Social Media and the Election

I spoke on a panel last week for the Columbia Business School Alumni group about Social Media and the election, and while we suspected it, we didn’t know for sure if many of our predictions would come true. However, with Obama as President-Elect, many social network commetators are discussing what the key elements of the success were, and how they can be used by your company or organization.

Many of my Social Media colleagues note that brand is no longer about “what you say your company stands for, but what your customers tell you it stands for.” (I can’t find the original reference for this quote, but it is constantly repeated. Personality Not Included by Rohit Bhargava is a good place to look for info about this concept.)

If that is true, McCain saying he was a “Maverick” over and over didn’t necessarily stick because he wanted people to believe it. His actions, including appointing Sarah Palin as his running mate, contradicted his brand message. Palin had many challenges to the ‘maverick’ branding message, which others can rehash elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Obama enabled his brand to be taken and used by his ‘customers’ everywhere they wanted to be. As Tom Watson, author of the soon-to-be-released CauseWired, notes in OnPhilanthropy:

From the start, the campaign was agnostic about platforms and the content and organizing tools available on migrated almost anywhere a digital conversation could take place. You could easily take your support for Obama on the virtual road, to your own social networks at Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace, by sharing media Flickr and YouTube, by voting up top stories at or by participating in social networks targeted toward various demographic groups, like Eons (Baby Boomers), BlackPlanet (African-Americans), Faithbase (church-goers), (Asian-Americans), and (Latinos).

Making your message portable and shareable is a major element in successful viral or word of mouth marketing campaigns.

I’ve been saying for years that storytelling is how people are most comfortable communicating, and Obama’s campaign had, as noted above, many ways for you to tell “Your Obama story.” Enabling your message to travel, constantly finding ways for people to tell their story about your brand, and guiding but not controlling the message are somewhat new techniques in marketing, and not everyone can do this well.

Yesterday at the Forum One event I attended on Marketing in Online Communities, people talked about the challenges of creating an online community for a brand or product, only to ‘throw it away’ when the promotion was over. The value created in such a community, many participants felt, would be wasted, and consumers would sour to joining such communities in the future. Now that the Obama administration is being created, it will be interesting to see how they tap into their connected ‘user base’ of supporters, or if they do so at all.

Not doing so would be an opportunity wasted.