Week 6 | Obama Drove His Own Success

I was listening to NPR on the radio on the way home from work on Thursday when an interesting story came on the air. Ahmed Al Omran, a NPR social media intern was discussing the how social media was helping to influence political change in the Middle East in an interview on Morning Edition with host, Renee Montagne. Omran spoke about how new technologies and tools like Twitter and Facebook allowed bloggers in Arab countries to “stimulate and accelerate political change in the region.” He was on a panel at a meeting for bloggers discussing the role of the social media, and discussed this with Montagne:

MONTAGNE: You know, much was said about Twitter at the time because Twitter, of course, is much quicker and can really, you know, help organizationally. What are people there saying about the role of Twitter?

OMRAN: I was sitting on a panel about the role of Twitter on the first day, and most people on the panel seemed to agree that while Twitter was important to help people to organize and also to get the word out, and then it’s just a tool. You know, we cannot call this a Twitter revolution or a Facebook revolution. It’s the revolution of the people. And the people in that revolution would use whatever tools that are available to them.

I thought, bingo, Omran—it wasn’t Twitter or Facebook that caused Obama to be elected to presidency in 2008. Obama was just using whatever tools he had available on the road to presidential victory, and using them extremely well. I disagree with Qualman’s comment in Socialnomics that “Obama would not be president without the Internet (Qualman, p 87).” It’s hard to say what would have happened if Obama ran a traditional advertising campaign. That is a speculative premise. Would Obama not have used traditional media well enough to win the election?

When all was said and done, the campaign was still about people casting votes. People voted for Obama because he connected with them. He was extremely charismatic, he had a popular message of political change, and he didn’t have much political baggage. Like Montagne said with tools like Twitter, his messages were delivered quickly, and the conversation between presidential hopeful and voters was a two-way conversation. People connected with the man through his camp’s tweets and behind the scenes footage. Obama’s eloquent speaking abilities sealed the deal with the American public.

This reminds me of another presidential hopeful who used new media to his advantage. John F. Kennedy used television to his advantage over Richard Nixon during the famous televised debate between the two. Kennedy looked glowing and calm while Nixon looked haggard and nervous. That was a milestone debate because after it, everyone learned that makeup and camera charisma was essential to putting the right foot forward on TV. Obama wasn’t elected because he had the internet, although he was the first presidential candidate to utilize social media tools extremely well to connect with people.

Posted on October 9, 2011, in Social Media, Society and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Natalie,

    I love this post, it is very well fleshed out and provides for insight on so many fronts. I wasn’t actually going to post yet because I sort of read this while on a break at work and didn’t have time to formally present. Then again, I had one huge issue just busting to get out.

    I totally agree that no matter what the age, it is the prudent person who will use the resources at his disposal.

    So, this brings me to my burning question:

    How come it took 3 years to bring the price of gas down to under $3.50 a gallon?

    My point here is that there are so many different resources that are at the disposal of celebrities and politicians – I really hate to feel manipulated on any score. Timing and exposure is everything in these situations and it is quite easy to “present” using technology and bend the perceptions of so many people. Information is a very good thing; however, in the hands of the wrong people just about anything can be twisted to fit a purpose.

  2. Another social media movement that had people talking during the 2008 election was Obama Girl: http://obamagirl.com/. See this extended blog post by convergence media scholar Henry Jenkins about Obama rhetoric: http://www.henryjenkins.org/2008/02/obama_and_the_we_generation.html & this one about the videos: http://www.henryjenkins.org/2008/03/politics_in_the_age_of_youtube.html

    Whether or not people voted because they were “moved” by her crush is besides the point, but it got people talking & I fear we haven’t seen the last of her yet!

  3. That’s an interesting take, Natalie. I think I’m going to have to agree with both of you a bit. I think that Omran’s discussion of social media as tools is very true. If you don’t have the people who are motivated enough to make a move to change things, it doesn’t matter if you have social media or not.

    I think we learned from the recent riots in the UK that social media can be – if not the match – at least the trail of gunpowder leading to the stack of kegs. But it really can be hard to tell how much of a role it plays. The BBC has taken the same sort of stance as Omran. They are not completely discounting the role social media had to play in the riots, but it certainly questioning the threat level of the Tweets and messages that came out of the riot. Here’s a little more about it: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-14442203

    Qualman asserts that Obama would not have been elected had it not been for social media. You’re right. It’s hard to say. I’m reasonably sure he would not have raised as much money had he not asked for his microdonations. That translates into less advertising which would have been detrimental. He also took advantage of new technology with his deft use of social media. I think that a lot of younger people were so surprised that the fuddy-duddy political establishment actually were “speaking their language” that it stimulated interest in the political process.

    So, like you say, it’s hard to tell really. With social media growing so organically, it really is a moving target for study as well.

  4. I agree that Qualman can’t say with 100% certainty that Obama wouldn’t have been elected had it not been for social media, but I truly did think it helped his campaign and gain voters. With such a presence on social networking sites, Obama utilized these facets to reach out to the public in an appealing way. I think there’s no doubt he used social media more effectively than John McCain and because he was able to send his message across the internet quickly, I think he reached far more people and that truly helped his campaign.

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