Direct Line Blog

Organizing to campaign

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The Obama family helped spur marketers’ interest
The Obama family helped spur marketers’ interest

You will probably hear me say this a lot: I wrote my 2008 master's thesis on online social networks (OSNs) in relation to the 2008 Presidential Elections. That election was the first time presidential candidates used online social networks to campaign.

Having a Facebook page and a Twitter feed now seem as obvious as having a website. But, at the time, using OSNs to campaign was a revolutionary move. People wondered why serious, presidential candidates would spend time and energy on those “time wasters” populated by teeny boppers.

The (now) evident answer is: that's where their voters were, particularly the younger voters who were tech-savvy and who could further use the platforms to spread a candidate's message.

Analysts touted President Barack Obama's web savviness. He not only had the most MySpace and Facebook friends, he went a step further and designed his campaign website as an OSN in itself.

However, a former online campaign manager and the web and tech experts I spoke with for my thesis said the candidates were not using the networks to their full potential. The candidates continued to use the platforms as one-way communication tools, rather than as the two-way tools they were intended to be. Many marketers face this similar dilemma.

One campaign manager told me that if the candidates could only figure out how to get access to a user's friends list to relay endorsements and allow voters to organize themselves — then they would be in business.

Well, it looks like current President Obama — and 2012 presidential candidate — figured it out. Or, YouTube figured it out.

On March 15 the president is set to premiere “The Road We've Traveled,” a 17-minute documentary narrated by Tom Hanks, on a new YouTube platform that, according to The New York Times, will “turn the passive experience of watching a video into an organizing and fund-raising tool.”

The new platform will allow users to post campaign content to Facebook pages, volunteer and donate without leaving Obama's YouTube page. It will also allow Obama to tailor a user's campaign experience by displaying Facebook friends within their geographical location in order to recommend the video to them, according to the Times.

Other candidates will surely jump on board the new YouTube platform. It not only highlights the importance of using social media in campaigning, but, more importantly, using it to its full potential. It's more than simply creating a message; its getting users engaged so they can disseminate the message to others.

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