Obama is still a fascinating topic for journalists and social scientists. Although he is already less popular in the US than before, and although his popularity seems to equal that of other presidents, experts in Europe still try to understand what European politics could learn from Obama’s victory in 2008.

 

According to many social scientists and journalists, Obama’s of social media is one of the main explanations of his success. They should certainly read the book of Rahaf Harfoush: ‘Yes we did: an inside look at how social media built the Obama brand’. Harfoush explains all the details of the Obama-campaign.

The central element in Obama’s strategy was his own social network: my.barackobama.com, also called MyBO. Each account contained a personal profile and a so-called action centre, where members could keep up their activities for Obama, such as going from door-to-door, call other citizens, organise local meetings and raise funds. Members of MyBO could integrate their friends from other online networks into MyBO and make online groups for specific targer groups. Each member had its own activity meter, which showed how active he or she was: how many citizens were called, how many meetings had been organised and how many funds were raised. Only the most recent activities counted for the activity meter.

Obama informed his online members throughout the campaign with news. He did this through all media he could use: MyBO, blogs, video’s, emails and SMS-messages. The amount of emails and other messages were coordinated: citizens only got information about their own region and about issues that they found interesting. Citizens who just raised money for the campaign, did not receive messages to raise even more funds. In addition, Obama was present on all the regular social online networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter and he had his own YouTube-channel. At special occasions, he used live streaming video.

 

 

But the campaign did even more. Members wanted ‘real’ interaction with Obama, and therefore some interaction took place to keep them motivated. For example: the campaign asked the volunteers for ideas how to engage more American citizens in politics. The volunteer who came with the best solution got a personal telephone call from Obama, which was reported on the website and the blog. When one of Obama’s online groups disagreed with his stance on a law to be voted for in the Senate, there was an open online discussion between Obama and his volunteers on the website. The discussion was seen as an example of his new style of politics.

Harfoush believes in the results of Obama’s social media: 3 million accounts on MyBo, 200.000 offline meetings, 35.000 online MyBO-groups, a mailing list of 13 million email addresses, 2,9 million receivers of SMS-messages and a budget of 750 million dollar. But this is a one-sided view: the fact is that most volunteers had been active before, would have gone door-to-door anyway and would have raised funds under all circumstances. The social network of Obama made the activities of these volunteers easier than in the past, but these volunteers would have been active without social media as well. An even more important point is that social media only played a role for volunteers, not for the general audience. We could calculate the percentage of American citizens who had an account on MyBO: there were only three million accounts. It is highly unlikely that social media lead to more votes.

So what can European politicians learn from Obama? That the work of volunteers in campaigns can be made easier by using social media. This is the only lesson.