all of you who gave your time, talent, and passion to this campaign. We have a lot of work to do to get our country back on track, and I'll be in touch soon about what comes next. But I want to be very clear about one thing...

All of this happened because of you.

Thank you,

Barack
Cause you know we're on a first name basis. Now that’s some effective social marketing. The note is addressed to the millions of people who connected to the candidate through some form of virtual networking platform. Social marketing is like direct marketing without the sleaze factor. Direct marketing treats people like consumers, social marketing treats them like human beings having a direct conversation. His Myspace page is only quiet because his strategy worked and he’s busy with transitioning to the Presidency.

Obama successfully leveraged large social networks like YouTube, Twitter, MySpace, and FaceBook to help him win the presidency. Additionally he created his own social network called my.Obama.com. With the same tools that movies and bands use to spread awareness and garner popularity, Obama went to where people are now, online, and strategically used these new media behemoths which weren’t even in existence four years ago.

Whether it was signing up to receive the text message announcing his nominee for vice president, or going to the “MyBo” (My Barack Obama) Web site and getting a list of people to call to get out the vote, donating money, or putting a campaign icon on their personal page -- the campaign provided a way for people to get involved and express their support from the convenience of their very own lap top or cell phone. Obama transferred his roots as a community organizer to dispatch his own viral army throughout the web.

“Over the past 21 months, millions of individuals have used My.BarackObama to organize their local communities on behalf of Barack Obama. People in all 50 states have created more than 35,000 local organizing groups, hosted over 200,000 events, and made millions upon millions of calls to neighbors about this campaign,” wrote 25 old Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, primary coordinator for the Obama campaign’s online organizing, on his MyBo Web site.

In the text message Obama sent when he knew that he had won the election but before he gave his speech, he typed, “we just made history,” and “I wanted to write to you first.” The note is intimate, short and inclusive. It makes people feel as though they have a special connection with the candidate himself. Obama has a way of making masses of people feel individually important – like they matter. Obama is a special politician with a strong message and sense of purposeful direction, but many say he never would have been elected without the user-generated content (UGC) based social networking platforms that have found a way to unify the increasingly fragmented population.

A YouTube video is embedded on the MySpace blog entry. It shows the Golden Gate Bridge, the Manhattan skyline, the arch in St. Louis, mountains of rock, corn farms, and anonymous highways. Varied narrators echo the theme of the campaign saying things like, “This is the first time I’ve felt involved in the voting process,” “This is the first time I’ve ever felt compelled to be part of a movement such as this,” “It is the relationships we have with one another, that is our strength,” and “We’re organizing ourselves.” It’s very upbeat, people-positive, and empowering. Folk of every age and type are included, holding handmade signs with the campaign code words, “Hope” and “Change.”.

He had consistent messaging across the web. These are the largest.

Obama has:
3,254,277 Facebook Supporters
1,057,097 MySpace Friends
490,361 BlackPlanet.com Friends
121,620 Twitter Followers
129,906 YouTube Subscribers
7,142 Flickr Contacts

The quiet sharply contrasts the electric fervor of the weeks leading up to the election when several new blog entries were posted daily on each individual network. Blogs instructed readers how to change their icons and how to volunteer, and warned everyone against being too optimistic. Not just the candidate himself, but millions of supporters, celebrities and regular people were creating their own content and expressing their opinions to their own spheres of influence. Whether a family or P. Diddy’s fan base of millions. Twitter, (the popular social network service where members post 140 character stream of consciousness tweets), aficionados had a special election section where people all over the world were posting news on election night at a rate of 50 messages per second. In the last week of the campaign, Obama’s team uploaded over 70 videos to his YouTube Channel.

“If not for the Internet, Barack Obama would not be president or even the democratic nominee,” claimed Arianna Huffington, of the Huffington Post Web site. during a roundtable on the final day of the O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 Summit held two days after the election in San Francisco.

During his address at the same conference, former Vice President Al Gore said, "The new possibilities on the Web have revolutionized almost every aspect of running for president. And the electrifying redemption of America's revolutionary declaration that all human beings are created equal would not have been possible without the additional empowerment of individuals to use knowledge as a source of power."

“No one knows the impact of quasi-permanency on the Web yet, but it surely has changed the political world,” Allan Louden, a professor who teaches a course on digital politics at Wake Forest University, was quoted in The New York Times. “The role of gatekeepers and archivists have been dispersed to everyone with Internet access.”

Obama is being equally proactive in his new role as President-elect. He launched Change.gov, the official Obama and Biden transition Web site until they take office on January 20, 2009. Included are pages describing how Obama’s team will use technology to increase public participation in government and will more fully disclose important information, working toward the Web 2.0 goal of transparency. Updated daily the site promises to change the way government communicates with its citizens.

On Tuesday, November 25th, the Web site added a public commenting widget to the site, facilitating a two-way dialog between the governing team and the governed. The new feature is called “Join the Discussion,” and it asks users, “What worries you most about the healthcare system in our country?” The copy says, “our policy teams will be sharing new developments with you, the American people, and asking for feedback.”

The software they’re using to support the comments is called IntenseDebate, which was recently purchased by blog platform WordPress. It facilitates discussion by allowing people to comment and also vote on the quality of other people’s comments. After a week there were 3,646 comments which appear to be very well thought out and long. There is a place to give private feedback on the comment system itself. In keeping with the collaborative spirit there is a message, “if you have feedback on this commenting system or want to suggest a better way to do this, let us know.”

Change.gov was criticized when it was first launched because it did not offer the opportunity to talk back through public comments. The transition team heard and responded which bodes positively the nation moves into perhaps our first interactive administration. Obama is posting weekly addresses to YouTube. A self confessed Blackberry addict (in tech circles it’s called crack-berry), Obama is comfortable with today’s technological mandate of constant communication. It forces the administration to be more accountable and transparent since very little will be missed with today’s army of video cell phone users, paparazzi and Web site commenters. In a government founded around the concept of checks and balances, everyone with access to a computer or cell phone can be a more vital part of the process.

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