How Obama Won with Social Media

Involvement through Empowerment.  This was the mission of the Barack Obama campaign. The first political campaign in history to truly harness the power of social media to spread the word, garner support and get people engaged. The Obama campaign reached 5 million supporters on 15 different social Networks over the course of campaign season; by November 2008, Obama had approximately 2.5 million (some sources say as many as 3.2 million) Facebook supporters, 115,000 Twitter followers, and 50 million viewers of his YouTube channel. “No other candidate has ever integrated the full picture the way [Obama] has, that’s what’s really new about his campaign,” said Michael Malbin, executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute.

And how exactly did they use technology to change the face of campaigning?   The campaign didn’t simply create a Facebook fan page and a YouTube account and expect things to take off: they created an energy of involvement, of participation, and a sense of purpose in their supporters, each of which was funneled through social networking technologies.  The medium wasn’t the message, so to speak; it was the vehicle.  It connected real people, with real enthusiasm, in real time, and gave them an easy and accessible way to show their support for change.  Obama’s ever-present campaign slogan was, “Change we can believe in”.  In retrospect, the slogan could have been, “Change we can be a part of.”

We can all learn something from the Obama campaign when looking to recreate this sense of energy and involvement:

Focus on the individual; When you think about what you’d like to achieve in your project, always think in terms of one person and stay focused on that individual. The Obama campaign stayed focused on Obama. This idea came directly from the way people on the campaign personally connected to Obama. “I connected to Barack as an individual first. It just so happened that he was in politics,” Chris Hughes said in an interview with Fast Company.

Be authentic: Obama brought personal connection to the social web, which is what was so effective about his campaign, says Randi Zuckerberg, who led marketing, political, and social change initiatives on Facebook. “One thing that really strikes me about Obama’s Facebook page is how authentic he is. He has his favorite music up there, his interests, basketball, spending time with kids, Godfather I and II are his favorite movies. His staffers were constantly updating their profiles, telling people they were on the campaign trail or eating pizza or stuck in traffic. It was this kind of voice that made everyone feel like they were in one conversation together.”

Remember: every bit of support counts. 80% of the $639 million dollars Obama raised came from donations that were 20 dollars or less.  The Obama campaign acknowledged that everyone, regardless of income or background, is an important participant in creating change. Over the course of the campaign, the team hosted two “Dinner with Barack” events, broadcasting the events on YouTube and on the campaign’s website. Those videos went viral when viewers re-posted them on their blogs.The team selected four donors who had given any amount and who had shared their stories about why they were motivated to donate. It promoted the unusual effort on (nicknamed MyBO by volunteers): “While a typical political dinner these days consists of officials being wined and dined by Washington lobbyists and bigwigs from special interest PACs, Barack will be sitting down with four regular people from across the country, who will share their stories and discuss the issues that matter most to them.”

More generally, the campaign maximized their message by creating a clear goal and funneling all their energy towards garnering support to achieve it.  Consider this mini-case of ideas presented in The Dragonfly Effect:

Present a focused message and vision.  Obama focused on three key words: Hope, Change, Action.

Map out your digital landscape.  Know the top bloggers, the top social networks, and the central communications hubs.

Build relationships. Listen, be authentic, and ask questions.

Have a clear call to action: Every action in the Obama campaign was geared toward getting people to vote.  The sole purpose of online activity was to create offline activity.

Empower brand ambassadors.  Embrace co-creation; let the brand evolve without you directing all of the evolution.

The Obama campaign illustrated the massive, meaningful impact that social media can have on getting young people engaged and involved. was not merely a website; it was a movement that made politics accessible through social media people were already using every day.  It changed the face of political campaigns forever; but even more so, it made getting involved as easy as opening up an internet browser and creating an online profile.  Above all, The Obama campaign made history: It showed the power of social media to do nothing short of changing the world.