Obama’s Use of Social Media


Dressed as Orson Welles and swigging Bourbon the other night, I watched history unfold (such a cliched phrase, but it still captures the experience beautifully). My face did crease when Obama gave his acceptance speech although, somewhat embarrassingly on hindsight, it was when he told his kids they could have a puppy in the White House. I love puppies.

The picture above tells its own story. Notice the blackberry hanging from the president-elect’s belt. Both the world wide web and digitalisation has had a profound effect on this election and, although it would be churlish to attribute Obama’s success to a single factor, his pioneering use of social media gave him the edge over his opponents throughout the entirety of his campaign.

On the campaign trail, one of Obama’s main messages has been:

“This election isn’t about me. It is about you.”

As Jemima Kiss details, this was not simply an exercise in rhetoric. By harnessing platforms like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace and by posting directly on to You-Tube, Obama can legitimately claim not only to have communicated directly to the American people, but to have listened to them as well. This innovative approach, essentially rooted in grass-roots communication, re-energised vast swathes of people who had slipped into apathy in the face of the Bush adminstration. It is telling that almost 600 million dollars were raised towards his campaign through donations made on his website barackobama.com, over half of which were donations of less than $100.

By engaging the electorate directly, Obama not only put his opponents in a difficult position. Established media institutions whom had grown accustomed to ringleading elections were rendered impotent. Fox News, for example. Tune into Fox News for five minutes, it will make you thank sweet Jesus that we have the BBC.

Rovian smears descended into McCarthyist character assassination against Obama in the twilight hours of McCain’s bid (at least he’s still got his oven chip empire, he should be ok), but any charge leveled at Obama immediately bounced around the blogosphere, investigated by any number of people and revealed as the unfounded swiftboat it was. Take, for example, the laughable ‘lipstick on a pig’ smear. Obama, the Republicans claimed through Fox, was displaying a derogatory and sexist attitude towards the new darling of the Christian Right, the obviously qualified to be the next Vice-President, winking, Fargo, Moose-Slayin’ Palin. She can see Russia from her house y’know.

Fox News played the clip every twenty minutes for hours on end. In response, internet traffic was swiftly directed towards a video someone had found from back in the early days of the Presidential Election. McCain is asked about Hillary Clinton’s Health Care plan. His response?

If you put lipstick on a pig, its still a pig.

Four years ago, John Kerry would have had to field accusations about this kind of thing for days on end whilst Bush’s cronies rubbed their hands in glee and the big issues continued to be glossed over. This time, Fox didn’t run the story for long. It had been upstaged by a politically engaged electorate, and it ended up gritting its teeth whilst reporting that Obama walked away with the Republican’s family jewels, Florida and Ohio.

Last week, we recieved a lecture from Matthew Yeomans of Custom Communication. He outlined how the traditional media industry was struggling to come to terms with the digital revolution as user-generated content and citizenship journalism came to the fore. Good for the consumer, shame for the lazy journalist you might say. Paper’s such as the Christian Science Monitor were now purely online platforms after decades of print editions and other established institutions started to suffer. Dan Fisher’s blog details this with his unique aplomb.

Whilst the professional publisher basked in his own comfort zone, Yeomans detailed how the blog has empowered the ameuter publisher in three seperate ways:

  • The power to publish.
  • The power to participate.
  • The power to choose.

This is true, but throughout the lecture we discussed these changes in an abstract and theoretical way. All we talked about was potential. Tuesday 4 November 2008 was the day that Web 2.0 officially arrived as a tool for social amelioration and democracy. There is now, as Hannah Waldram captures by talking about Keats and as Fox unwittingly illustrated with their election coverage, a changing of the guard. Both politically and in the media, this is no time for anyone afflicted with dogmatism and cynicism. As Waldram says:

“This is not a time for old, dying Saturns of the media.”

Obama’s children will be chasing that puppy across the White House lawn because their father understands more comprehensively than many journalists that by placing his faith in new forms of communication he could truly allow the tide of normal, downtrodden people on Main Street to carry him to the White House.

Good for him, and good for us because suddenly we have living, tangible proof that the media is no longer an Ivory Tower. Fox News, or for that matter any other broadcaster or news outlet, can no longer tell us how it all works. No more can they dictate the agenda. Now we, the next generation, can. That’s right, say it. Yes We Can.


3 thoughts on “Obama’s Use of Social Media

  1. Pingback: » The Web Has Arrived. White House On Best Political Blogs: News And Info On White House

  2. Pingback: The Web Has Arrived. at Hillary Clinton On Best Political Blogs

  3. Pingback: Online Journalism - Talkin’ Bout a Revolution? « sean bradbury’s blog

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