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The lessons of history remain valuable

The start of the US Presidential election reminds us of the impact of the social web on Barack Obama’s first campaign, in both the primaries and the election itself, as long ago as 2008 (ancient history in social web time).

Re-reading the book Barack, Inc., by Barry Libert and Rick Faulk, published in 2009, provides interesting insights into the rigour, planning, and adept execution of Barack Obama’s campaign, and reminds us of how much of this remains valid to this day.


At the core of the campaign’s success was the ruthless self-assessment by Obama and his campaign managers that he was very much the under-dog, particularly when competing against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries, who was part of a political dynasty, had blanket brand awareness, and was funded to the hilt.

This is a familiar commercial scenario, especially for companies launching new products or entering new markets. And it’s the archetypal play for disruptors. His deployment of social media and real-time digital strategies and tactics was therefore designed explicitly to claw back the advantage. The commercial comparisons remain obvious and relevant to this day: if you have to cut through, the social web can give you an advantage.

In their chapter on Obama’s use of the social web (now over seven years old) Libert and Faulk list the following lessons learned from the campaign:

  • cultivate grassroots
  • create a seamless community
  • nurture your lists (in social terms this translates to your Followers across all social channels)
  • allow your new grassroots to grow into every crevice [we would add, support and equip them in this]
  • arm yourself against cheap shots but don’t take them yourself
  • turn CRM into what they called customer-managed relationships (CMR)  [a new concept then, and one we believe still has merit to this day]
  • make your marketing mobile [which of course has come true!]

This remains a useful template for any social-led campaign. What’s changed dramatically since 2008/2009 has been the rise of real-time analytics as part of what makes social marketing, social selling and social-led business development effective.

Re-read the list of lessons from Libert and Faulk above, and add what’s new:

  • real-time analytics
  • real-time integration of the now-millions of pieces of real-time intelligence from the social web with existing organizational data
  • real-time insights

The picture becomes complete: you now have a fully-integrated, social-led campaign engine. For a politician, the campaign engine drives an election. For a commercial organization, it drives customer retention, business development, and profit enhancement.

Ask Obama.

(Barack, Inc., by Barry Libert & Rick Faulk, published in 2009 by FT Press.)


Alan Smith: is Head of Customer Engagement at DIGIVIZER.