Commentary

Yesterday Was a Big Day -- For Obama And Social Media, Too

Yesterday's inauguration of Barack Obama as president was, of course, a watershed event in many ways we've grown quite familiar with over the last few months. Now that it's over, and we've been able to digest Obama's speech and his wife's ball gown, let's become more parochial, and also declare yesterday a watershed event in the world of social media.

I watched the inauguration in what might be called the old-fashioned way, by viewing it on TV while working on an editing project on my laptop, scanning Twitter and Facebook for commentary when I could. But from what I could tell from what people were saying on Twitter, and also from replies I got to the question: "What was your favorite social media moment of the inauguration?" the preferred experience was, as Kevin Burke, founder of Lightiris.com, put it: "Watching on CNN.com with Facebook friends commenting along within the same window. Nice use of Facebook Connect." (Facebook Connect is a product other sites can use that allows Facebook users to log in to those sites, and interact with their friends on those sites.)

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The CNN.com/Facebook Connect combination offered everything a social media addict could want in a big TV event: a live stream paired with the ability to interact with friends. According to numbers obtained from CNN by TechCrunch, the site processed more than 1.5 million updates by late afternoon/early evening, and, during Obama's speech, updates surged to 8,500 per minute. (CNN.com had 21.3 million live streams.) Social media usage, a big event, and streaming technology came together to form a perfect, and beautiful, storm. "It was a confluence of events coming together," said Steve Mulder, director of emerging interactions for digital shop Molecular. (I should mention that there were problems with the live stream. Jon Copeland, a research specialist at Fleishman-Hillard, said his favorite social media moment yesterday was: "EVERYONE who was trying to stream the event simultaneously posting: 'What's wrong with the video?' and 'audio is down' and 'terrible stream, going to find TV.'")

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 Despite the technical glitches, it occurred to me yesterday, as I scanned Twitter for updates and channel-surfed looking for the best camera angles, that, especially being at the home office alone, I couldn't imagine watching such a major historical event without a significant social component. That's the magic of what happened yesterday from a social media perspective. Just watch (and comment): No big TV event after this is going to be the same unless we are surrounded by our friends, virtually speaking. I was at least as interested in what the Twitter-ati were saying as I was in what Jeff Greenfield or Brian Williams had to say.

The Super Bowl should be the next big marriage of social media and live streaming. If the honchos involved in such a decision aren't already thinking about this, they should be. Hulu has also licensed Facebook Connect, and so the site should attempt to stream a live feed of the big game, which Hulu co-owner NBC is airing, making for a social media/media event that has the potential to outdo this one. (Hmmm... interesting conflicts of interest arise here. Hulu's other co-owner is News Corp., owner of MySpace. Maybe both social nets could participate?)

From a business perspective, there are two great things here for Facebook. One, if Facebook can use its expanding share of the social graph to make for great experiences on prominent media sites, the licensing fees could get pretty sweet. Social nets are not a one-size-fits-all experience, and, with the possible exception of MySpace, no other social net would be worth partnering with for a big event.

Second, as Mulder points out, "Advertisers are going to love this because it encourages people to watch TV in real time." A workable ad model for Facebook, emerging on the same day that Obama was inaugurated? Things must be looking up.

(On a side note, if you haven't already signed up to join us at OMMA Social next Monday at the Hotel Nikko in San Francisco, please do.)

4 comments about "Yesterday Was a Big Day -- For Obama And Social Media, Too ".
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  1. Martin Edic from WTSsocial, January 21, 2009 at 4:15 p.m.

    Unfortunately I got a placeholder page for the CNN/Facebook stream-couldn't access it at all during the event. There were major slowdowns across the web with usage estimated to be up by as much as 600%
    Must have been all those people sending pictures from the Mall.

  2. Tonia Ries from Modern Media / The Realtime Report, January 22, 2009 at 11:09 a.m.

    Amazing to think that social media might end up saving the broadcast TV model by bringing back the sense of shared community around a broadcast event ...

  3. Swag Valance from Trash, Inc., January 22, 2009 at 12:45 p.m.

    These tools have been around for a long time, really. It's only just now that the more mainstream Internet public is getting a taste of them.

    For example, for years fans of international club soccer (myself being one of them) have been following this model of sharing the experience of viewing a match while simultaneously commenting about it.

    At first the tools were crude -- such as watching an Internet stream from overseas and using a dedicated live discussion thread in a bulletin board. Then came the advent of many integrated video + social tools, most (interestingly enough) originating from China: PPLive, UUSee, StreamerOne, SopCast, TVUPlayer. (Not to mention P2P video via Justin.tv.) This was likely due to China's loose handling of export restrictions of video feeds beyond their borders.

    Today, and more to this audience, there are video streaming tools such as Livestation where users can subscribe to various live video news feeds from around the world: Al Jazeera, BBC, CNN, France 24, ITN, etc. (Any news junkie would be remorse in not using this app.) Talk about the Obama inauguration pales in comparison to the heavy networking that went on in the chat complement to Al Jazeera (in English) on Livestation as the tragedies in Gaza unfolded.

    But there are two flies in the ointment about this which we need to point out:
    1) Facebook is pretty much irrelevant in this format. Nobody owns "the social network", and nobody will. The growth of tools has headed in the direction that services like FB are little more than a login and an identity profile, as good as any other.

    2) Live events are becoming less and less of our shared social experience. It may make sense for inaugurations and live sports, but most of the video media we consume today is on our own schedules, independent of when others see it. This limits the potential of these integrated services.

  4. Brett Johnson from Independent Contractor, January 23, 2009 at 6:10 p.m.

    Good point Tonia. I'd be interested to see some statistics on how many people watch TV with their computer on. As a part of my job here and in doing our F1 podcast for the past 4 years, it has become clear that the wave of people sharing a broadcast via and IM client, even SMS is continuing to grow. The niche markets can bring geographically separated people together in systems that are currently available. But to integrate this kind of thing into extremely popular events, there needs to be some refining. Ways to help dissect mass audiences and allow the conversations some level of intimacy and continuity. All in all, a very cool thing happening.

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