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November 12, 2008

President-Elect Obama, Don’t Let Your Social Media Channels Grow Cold

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Dust has settled on last week’s historic election, it’s time to contemplate how president-elect Obama will translate the communications channels he honed during the campaign into ones that serve his presidency.

I’m certainly not the first person to write about this, but as the alleged Social Media Insider, I’m fascinated by how he might use social media going forward.

Before I begin, here are some quick stats regarding Obama’s social media presence:

Official Facebook supporters (not including all unofficial groups): 3,095,916
MySpace friends: 900,046
Twitter followers:   128,321
Views on YouTube of appearance on “Ellen” 4,354,287
Of course, Obama also has a substantial direct marketing database, which, by one estimate, is three million strong. The question becomes, what can Obama do to keep all these millions in his loop, many of whom have a vested interest in seeing his out-of-the-box candidacy succeed? Viewing this from 30,000 feet, he can use all of these connections to build one of the biggest engagement engines ever. In his acceptance speech, Obama talked about how the times we find ourselves in require sacrifice from all of us; the database would be the place to start, with all of those who became activists during his campaign, building a groundswell (with apologies to Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff) of community-based volunteerism.

Maybe you think I mean that these people would evangelize Democratic causes. Nope, that’s not it. I see something far more pragmatic aimed at causes that are more universal, like the need to stock soup kitchens right now because they are low on donations and have more customers than they’ve had for a long time. While it’s true that some of this shortage is caused by economic difficulties, another problem is that people don’t know where their local soup kitchen is and what supplies they most need. Online channels make this stuff easy.

Obama’s social media presence, could, also, of course, be useful in keeping up an ongoing direct-with-the-people discussion. If Bush had had one — which, I admit, is nigh impossible to imagine —  it’s possible he would’ve been viewed more positively, and that might have made him a more effective president instead of the extremely lame duck he’s been for almost all of his second term.

As marketers are discovering, people like being consulted; they like being part of the discussion, and that buys goodwill — just the kind of goodwill Obama is going to need as he makes his way through the thicket of problems that will consume much of his presidency.

Obama’s social media channels have been very quiet since last week. I’d hardly expect the first thing he would do after winning the election is post to his MySpace blog. But I hope he’s got people looking at how these channels can be used right now. I bet he does, and once they have a plan we’ll see one of the most fascinating social media experiments ever.

Catharine P. Taylor has been covering digital media and advertising for almost 15 years. She currently writes daily about advertising on her blog, Adverganza.com and can be reached at cathyptaylor@gmail.com

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