Over the resent years, the number of people and organizations exploiting social media marketing potential has increased exponentially. Many people have used Twitter, Facebook, Twitter, Google plus and YouTube to successfully create awareness, market and sell various products and services (Aaker& Smith, 2010). Yet there is still a great knowledge gap on how to leverage social technology to successfully produce social good. Social good is believed to be a product, either service or goods, that benefit the greatest number of individuals in the largest conceivable way(Bimber, 2014). Contrary to the popular misconception, asuccessful social media campaign is founded on the psychology of individual’s social behaviors and not on the current technology.
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The Dragonfly Effect by Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith is a book that was published in 2010 that concentrates on how social media has the supremacy to make significant difference. It emphasizes on the behavioral mechanisms that influence the level of impact a social media campaign has on its audience. The Dragonfly Effect Model is founded on four wings that dictate the efficacy of any social campaign. The wings are Focus, Grab Attention, Engage, and Take Action. Just like a dragon, a social media campaign moves at the intended speed and directionality only when the four wings are in harmony (Aaker& Smith, 2010).
Obama’s Social Media Campaign
In 2008, president Barak Obama’s Presidential campaign was a historic event not only because he was the first African American to ever win presidential elections but also because he was the first presidential candidate who had ever used social media as his main campaign strategy successfully (Van Aelst, Van Erkel, D’heer, & Harder, 2014). In 2008, this social media, although prevalent, it was not as ubiquitous as it is today. When Obama commenced his campaign in 2007, twitter was just gaining popularity and thus distributing voting mementos via Twitter and networking with supporters on Facebook was a bold move that left a lasting impression (Van Aelst, e.t. al., 2014).
During his second campaign in 2012, social media platforms had advanced drastically and the number of adult Americans on social media had grown to from 37% in 2008 to about 69% (Van Aelst, e.t. al., 2014). In 2012 there were speculations that social media would have a similar impact on presidential election as it had in 2008 so other candidates also tried to harness social media technologies as well. However, Obama had an edge since his teamhad the expertise from previous experience and he also had already established social media following. Social media predominated by relationships hence having an already existing social media system was a noteworthy benefit over Romney’s campaign that was just starting out on social media (Bimber, 2014). In the end, Obama’s campaign dominated the social media in 2012 just like it did in 2008.
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The Dragon Effect model presents four key ideas presented for a successful social media campaign, all of which the Obama campaign had. The ideas include: formulating and communicating a clear message and vision; defining a digital landscape; building relationships; and having clear calls to action(Aaker& Smith, 2010).
Formulate and communicate a clear message and vision. In this aspect, Obama’s campaign focused on Hope, Change, and Action.
Define a digital landscape. Obama’s social media campaign strategy was built on knowing the most influential bloggers, exploiting the main communication hubs, and having presence in the leading social networks.
Build relationships. The campaign team focused on three key actions, which were listen, be inventive, and ask questions.
Clear calls to action. Every action conducted during the social media campaign was geared towards getting an offline activity, getting people to vote.
Measuring the effectiveness of a social media campaign can be problematic since there is no standard gauge for measuring effectiveness. The number of posts or tweets does not determine the success of the campaign; user engagement does, usually indicated by the content sharing. For instance, Obama’s social media campaign can be said to have been more successful than Romney’s since it recorded twice as many Facebook “Likes” than Romney’s page and his twitter page logged approximately 20 times more re-tweets than Romney’s page (Van Aelst, e.t. al., 2014). This can be attributed to having an already existing fan base but also on sharing followers’ friendly content.
Another thing that indicates that Obama’s social media campaign was successful was the number of followers. The campaign did not get engage a handful of people on the various social media platforms it had its presence. The campaign reached over 5 million supporters over the campaign period. According to sources, Obama had roughly 2.5 million Facebook fans, about 115,000 Twitter supporters, and over 50 million YouTube subscribers by November 2008 (Bimber, 2014). He was the first politician to ever attract that level of social media attention. This following sky rocketed in 2012 with 32,949,317 Facebook page likes and 22,887,645 twitter followers (Bimber, 2014)
Social media took away the political dialogue from mass media and placed it in supporter’s hands. Sociologists Lazersfeld and Katz introduced a two-step mode of communication, which proposed that opinions are not as a result of direct information passed on to individuals through mass media but are as a result of individual interactions between individuals and their opinion leaders (Katz & Lazarsfeld, 1970). According to the two sociologists, opinion leaders are influential people within a person’s demographic, socio-economic setting and interests. Following this definition, one can conclude that opinion leaders are friends, family, colleagues and shared-interest group members, all of whom one is likely to connect to through social media. According to this, people tend to trust things that they hear from people they trust and since social media is based on relationships, Obama’s campaign was able to build trust and have its followers spread the message to those who trusted them and ultimately created a huge network based on trust (Katz & Lazarsfeld, 1970). In 2012, about 30% of online users reported that they had been convinced to vote via social media by their family, or friends, about 20% online users said that they encouraged others to vote via social media and 22% users posted their choice once they had voted (Bimber, 2014).
Obama’s precedential campaign involved its supporters through empowerment. Obama’s social media campaign was not successful because he had the best technology than any other candidate or because his team understood computers better than all the other teams, they it was successful because Obama and his team understood how use technology to effectively tap into the passion of his supporters better than any other team (Van Aelst, e.t. al., 2014). The campaign did not create social media accounts sat back to wait for them to automatically attract followers. Instead, they drove involvement by giving their supporters a sense of purpose. The campaign used social media as platforms to connect Obama’s supporters, real people who were enthusiastic about the subject. The platforms presented a medium where these individuals could connect in real time and also gave them a handy way to express their backing for change. The campaign slogan “Change we can believe in” also promoted the sense of purpose for supporters as they felt that they were also responsible for seeing that dream turn into reality (Van Aelst, e.t. al., 2014). By sending out social media messages, they made individual involvement in the campaign feel personal. Personal inspires participation and participation fosters ownership. By encouraging individuals to contribute small amounts through small donations through social media instead of just focusing on big donors, the campaign raised more money and made Obama’s supporters felt valued (Bimber, 2014).
Some of the factors that might have contributed to the success of the Obama’s presidential campaign in 2012 included:
The campaign team formulated the campaign strategies with one individual in mind, Obama, and they stayed focused on that one individual throughout the campaign. The campaign team understood the subject which gave them confidence to represent him and made them more effective (Van Aelst, e.t. al., 2014). The campaign team connected with Obama on a personal level, which made it easier for them to represent him to his supporters. Speaking to Fast Company, Chris Hughes, the man who helped the campaign, said that he had connected with Obama on an individual level first (Mcgirt, 2009).
Obama’s campaign was authentic. It brought something new and exciting to the table. He was the first precedential candidate to establish personal connection with his supporters on social media (Van Aelst, e.t. al., 2014). According to Randi Zuckerberg, the campaign’s leader of marketing, political, and social change movements on Facebook, this aspect of the campaign made it exceptionally effective (Personal Democracy Media, n.d.). Obama’s Facebook page was and still is very authentic. He has made it personal, with personal information such as his favorite music and interests on display. The campaign team was also constantly updating their social media profiles with things about the campaign that were not as serious as most people would have expected such as what they were having for lunch while they were on a campaign trip. This made the supporters feel that they were interacting with real people and not a system that was designed to ‘steal’ their votes.
The Obama’s campaign did not just say things it also acted the part. Most of the things the campaign engaged in, from social media campaign to appreciating every supporter, regardless of his or her income bracket or his or her background. This was the main force behind setting up a small donation system where individuals could contribute as little as they could afford. This emphasized that everyone was an important contributor in creating and driving change. In addition, the campaign hosted “Dinner with Barack” events, where the team randomly selected donors who had dinner with Barack Obama. These events were broadcasted through social media where they went viral thus creating a wider reach but even more importantly, supporters felt valued that the candidate would take time to dine with ordinary people just because they supported him (Van Aelst, e.t. al., 2014). The relationships fostered through social media made the campaign and what it stood for more dependable than it would have otherwise been.
Another way that the Obama’s social media campaign succeeded is that it ensured that it remained relevant throughout the campaign session. It did this by use of Memes, which have increasingly become a dominant cultural event, overriding other forms of messaging. The most significant meme that was used during the campaign was the ‘binders full of women’ statement that was created on Twitter and instantly went viral across numerous platforms including Tumblr, Parody, Twitter and Facebook (Van Aelst, e.t. al., 2014). This ensured that the campaign supporters remained engaged even during times when there was nothing major to discuss. It also increased reach since viral messages tend to reach individuals who would not have been otherwise reachable. In general, the Obama’s presidential campaign created a clear goal and focused all the resources available to the realization of that goal.
How Obama’s social media campaign could have been improved
Obama’s campaign invested millions of dollars to reach voters in some important swing states Florida and Ohio included. While this might have been a good strategy, this was very apparent to the supporters due to the campaign’s strong presence on social media (Van Aelst, e.t. al., 2014). This strategy left so supporters critical about the credibility of the message being passed on due to the argument that if the message was good enough, all that was required would be delivering it to the audience. Although this strategy might have won supporters over in those states, it might have had a negative impact in other states. The culture of sharing information freely might have made it easy for supporters to pick up on such capital-intensive activities. I would recommend that as much as the campaign team shares information freely on social media, they should be regulated on the kind of information they can share to avoid passing on information that might hurt the campaign unknowingly.
Barack Obama’s campaign conducted only two ‘dinner with Obama’ events in which only 8 people were able to take part and did not have any other similar events (Van Aelst, e.t. al., 2014). This strategy had great positive impact on the campaign and conducting more events where the public would get a chance to get personal with the subject would have increased the outcome. For instance, there would be contests where people would be asked to share a post and stand a chance to win a ‘thank you’ call from Obama.
Lastly, since the online support groups were made up of mostly enthusiasts, the campaign could have exploited the online communities potential offline. Organizing physical meetings in different regions where the group members would voluntarily take part in campaign activities could help increase the offline reach as well as strengthen the online communities.
The Obama’s presidential campaign demonstrated the considerable impact that a social media campaign can have on marketing any product or idea to the audience, especially the young generation. The campaign exploited a medium that people had been using on daily basis in a way it had never been used before, changing the way political campaigns will be conducted forever. It can be argued that reach and engagement are not effective measures for effectiveness of an online campaign since people may consider social media content interesting and sharable but that does not mean they voted for Obama in the long run. Additionally, not everyone who engaged with the campaign’s social media content did so in support, some were against whatever the campaign stood for. All in all, opinions regarding social media campaign’s effectiveness vary from one person to the next but one thing is undeniable, the Obama campaign made history.