Obama’s Win a Victory for Social Media?

November 6, 2008 Social Influence 10 comments

Barack Obama 2008
Courtesy of The Duran

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

Was Obama’s win a Web 2.0 Windfall? Or did he also depend on other more traditional means of getting the word out?

Obama’s Social Media Campaign

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 was online in the US.

These included 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 were relevant, like Google ads, online banners, and so on.

I suppose one of his biggest coup was to get the guru of the online world, Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt to endorse him.

Barack Obama 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. That’s not all. He even advertised on video games to reach the youths!

Friends, this guy knew all about Word Of Mouth marketing and buzz marketing on the Internet!

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

The World’s First Internet President?

Was Barack Hussein Obama 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 provided substantial fuel for both mainstream and new media sensationalism.

Mr Obama was the first black candidate (technically, he is actually half black and half white, which sort of made his story even stronger) to gain such a major advantage in history.

He was also a junior senator who completed his first term, and came from an unconventional background of academic and community activism brilliance. Unlike the other candidates, Obama did not come from a corporate background.

Mainstream Media Advertising

Next, you need to know that Obama also employed a lot of advertising in mainstream media.

This included his historic 30 minute Super Bowl television commercial (seen below).


Beyond that, banners, posters, newspaper advertisements, leaflets, magazine advertisements, radio advertisements and the full works were employed during his campaign.

Public Relations and Overflowing Charisma

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

Of course, we had little doubt that his strong charismatic presence, amazing speech making ability, and immense relationship skills helped him to secure the POTUS seat. The world hasn’t seen such power and persuasion in election speeches for a long time.

The man also embodied 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.

Remember Howard Dean?

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 was another thing altogether.

Does that mean that social media alone wasn’t quite what its hyped up to be?

Well it certainly did help. Without the barrage of social media tools and channels at his disposal, Barack Obama was unlikely to gain the phenomenal traction that he did during his presidential campaign.

However, just depending on social media alone wasn’t enough. You needed to get your fundamentals right.

In this game, Obama had an entire election strategy mapped out. This stood him in good ground over all 21 months of it.

Social media certainly helped 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.

In short, Barack Obama wasn’t just a social media phenomenon. He was a total phenomenon.

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

By Walter
Founder of Cooler Insights, I am a geek marketer with almost 24 years of senior management experience in marketing, public relations and strategic planning. Since becoming an entrepreneur 5 years ago, my team and I have helped 58 companies and over 2,200 trainees in digital marketing, focusing on content, social media and brand storytelling.


  1. 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. 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. 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. 🙂

  4. 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.


  5. 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!

  6. oldskoolmark,

    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.

  7. weekee,

    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.

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