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Mike Slaby on Obama’s Use of Social Media

Social media works for politics only if it gets people out into the real world to vote

At the Edelman-sponsored NewMedia conference, a panel is beginning on “advancing reputation,” with Mike Slaby (CTO of Obama for America), Debbie Curtis-Magley (UPS), and David Liu (AOL). Premise: Companies can now advance their reputations through the channels they choose, without going through media distributors.

Mike (Obama): A lot of success came from Obama’s skills as a candidate. There was a movement, and our job in the new media departent was how to get the candidate in front of people more. Going into these spaces, you are an equal member with everyone else. It’s not broadcasting. If you tread on people’s space, you’ll piss them off. It’s hard for companies to find a persona and a personality for talking online, but it’s easy with a political campaign because you have a candidate. You have to have one set of values and one story, and you need to talk in the language of your audience. If you’re going to use Twitter, you have to have people in your organization who know how to tweet. And you have to trust your people and the people you’re talking about. We only filtered out comments that were truly, truly offensive. Sean Hannity came after us because someone at our social network made it look like the Black Panthers endorsed Obama on our social networking site, so we set up a profile for Hannity to show him that this was an open space.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

We gave out our logos and let people make their own sites. There was an art exhibit of what people made out of this, called “Officially Unofficial.” Some of it I wish hadn’t been made, but so what? It made people feel that the campaign was theirs. This makes marketing people uncomfortable if they’re used to managing messages. You should give up control. It worked for us.

But social media works for politics only if it gets people out into the real world to vote. You have to convert your users into donors, volunteers, and voters. About 30% of our email was doing something in the real world … I’m proud of that.

He adds: Not every business should have a facebook page; it depends on what you’re trying to do.

Also: There are no switching costs online, which is a reason not to build your own social networking site. We had a multi-million person base ready to go, but that may never happen again in politics, and it probably never happens in business.

Q: Why did the campaign refer to Obama as Barack? Wasn’t that too informal?
A: People want an emotional connection. They want to know his story. We needed to talk about him as a person. But now I never refer to him as that. He’s president.

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More Stories By David Weinberger

David is the author of JOHO the blog (www.hyperorg.com/blogger). He is an independent marketing consultant and a frequent speaker at various conferences. "All I can promise is that I will be honest with you and never write something I don't believe in because someone is paying me as part of a relationship you don't know about. Put differently: All I'll hide are the irrelevancies."

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