The Social Success of Obama

By Nov 25, 2008

One thing the recent presidential election has taught us is that this country has changed – both from a social and a marketing perspective. While history books will forever mark November 4, 2008 as the first time Americans elected an African-American President (or any non-Caucasian President for that matter), the Obama for America campaign will be viewed by today’s marketers as a comprehensive case study in how to build a brand in a Web 2.0 world.

As has been dissected by several social media marketing analysts and experts, Barack Obama clearly won the numbers game, dominating John McCain in all areas of social media activity from YouTube video views to Facebook “Fans” and Twitter “Followers.” A key part of Obama’s success was the campaign’s early adoption of social media strategies and their ability to maintain a constant high level of activity (regular updates throughout the campaign, all the while maintaining a consistent brand image and message.) And the essential lesson learned from the success of the Obama campaign: “that people united around a common purpose can achieve great things.”

So what’s the lesson for marketers?

It starts with understanding what social media is and how it’s changed the way people gather and process information and then make decisions. In basic terms, social media describes the tools and platforms people use to publish, converse and share content online. This includes video, podcasts, blogs, discussion boards, user-generated content (UGC) and social networking sites. In fact, 70% of people rely on these social media platforms for product and brand information. By using social media tools to connect and engage with voters—or in our case, consumers—marketers have a greater opportunity to influence people’s opinions and consequently, their choices.

Marketers need to understand that their level of control is limited and the real power lies in the people. After all, social media provides a forum for individuals with specific interests to gather and organize.

Certainly Obama’s team did their job by posting important videos on YouTube and informing supporters about upcoming events through Facebook and Twitter. Their reach was able to grow exponentially as supporters used the same social media tools to pass-along links and broadcast their opinions to their networks of family, friends and even strangers.

Furthermore, user-generated content such as the infamous “I Got a Crush… On Obama” video had a tremendous viral impact receiving millions of views on YouTube. This video in particular may not have swayed very many votes, but it certainly got the Obama name out there at a time when very few people were familiar with it. It also inspired and energized a new group of supporters to show their “love for Obama” by posting their own content across the Internet.

Did this translate into action (i.e., votes)? You betcha!

Based on the same study referenced above, we were able to conclude that one of the biggest advantages of social media is that consumers who visit these Web sites are more likely to take action with the information that they find, whether in the form of a purchase, pass-along, or a vote.

Remember when “community organizer” was the punchline at the Republican National Convention just a few months ago? I guess a social media influencer is sort of like a community organizer. And I can only guess who’s laughing now.

Marketers need to listen, not just talk. Since voters (or consumers) have the power, they want to be heard. Our findings show that 63% want to share their opinions online with a representative from a brand. Social media provides a way to connect directly with these people – to address and respond to their questions, concerns and misconceptions in a timely manner.

This is a concept that President-Elect Barack Obama appears to be taking with him to the White House with the establishment of Change.gov. According the site, “Change.gov provides resources to better understand the transition process and the decisions being made as part of it. It also offers an opportunity to be heard about the challenges our country faces and your ideas for tackling them.”

It’s a Web 2.0 world after all.

Christina Mejia is the market research analyst at DEI Worldwide.