Obama’s Win a Victory for Social Media?

November 6th, 2008   •   10 comments   

Courtesy of transplanted mountaineer

“Yes we can! Yes we can…….” goes the deafening din in Grant Park, Chicago as history was made yesterday. America and the world is now celebrating the decisive win of Democract Barack Hussein Obama over Republican John McCain in the 2008 US elections.

Was Obama’s win a Web 2.0 Windfall?

For sure, Obama employed social media to the hilt when he triumphed over both the Democratic Primaries and the main Elections itself. His associates deployed a staggering array of new media tools and channels to get the message out to anybody who is online in the US. These include a very Web 2.0 friendly campaign website, Facebook account, Twitter, Myspace account, and tonnes of embedded videos, widgets, applicaitons and so on.

The Obama campaign also appeared in practically all online advertising platforms that are relevant, like Google ads, online banners, and so on. I suppose one of his biggest coup is to get the guru of the online world, Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt to endorse him.

He even developed a cool iPhone application (kudos to Kevin for pointing this out) to encourage folks to vote for him and pass the message on, and has advertised on video games to reach the youths! Friends, this guy knows all about word of mouth marketing on the Internet!

You can get more detailed analyses of Obama’s new media advantage here, here and here.

Is he the world’s first and truly Internet president? Well, let us look at the other facts which tipped the balance in his favour.

First, we need to know that his background and story alone provides substantial fuel for both mainstream and new media sensationalism. Mr Obama is the first black candidate (technically, he is actually half black and half white, which actually makes his story even stronger) to gain such a major advantage in history. He is also a junior senator who completed his first term, and comes from an unconventional background of academic and community activism (as opposed to corporate life).

Next, we need to know that Obama also employed a lot of advertising in mainstream media. This includes the historic 30 minute superbowl television commercial (seen below). Banners, posters, newspaper advertisements, leaflets, magazine advertisements, radio advertisements and the full works was employed during his campaign.

Obama also hired a truckload of publicists to garner mainstream media coverage. This is evident in the positive coverage which he garnered over numerous newspapers, broadcast channels, cable TV, radio, magazines and others.

There is also no doubt that his strong charismatic presence, amazing speech making ability, and immense relationship skills have helped. The world hasn’t seen such power and persuasion in election speeches for a long time. The man also embodies the traits of what many in America and around the world have always rooted for – fairness, equality, can-do spirit, resilience, magnanimity, and a love for humanity.

Don’t forget too that Howard Dean, another social media savvy Presidential candidate, failed miserably against a more traditional foe – John Kerry – at the last Democratic primaries. The fact that John Kerry failed to win against an even more traditional and less tech-savvy president George W Bush is another thing altogether.

Does that mean that social media alone isn’t quite what its hyped up to be? Well it certainly does help. Without the barrage of social media tools and channels at his disposal, Barack Obama is unlikely to gain such phenomenal traction as he did.

However, just depending on social media alone isn’t enough. You need to get your fundamentals right. In this game, Obama had an entire election strategy mapped out which stood him in good ground over all 21 months of it.

Social media certainly helps in generating word of mouth, buzz and positive network effects. However, you still need to be rooted in more traditional disciplines like marketing strategy, business acumen, PR savvy, and plain old emotional intelligence (EQ) to get there.

Obama isn’t just a social media phenomenon, but a total phenomenon.

Update: Siva just informed me that Obama also had armies of folks doing cold calls, visits and other related activities too.

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  1. posted on Nov 06, 2008 at 4:52 AM

    Yes, exactly the point I made during the SMU podcamp v2.

    That traditional and new media are symbiotic, feeding off one another, with trad media providing an additional layer of authority and credibility that the great majority of bloggers, twitterers etc simply do not have.

    The king is dead, long live the king…

  2. posted on Nov 06, 2008 at 6:24 AM

    Nice article, Walter. My sense is that traditional media played a more major role. Some 28 million Americans watched his 30-min television ad spot alone. That’s something like seven Singapore, all watching at the same time. Social media has waves, traditional media can bring a tsunami. But social media I think did garner and sustain a lot of online buzz for Obama, and his efforts were helped by 3rd-party advocates who freely kept the needle moving for him online. Perhaps not a “win” (implying a war), but a “vindication” of the worth of social media?

  3. posted on Nov 06, 2008 at 2:52 PM

    Hi Walter,

    Really enjoyed your talk at Podcamp last Saturday.

    I thought you might be interested in this digital marketing study done comparing McCain and Obama’s Internet marketing Ad spent and its results achieved.


  4. posted on Nov 06, 2008 at 4:04 PM

    With a diversify mix of voters, I think it is the comprehensive communication strategy that helps. Social media is likely to be only one of the many tools employed and I personally don’t think it is a significant contributor compared to the rest.

    Online sites like CNN has great content and very fast update which i think helps for spectators like me.

    Btw are such sites like CNN considered as social media? I think they are pretty cool to be considered as traditional media. 🙂

  5. posted on Nov 07, 2008 at 9:27 AM

    Hi Walter,

    I definitely agree that Obama used a lot of Social Media tools during his entire campaign process – thanks for summing it all up nicely. He’s not just a champion for social media, but I believe, technology in general. Would just like to share this article that you might find interesting. The article is touting him as first “Tech” president.


  6. posted on Nov 07, 2008 at 9:59 AM

    Thanks Charlie for the comments! Agree with you on this.

  7. posted on Nov 07, 2008 at 10:00 AM

    Thanks David. I like your proposed term of vindication of social media. It is pretty accurate as a way of saying that social media isn’t everything but ignore it at your peril!

  8. posted on Nov 07, 2008 at 10:02 AM


    Wow, that’s a cool statistic! What it shows is that even though McCain paid for all the right keywords for sponsored search, he still got roasted by Obama in free searches. I guess it shows that money isn’t the solution all of the time. Which makes me wonder where the bulk of Obama’s massive funds raised go to – certainly a lot of it in traditional media.

  9. posted on Nov 07, 2008 at 10:04 AM


    I think that the websites of CNN, NY Post, CNA, Asiaone and the rest can be considered social media if they exhibit elements of interactivity. If they are purely functioning as information sites, they are considered news portals or websites. I am not too familiar with the technical term for this though it is all just a question of semantics to me.

  10. posted on Nov 07, 2008 at 10:08 AM


    Hey thanks for the link. It would be cool if Lawrence Lessig makes the grade as Chief Technical Officer in Obama’s administration!

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