Online Community & Social Media Conferences In 2009
Leaving Forrester Research

A PR Strategy Not Social Media Tactics Won The Presidential Election 2008

Understanding audience’s concerns was critical to the success of the Obama campaign.

I’ve been struggling with what to write about this week in regards to the election and the Obama campaign. Then I realized it was a simple matter of thinking about how public relations strategy influenced the political campaign, a theme I’ve consistently used in this blog.

Public relations strategy to me is all about the process of identifying what is top of mind in a community and relating your brand, product, organization or campaign to what is most relevant to your community. That process is really all about listening to your audience and making what you have today relevant to their concerns.

In that light I thought I’d describe how the Obama campaign first rose to prominence, won the nomination and the election.

Lessons From The Campaign Trail

Concerns change with time & audience. For Barack Obama the start of the campaign was about connecting with those in the Democratic base who were dissatisfied with the Iraq War and had the desire for change. Once the nomination was secured, his strategy changed to connecting with voters over their concerns about the economy, especially in the last few months.

Offer change without risk. In the last few days of the election the Obama campaign gained further by suggesting change was possible yet at the same time demonstrating that change would involve a steady hand at the ship of state.

McCain’s Strategy

John McCain also attempted to tap into the country worries about the economy; his call for a halt to the campaign was an attempt to demonstrate to the American people he thought the economy was much more important than even the election. This tactic did not help McCain’s campaign once the consensus in Washington DC broke down and it took a long time to broker a deal both Congressional Democrats and Republican could agree upon.

New Social Media Tactics Were Important For Obama’s Rise To Prominence

While Kennedy’s election heralded the Television era in Presidential politics. I think the Howard Dean campaign in 2004 demonstrated to political campaigners the importance of using social media during the 2008 election. The 2008 Obama campaign showed that social media tools that empower supporters can help candidates gain money and build a powerful political organization for organizing. A vital lesson from the 2008 campaign trail is not a public relations strategy, but the use of social media as a public relations tactic. The Obama campaign used social media to empower people, giving groups of individuals who did not have a voice the power to organize in a way that was difficult to achieve just a few short years ago. Without the use of social media it would have been much tougher for Obama to organize new donors and a political organization beyond the existing political infrastructure within the Democratic Party.

Strategy Took Barack Obama To The White House

I think the use of social media tactics gave Obama the opportunity to compete, but it was his skillful use of political or public relations strategy to the right audience at the right time that got him to the White House.