In important part of the eMarketing course I’m taking is to review the work of others. (Don’t worry. This blog is about more than just doing my homework.) Far be it for me to take the word of my prof as gospel, but he would probably be the first to cite references that support what he says, as well as refer to sources that might have a different opinion. The most important thing is to develop the skills that help you assess whether or not the material is useful for you and determine what you can take away from it.
So an assignment to complete is a book report. Actually, it’s more flexible than that since students can review an article, blog, or podcast or conduct an interview relevant to eMarketing, so long as take-aways are interesting and useful for professional marketers.
I had just started reading Rahaf Harfoush‘s Yes We Did when this particular homework was assigned, so I thought it would be a great choice from the two birds, one stone aspect. In addition, the book was relevant to my interest in social media, not as a way to build a brand around a business, but as a way to build a community around a brand and keep that brand consistent as the community grows. The book delivered on the expected content. Harfoush’s experience as a new media strategist provided many social media lessons as well, so Yes We Did turned out to be a great choice.
Yes We Did is broken down into three sections, corresponding to the periods in which Barack Obama was the underdog, the candidate, and POTUS. Although there are several short chapters about Harfoush’s experience working on the campaign, the book is about the social media campaign and how the brand was communicated through my.barackobama.com, email, text messaging, an iPhone app, blogs, social network sites, video, and online ads.
Through the retelling of the social media story, a prevailing theme is using online resources to build a community. This need for regular Americans to get together and be heard over the corporations and special interest groups which was the pivotal point for many Obama supporters. Yes We Did explains how the social media strategy of the campaign leveraged this inherent need of Americans into meaningful offline actions.
A significant turning point in the campaign was the final day of the Republican National Convention on September 4, 2008, when Sarah Palin compared Obama’s community organizing experience to that of a small-town mayor’s, except for “actual responsibilities” (At the 0:56 mark).
Campaign Manager David Plouffe mobilized Obama followers using email and other social media within mere hours, tapping into the “narrative of empowerment” that Palin had just insulted. Within the first 24 hours, supporters contributed $10 million to the campaign. This story exemplifies the way the strength of social media was leveraged in building the strong community and motivating online activities into offline actions.
American politics is arguably the most interesting politics on the planet. In 2008, there had been no other election and no other campaign utilizing social media to the extent that the Obama campaign had. Harfoush literally writes the book on an effective way for campaigns to use new technologies to provide information and media to supporters, encourage meaningful activities through the right incentives, and organically grow groups of followers. Yes We Did gets into the granular details about how the Obama brand was fostered online across the United States.
However, there was very little of the book devoted to how the brand was created. In then Senator Obama’s case, this was obviously done offline to be consistent. As a result, the message and the spirit of the brand was a natural extension of what was happening offline, where traditional campaigning was still vitally important.
An example of an email from the Obama campaign
But to traditional marketers, the importance of online media is highlighted in Yes We Can. Simply involving social media is not enough. You have to do it well, as illustrated in the contrasting example of McCain’s email strategy. The McCain campaign had seemingly no specific email strategy. Emails tended to be large blocks of text resembling press releases and contained no images and very few links. Patrick Ruffini called them “Tolstoy in my inbox”. Meanwhile, Obama emails were crafted to mix pictures, text, and links with an “emphasis placed on brevity”. They also carried a voice emulating Obama’s eloquence during speeches.
(Not only is the difference in social media strategies seen in the votes, but also in fundraising. Obama raised $500 million online while McCain only raised $75 million from online sources. This allowed Obama’s overall war chest to be over twice as large as McCain’s.)
For social media marketers, the book provides evidence for why marketing principles still apply online. An important example was the way the campaign segmented followers by demographics such as location but also by psychographics such that they could tailor emails and text messages to the issues that resonate with a particular recipient.
Relevance and Usefulness
Obviously, the application of Yes We Did is not limited to political campaigns, but to any use of social media to build communities. Although the techniques were applied in a short-term campaign, many of the social media lessons would apply to organizations aiming to build long-term relationships online.
For me, the book did not provide much direction for creating a brand’s message and crafting the spirit around the message. However, I did see that applying the social media lessons described would largely depend on whether or not they were consistent with the brand. Utilizing what Harfoush describes in a setting where leaders are independent or an environment where open communication is not paramount would likely not be as successful.
Yes We Did is not only a great summary of the social media lessons from the Obama campaign, but is a great read for anyone wanting to learn more about building communities online for meaningful offline actions.