Community Organizer+Grasp of Web 2.0/Social Media=President Elect Obama

Last April
April 10, 2008: That is the date I wrote my post regarding an interview with conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt and the authors of Millenial Makeover: MySpace, You Tube, and the Future of American Politics. There were tons of points that the authors made that day, but three continue to stick out to me because I’m really interested in social media and I love working with this generation.

  • Communication to this generation via text, online, etc. is how they make decisions, rather than listening to authority. They make decisions based on their connectivity network, rather than make decisions based on authority.
  • You should have two different strategies to reach the Boomers and the Millenials. And they should be, and better be completely different. The Millenials can sniff out any in-authenticity in marketing. They don’t care about or watch TV, because they would rather be online and communicating and networking with people.
  • Interested in Peer to Peer, Bottoms-Up organizing styles, and not Top-Down, Command and Control style. You can appeal to them if you can talk to them about communitarian solutions that are self organizing.

The Millenials Take the Election
I think those are really great observations that Obama seemed to understand and McCain didn’t. I’m not a political analyst, but I think that’s fairly accurate. “Young voters preferred Obama over John McCain by 68 percent to 30 percent — the highest share of the youth vote obtained by any candidate since exit polls began reporting results by age in 1976, according to CIRCLE, a non-partisan organization that promotes research on the political engagement of Americans between ages 15 and 25.” (Youth vote may have been key in Obama’s win). In fact, the article goes on to say, quoting the authors of the Millenial Makeover, the following:

Through a steady stream of texts and Twitters, experts agree Obama has managed to excite young voters by meeting them where they live — online.

“This is a group of people who are constantly checking in with everybody else in their circle to make a decision,” says Morley Winograd, the co-author of “Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics” and a former adviser to Vice President Al Gore. He defines Millennials as ages 18 to 26.

“This is a generation that doesn’t tend to think about asking experts for opinion,” Winograd says. “They tend to ask each other, and then that becomes the truth.”

Winograd says that means no decision is made without dozens of e-mails, texts or Facebook messages to check whether an idea works for the whole group — anything from “Where should we hang out tonight?” to “Who should we vote for?” — which could explain why Millennials so firmly latched onto Obama’s message of unity, he says.

“They are naturally inclined to be unified,” explains Michael D. Hais, who co-wrote “Millennial Makeover” with Winograd. “It’s the way they were reared; they were reared to believe that everyone has a role to play, everybody is the same and everybody should look for group-oriented solutions.”

For a good analysis of the two candidates social networking power, check out this post by Jeremiah Owyang, Snapshot of Presidential Candidate Social Networking Stats: Nov 3, 2008.

Obama Gets It
I will just close with two thoughts.

One, Obama dominated the social media world…which is where the young voters live. It’s a world they inhabit, trust, socialize, converse, and confer with one another. For every 100 Tweets, Facebook updates or stories that I personally saw about Obama being engaged online and interacting, there was maybe one McCain mention. One starts wondering if McCain, or even the Republicans were taking the youth vote seriously.

Two, people may have poked fun at, and had a good laugh about Obama being a “community organizer”, but ultimately I think that’s what worked in his favor and helped him take the election. First, because if Winograd and Hais are right…and I totally think they are…then Millenials are interested in peer to peer, bottoms-up organizing styles…they do not like top-down, which is about command and control. They are a self-organizing generation, and Obama and his campaign was so smart in promoting that style of leadership, while capitalizing on the power of the internet to make it happen and communicate. That is something that a community organizer will grasp…not someone who has been in political power for decades.

Some Good Reads
Here are a couple of great articles on this topic, with some great quotes below them.

Community Organizing 2.0: Republicans Missing the Boat with the Participatory Web

When Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani mocked Barack Obama’s years as a community organizer at the recent Republican convention, they wanted to underline the Senator’s supposed limitations as a real-world leader. Instead, they highlighted the Republican Party’s own limitations in a world that will be crucial in determining this election’s outcome: the Internet.

Organizing Like Obama: Web 2.0 Enabled Change Agents in Action

Over the past year, the Obama campaign has quietly worked to integrate the online technologies that fueled the rise of Howard Dean—as well as social-networking and video tools that didn’t even exist in 2004—with the kind of neighbor-to-neighbor movement-building that Obama learned as a young organizer on the streets of Chicago. “That’s the magic of what they’ve done,” says Simon Rosenberg, president of the Democratic think tank NDN. “They’ve married the incredibly powerful online community they built with real on-the-ground field operations. We’ve never seen anything like this before in American political history.”

Now only if churches understood this….but that’s for more posts to come.


  1. by Robert Yang on November 7, 2008  12:12 am Reply


    I always thought that Obama's ground ops and online buzz was his unspoken advantage, and not mentioned much as to alert GOP of a "battleground" that Obama wanted all to himself. I'm sure the online Obama buzz and his global appeal can be attributed in large part to his online/social media strategy.

    Meanwhile, the online chatter for McCain/Palin and the Repubs were all about negative YouTube McCain vids and of course, SNL and Tina Fey.

    Big "fail" for GOP's online efforts to control their message (if they had one to begin with).

  2. by John on November 7, 2008  6:07 am Reply

    yeah, obama def won the internets.

  3. by Marcus Hackler on November 7, 2008  7:29 am Reply

    I think this is also why the Republicans were shocked that Ron Paul did so well - here is a guy with an extreme message and on the surface, a poor communicator, yet he made more money than any other Republican candidate on a message that is largely anti-government.. all because he took the social media/networking world seriously.

  4. by Rob Cottingham on November 7, 2008  11:01 am Reply

    Thanks for the link and featuring a quote from our post, Rhett. I remember vividly watching the Giuliani clip from the GOP convention back-to-back with Palin's mocking comments about community organizing -- because that was the moment when I first thought, "You know, they're actually going to lose this thing."

  5. Pingback : New social media a boon for Obama | The Daily Scroll

  6. by Rhett Smith on November 7, 2008  1:03 pm Reply


    Thx. It was a great article at your site. Hadn't seen much on the topic, so I'm glad I came across it.


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