Politics in the age of social networking

Posted by: Jessi Hempel on May 29, 2007

barack

No, I’m not an Obama supporter. I’ve yet to make up my mind about candidate or party. But, I think business should be looking to the presidential campaigns to see innovation in action in social media. The elections are heating up on my social networks, and after reading the wsj’s excellent profile on the work that Facebook.com’s Chris Hughes is now doing on my.barackobama.com, I spent some time hanging out on MySpace and Facebook today. I’m now friends with all the presidential candidates I could find on MySpace. And I’ve downloaded Barack Obama’s application on Facebook. I’ll watch them carefully and report back.

Anyone keeping close tabs on this knows that while Obama might have established himself as forward thinking when it comes to the Web with his community driven site, he also angered a massive group of supporters when campaign reps forced 29 year-old paralegal Joe Anthony’s unofficial Obama MySpace group down. Accounts of what happened vary, but it seems Obama campaign officials were worried about not being able to control the group’s messaging as it gained virtual street cred in MySpace.

There’s the tension: campaigns are all about controlled messages and social media is all about shifting that control to the audiences. With an election fast approaching, campaigners are forced to work through rapid iterations of this process.

Reader Comments

Pollyanna

May 29, 2007 3:16 PM

I'm still not convinced campaigning online, especially in social networks catering young voters, is going to magically motivate the currently dormant youth vote. Only time will tell. However, now that this trend has entered the vitual arena, it existence should be enough for candidates to at least take notice of. Right now it may not tip the scales one way or another but it may become necessary at some point in the future to invest seriously in this kind of campaigning.

Jessi Hempel

May 29, 2007 5:09 PM

True that, Paula. I remember talking to Texas teens for the MySpace Generation story. They told me that none of their friends voted, they just registered for the Rock the Vote campaign because it was cool.

But don't you think that smart campaigners can take what they learn from how MySpace communicates with teens, say, and apply it to their own campaigns - using the strategies to communicate with voters of every age? That's what's neat about my.barackobama.com - it doesn't try to be a MySpace for Obama supporters. It takes smart techy strategies pioneered on these sites and caters them to the users who are invested in Obama.

What do you think?

Pete Mortensen

May 30, 2007 12:08 AM

This does do a great job catering to hardcore Obamaniacs (Is that term in general usage yet? I'm trying to start a meme, if not...), but I'll be very interested to see who ultimately uses this technology. After all, MySpace is really popular with teenagers, most of whom can't vote. I would assume my.barackobama.com will feature a lot of people in their late 20s and early 30s, instead.

This might be an advantage, however, as such a crowd will be less likely to be upset if the campaign solution isn't quite cutting edge compared to the mainstream social networks, a real concern when launching such a solution 18 months ahead of the final election. I will give the campaign credit for managing to at least feel contemporary for now, but it feels so of the moment that they might well run the risk of feeling a year behind or more when we get to next summer.

But this is all a very solutions-oriented conversation. What's interesting about MyBarack is that the solution looks very much like Facebook or MySpace, but the needs it's meeting are pretty different from the popular websites. After all, very few people join MySpace because they feel the need to influence the political process or organize a grassroots takeover of the Democratic party.

That's the fascinating side here -- the needs in play.

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What comes next? The Bloomberg Businessweek Innovation and Design blog chronicles new tools for creativity and collaboration, innovation case studies in both the corporate and social sectors, and the new ideas that have the power to change the way things have always been done.

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