Barack Obama has 2.6 million followers on Twitter and follows around 750, 000, but he recently admitted that he’s never Tweeted in his life. Are you surprised? I’m not. But some people might need to reconsider their hype.
Let me remind readers how some PRs responded to Obama-online-mania and the idea that he listened as much as talked with social media:
As we all know, there is a tendency for politicians to prefer the sound of their own voices more than those of their constituents and supporters, but the key to Obama’s success was that he used social media not just to talk to supporters, but to talk with them.
Frankly, I am unimpressed by the idea that Obama got into social media in order to listen. I imagine he and his team had their ears to the ground in all sorts of ways and that they could as it were have over-heard most of the chatter they needed rather than join up in order to listen.
Arguably, there was something fraudulent about the personal connection that social media conveyed Obama as having with his audiences. The truth was he was as remote and mediated on social media as he was in mainstream media. But here’s Edelman’s take on the first step potential voters took to engage with Obama’s campaign:
The Obama campaign gave prospective supporters a menu of options:
• Personal – You could start by friending Obama on a social network. Then, you might sign up for text messages and e-mails to stay informed about the campaign. As a supporter, you may make your first donation or register to vote.
But now we know that Barack Obama personally did not talk or engage with anybody via social media. Nevertheless, he was supposed to embody a new style of communication some call the public engagement model, which now appears to be as transparently one-way and as contrived as anything the traditional world of media could devise.
My point here is not to knock social media or to advocate a boycott for PR purposes or anything of the sort. My point is that those who advocate that social media forces on corporates a new form of touchy-feely engaged PR, are not inline with reality. Their major case-study has always been Barack Obama, but their evidence does not stack up.
Social media is supposed to be about the personal, not about PAs and PRs doing it (corporates don’t do personal very well; for good reason, as I argued here)
My message is that the old rules apply on social media as much as they still do on old media. There is no new age of communication so much as new technology and channels and new opportunities and threats that comes from everybody having access to the digitally-connected world.
I do not deny that social media played a valuable role in Barack Obama’s victory, particularly when it came to surfing youth enthusiasm and raising funds to pay for his TV ads. But it was social media that was in quite important ways hijacked and even corrupted from its most obvious value to most of its users.
I think the Obama campaign duped the social media and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the blogosphere will be more cross than most when they do fall out of love with their erstwhile hero. Think Labour and their luvvies in 1964 and 1997.