Obama’s Victory: the REAL foundation of success


Building a Movement
Building a Movement

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.

Forrester’s Jeremiah Owyang showed Obama’s social media success in comparative stats. 

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.


5 thoughts on “Obama’s Victory: the REAL foundation of success”

  1. A look at the two teams (Obama and McCain) as played out at Kiva.org

    Kiva Team Obama formed Sep 4, 2008, 1372 members, 3563 loans, $100,950.00 loaned

    Kiva Team McCain formed Sep 3, 2008, 118 members, 316 loans, $10,125.00 loaned

    Kiva Obama Team is #1 and Kiva McCain team is #32 (out of 2,419 total teams)

    People taking meaningful action thru Kiva on behalf of their candidate.

  2. Let me just quote from the Cluetrain Manifesto:
    “11. (…) Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally.”

    But besides of Obama being a catalyzer that mobilises & motivates hidden energies, I think he also is a great leader who convinced many of us with his simple mission. Change is/was inevitable anyways.

    See his speech in Berlin – my mum (66) had called me that day, telling me that she had really liked his speech – and she’s one of the rather sceptic types who wouldn’t buy the usual empty phrases, or even this great patriotism the German postwar-generation still has problems with. And she also isn’t using Twitter or Facebook (although she often reads my blog, asking me questions like “who’s supposed to read all that stuff?”).

    So it’s not just the social media tools and empowering people to connect with each other, but also he himself – his good image / the great product – he managed to market wise enough.

    I would even want to compare it with the recent PC/Mac adds: if you buy a Mac, you know that your options are limited but that it will work out in the end and empower your creativity (at least that’s what I am told). So, obviously, both Obama and Macs are sexier products to promote than the known alternatives.

    Another factor for his success for me is the atmosphere he managed to convey: hope, love, co-operation.
    The other side, it feels, only continued building up this atmosphere of fear, terror, danger, threats and so on.

    I think the biggest impact his election has is that the public image of the USA has completely changed overnight from very bad to “hey, this is cool!”.

    As for me, I will try to see how we can use this approach for a not-so-sexy product like ecological sanitation projects – the field I am active in.

  3. Your post makes me wonder: was Obama’s brilliance in leadership or in vision?

    In other words, how much did Obama personally pay attention to any of the social media, either in asking that it be set up or supervising it?

    I don’t know that I’ve seen any indication in the reporting on the subject. He might have been quite involved in looking at Twitter and Facebook and in Text Messages. Or he may have had a much more hands-off approach, with general guidelines for what he wanted done, and asking those more in the know to go and do what seemed right on behalf of the campaign to do it.

    A great leader needs to know more about motivating and empowering people to user their inate talent and experience to move together in a certain direction than about any of the details and mechanics of the movement.

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