Commentary

Obama In Social Spaces

Barack Obama has become such a dominant cultural presence that most newsstands could pass as campaign souvenir shops, but just two years ago he wasn't even on our radar. His rapid and unprecedented rise was in large part driven by his mastery of social media. So what can marketers learn about competing in social spaces from the Obama brand? Here are three guiding principles:

One: There is No There

Most brands have become destination-focused in the digital world. Our goal is to drive consumers to a place that we create and we control. Unfortunately, this approach is at odds with consumer behavior.

Think about it in retail terms. You open stores where people are, not where you want them to be. When it comes to social networks, people have already established their roots, and brands need to adapt to them. We need to bring the brand to consumers, not vice versa.

While Obama does have his own social network, mybarackobama.com, it is by no means the sole focus of his social strategy. He has also created 16 official presences in other social nets, from Facebook to Black Planet to Glee. A quick and totally unofficial membership count of the various Obama communities comes to about 4 million, only 25% of which is through the branded social network. Had Obama gone the typical route, and just built the destination, 75% of the social community wouldn't exist.

Two: Brand as Silly Putty

Once a brand shifts its mindset away from destination and toward distribution, it must decide how to present itself in social spaces. To do so effectively calls for a new way to think about branding.

The brand has typically been thought of as a sacred object that can never be handled or altered, like a jewel behind a case. Social environments require an approach that is much more pliable - like Silly Putty. Silly Putty can be pulled and twisted, but is always recognizable - it is always "it," no matter what shape it takes.

Let's give the Brand Police a new beat. Instead of worrying about minutiae like the amount of white space surrounding the corporate logo, they ought to focus on bringing the core values of the brand to life in a way that is meaningful to consumers. Instead of spending time making sure that the brand looks the same everywhere, focus on making sure that the brand behaves in a way that is consistent with its value.

Three: Advertising Never Started a Movement

Although Obama is the most successful online marketer ever, he has done relatively little online advertising. He's used social to power his campaign in a more meaningful way - to organize and build momentum.

Advertising tells people about things. Social lets people do things. At the heart of Obama's social strategy is a desire to connect individuals to fuel the bigger movement. Like a great host, Obama uses social media to make introductions, to orchestrate, to facilitate. Join mybarackobama.com and see how easy it is to get connected to grassroots groups in your neighborhood.

Next Steps

Start distributing your brand across multiple social spaces, be flexible with how the brand manifests itself in those environments, and think about movements your brand could start or participate in.

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