From “Yes We Can” to “Yes We Did”

I don’t care which side of the fence you’re on. Whether you’re Democrat or Republican, you can’t deny that President Obama’s presidency was essentially won with social media in the 2008 election. Of course I don’t doubt that more went into the presidential campaign than a few tweets and some Facebook status updates, but I don’t want to focus on that. I just want to talk about the social media tactics that were strong enough to claw their way in to the Oval Office.

Despite it’s pervasiveness across cultures today, social media is still relatively “young” and it is often thought of as a tool merely used to display the latest weekend conquests of alcohol, uploading pictures of the yummy food someone ate last night, or retweeting some irrelevant quote said by some celebrity…but it can be so much more! And the people who have realized its true potential as a tool to inspire change are the ones who are getting people into the White House. No other administration in history has leveraged social media to the extent that Obama’s hoard has…so what did they do differently and what lessons can be learned from them?

According to, in 2008 Obama’s online efforts included 13 million emails, 4 million digital donors, and 2 million members on, a social network that inspired grassroots campaigning on a scale never seen before in the United States. He also maintained a profile in more than 15 online communities, including BlackPlanet (a MySpace for African Americans) and Eons (Facebook for baby boomers). Of course he used Facebook (who doesn’t?) and with that, was able to reach over 3 million people. In July 2007, a group called “Students for Barack Obama” was created and became extremely effective in mobilizing college-age individuals to vote. Rahaf Harfoush, one of the strategists on Obama’s team during the 2008 campaign, really focused on designing online initiatives that inspired people to actually take action offline…in the real world (what’s that?). The social media committee did not necessarily do anything that was completely new, but rather they mashed a whole bunch of social media platforms together, created a movement, organized locally, fought smear campaigns, and raised a $h*t ton of money (something around half a BILLION dollars?) to clinch the win (and by win, I mean the PRESIDENCY). Wow.
So what can people learn from this?
1. It takes an army to start a social media movement of this scale. Rome wasn’t built in a day and 1 nerdy social media madman doesn’t automatically get 3 million Facebook friends alone.
2. Be accessible. People want the chance to talk and feel like they’re being heard. They no longer want to be passive consumers of information. Obama is nothing but awesome in this regard. While he obviously isn’t the one laying in bed at 2am with a smartphone, creating clever hashtags and tweeting about his random thoughts (he pays people to do that), people are able to converse with staff and get real responses to their concerns, comments, or questions. That means a lot. The Obama campaign is still innovative in this realm…it wasn’t all for show in 2008 and now they’re done with creative thinking. Just a couple months ago, Obama did a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) – a live chat that got so much attention that the site completely crashed (and drew in over 100,000 views during the active AMA).
3. Stand your ground and fight back…but do it with class and dignity. Sometimes I feel like the run for president of the United States is worse than high school presidential elections with all of the name calling and ridiculous rumor spreading (I guess it’s true…men never grow up), but if you fight back with class…that sticks out and makes you more likable in the eyes of the public. Just check out Obama’s response to Clint Eastwood’s “Invisible Obama” routine:
This is pure genius.
4. Don’t take a break. You can’t afford to go silent in the social media sphere. People want constant updates, they want new blog posts to react to, they want to see pictures, they want YouTube videos. You have to keep your audience engaged.
5. Go mobile. People are always on the go, but that doesn’t mean they want to be disconnected from their social networks. It is crucial to make social media accessible anytime, anywhere.
Obama’s tech team is obviously full of technological wizards who know how to push the envelope and harness the power of social media to use it to its upmost potential. It was enough in 2008…will it be  enough in 2012? I guess we’ll see in just one more month. Happy Presidential Debate Day!

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