This week’s blog post is about the Obama 2008 campaign and its wildly successful integration of social media tools to win the presidency AND about the state of the presidency now, a week before the 2010 mid-term elections.
I’ll start off by stating up front that I am apolitical and a cynic. I’m very thankful that I was out of the country for both the 2004 and the 2008 election cycles and didn’t have to be bombarded on a daily basis by election materials. In fact, I probably know more about the provincial election system in Iraq and politics in Salah ad Din province than I do about US politics.
My memory of the 2008 election furnished me with snippets about text messages, crazy rumors that Obama is (fill in the blank) and lipstick on a bear (pit bull?? Teacup??).
A review of the reading material about the campaign’s social media integration is very impressive. The Obama campaign didn’t invent new tools; they took existing ones and integrated them to motivate people into action. That’s where their success came from, in contrast to the Dean campaign of 2004. The Edelman review of the campaign sums it up nicely: “The Obama campaign leveraged all the tools of social media to give ordinary Americans access to resources usually reserved for professional campaign operatives.” Also, integrating the online communications team into the rest of the campaign instead of treating it as an afterthought was key to the success of the campaign.
I was amazed to read about the integrated Houdini database (it’s so obvious and reminiscent of the restructuring of the US intelligence system post 9-11); the ability for ordinary people to make campaign phone calls (who knew? I thought all calls were robo-calls) and the constant communication between the campaign staff and both the active campaign volunteers and ordinary people who signed up for more information on the websites.
Applying Shirky’s “plausible promise, effective tool, and acceptable bargain” formula to the Obama campaign shows us:
Plausible Promise: Support the campaign/vote for Obama
Effective Tool: Social Media integration
Acceptable Bargain: Give us your information and time, we will empower you to campaign for a cause you believe in
The Obama campaign was able to effectively mobilize people into action by their effective organization plans, their use of social media tools and their ability to make people think their contribution to the campaign was valued, noticed and appreciated. In short, they were effective communicators ala Cluetrain (campaigns are conversations).
The Obama campaign support base was transformed into Organizing for America and placed under the Democratic National Committee after the election. It marked the first time the DNC, or any national political party, would have an arm that focused on policy, rather than elections. I took a look at the website today though, and it looks pretty much like a campaign website to me, complete with get out the vote material and all the tools used in the 2008 election still there. I did find the ability to buy a “Health Care Reform is a BFD” t-shirt or “Future President” onesie (Free Standard Shipping!) on the website though, so that was an amusing diversion.
It seems to me that the Obama administration has not done as well at communicating with its base of supporters as it did during the campaign. If campaigns or presidencies are conversations, I didn’t see much of that reflected on the White House website or the OFA website. Their twitter stream seems about what you’d expect (but a little humorous/partisan snarky) from a government agency and their 13 (!) White House blogs do not have the ability to leave comments. Is anyone actually reading the blogs? It reminded me of the “should the CEO blog” question we talked about a few weeks ago. If you blog in a forest, does anyone hear it? Wait, I think that applies to this blog too. Hmm. To be fair though, the blogs are there for anyone to look at and they do give a lot of information about hot topics in an effort to be transparent and I appreciate that.
The only evidence of a ‘conversation’ I found was on the White House Facebook page. Boy, was I sorry I clicked on it though, because it was worse than the comments thread on a contentious story in the newspaper. People were attacking each other left and right (get it, left and right, haha). To their credit, the administration isn’t stifling ‘debate’ and doesn’t seem to be deleting comments that I could tell. So I guess that is a conversation of sorts, although it’s not really between the White House and the people, it’s between the people themselves.
It looks like the Obama team has realized that governing is not the same as campaigning, as Ari Melber writes. It isn’t rallying activists for a cause, it is making concessions with the other side to pass legislation. Looks like the Obama administration had to abandon the highs of campaigning for the realities of politics (as usual?). To me that is where I question Organizing for America’s effectiveness. Again, I missed most of the health care debate, but it seems to me that if 13 million people are on the OFA mailing list, certainly they could have mobilized them in support of passing the health care legislation (or any legislation for that matter) and have them work at the grassroots level to spread the world in communities around the country. It looks like they tried to do it, but the mainstream media didn’t ever pick up on it and the debate got hijacked into death panels and contentious town hall scream-a-thons. Is that progress? Not in my opinion.
I don’t think the Obama administration is doing as well at having a conversation or at having the promise/bargain/tool as the Obama campaign did. But I question is that the purpose of an administration? They have to face the realities of governing. Sure, they could improve their conversation ability but in the end politics is politics and you have to strike deals to get anything done. Where they can improve is in explaining to the American public where they have been successful and why they are a good administration.
As a fun aside, I did notice that it doesn’t matter if everyone is coming, to paraphrase Clay Shirky, I only care about the people I care about. I have 1 Facebook friend (a certain magazine editor who shall remain nameless) in common with the White House. In terms of Dunbar’s number, the White House Twitter stream is only following 109 others…interesting.