Through the use of social media and other facets of Web 2.0, politicians have changed the way they communicate with the public. That is, they can now talk with the people instead of to the people. Irrespective of political views, Barack Obama, President of the United States, has excelled and paved the way for other politicians in using social media to gain exposure, votes, and create a brand around themselves.
In 2008, Obama began using modern technological tools for his political campaign when no one else was. He realized that everyone in the world is affected by some aspect of politics. This meant that if he wanted to gain extensive support, he could not address the society as a whole, but rather had to address each voter individually, or at least in small groups – a concept known as micropolitics. American politicians have access to complete databases of voters’ political views and other information, enabling them to effectively use microtargeting, or personalized messages for each voter. In particular, Obama was concerned with Generation Y, the cohort of of people born after 1982 who are untrusting of Television and conventional political speeches. He was determined to revive their interest in politics by communicating with them in their own language: through social media.
The 2008 “Obama Online Operation” included a website (his own platform to facilitate discussions and share different points of view to help him learn what the people wanted him to change), Twitter (in which he responded personally to all the Tweets he received in the beginning), YouTube (for free advertising and storytelling), Facebook (to give him transparency, connect with supporters, get donations, and humanize him – such as by posting pictures with his family), MySpace, SMS/call centers (wallpapers and ringtones to promote his campaign on mobile phones and computers, and spread information about his upcoming meetings), online advertisements, and a blog (which was updated more than 10 times a day). In 2012, Obama used nine platforms to promote himself and spread the word: two Twitter accounts (a Barack Obama account and an Obama 2012 account), YouTube, Facebook, Google+, Flickr, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, and Spotify. This collection of 2.0 campaign tools reveals who Obama was trying to address: a target market that was skilled in social media, modern, visual, connected, broad, and young. Although it generated less response from users and was less active, Mitt Romney‘s 2012 campaign also did a great job of using five social networks: Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Google+, and Flickr. Since Romney was addressing a more conservative target market, he strategically left out some of the platforms that Obama employed.
Moreover, Obama’s campaign demonstrated that politics 1.0 and 2.0 are both necessary. In addition to using the Internet, Obama used traditional tactics, including being well-dressed, using door-to-door promotions, and poetic and passionate speeches. By stating lines like “I am addressing to you,” Obama was able to transfer the responsibility of his success to his voters. Through the use of both old and new political tools, Obama showed people that he was passionate about what he does and made them feel like they needed to change things. It is important to note that Obama did not win the election because of his exemplary presence on social media, but because he had something important to share. His brand was able to bring a message of hope when the people needed it most. In other words, he used a “speaker” only when he had a strong product to spread the word about.
After Obama’s campaign finished, he continued to inform and connect with people online. For example, he maintains a frequently updated blog to this day. If he had suddenly stopped after the election, people would have felt like he used them to get votes. This is an important lesson for politicians and companies alike: once you start using platforms on the Internet to promote a brand, you can never stop. In doing so, Obama shows people that he truly cares about connecting with them and listening to their opinions, which has solidified his brand as being reliable and trustworthy. Although he has many employees (namely young staff) helping him run public accounts on various social media platforms, Obama has undoubtedly helped revolutionize political campaigns today. His lessons have not only influenced other American politicians, but have also started spreading to the global community.