Articles are emerging everywhere about the Obama campaign and how its use of social media led to its groundbreaking success. Let there be no doubt: the campaign’s insightful, savvy use of tools like Facebook, Twitter, blogging, and of course its brilliantly-concieved (and managed) web presence. Every touchpoint led to success.
It would be easy to hand some of the credit for the Obama victory over to social media–in fact, a number of industry voices have already done so. But to look to social technologies as a, or even THE, reason that the campaign succeeded would be to shortchange both the campaign and the technologies behind it. Obama gained leadership because he believed in the power of people to create change–and he harnessed the right social tools to mobilize this power toward a shared vision and goal.
Social tools are meaningless on their own, or, if not meaningless, little more than a conduit for noise and yammer. As such they work well. The “social grid” is unprecedented in its ability to transmit messages of any sort across connected populations. Free of friction, messages spread–for better or for worse.
It’s easy to imagine a campaign that utilized all of the required social conduits to spread its messages out, utilizing the “tubes” or “highway” metaphors that help people visually depict the “nets” part of the internets phenomonon.
And, sure enough, a campaign could certainly put a car on that highway or potato into that tube and fuel it forward to some desired destination knowing that it would get…somewhere. Maybe not there, but at least somewhere. We might have seen a campaign or two do this in the past months; we’ve certainly see businesses approach social strategy this way.
But if a campaign were to begin with a vision that the true power behind it was the power of people–their voices, their energy, their intelligence–and decided to honor the power of those people by offering tools that let them mobilize their energy toward a goal that they believed in–then, perhaps the destination could be reached.
This is what the Obama campaign did, and did WELL, as the evidence (regardless of the outcome) clearly states. The foundation of the vision began with people. The next level was the articulation of a shared misison, one that these people could rally behind and see as a collective destination. The third level was the creation and utilization of social tools that allowed these people to choose and use the way that they wanted to join this movement and pursue this shared mission.
Obama gave people a destination to move toward and the tools that could help them get there, and the people–the movement–took it from there.
It’s a hard thing to put into words but I think we all felt, regardless of affiliation, Obama’s authentic trust and respect for the PEOPLE in his movement created the movement…the social technologies simply enabled it. This is a key message for any of us that look to use social media in our work or, really, in any way. I see it as one of the first lessons that I will learn from Barack Obama’s leadership. I believe, based on what I’ve seen, that there will be more.
Please–if you have a way to more clearly articulate the thoughts I’m reaching for here, add your comments below. Yes, you can.