A New Age: Internet Presidency

Barack Obama

The 2008 presidential election marked two great changes to the U.S. Presidency. TheĀ  most obvious, of course, was the election of an African-American as the next president of the United States.

But the bigger change over the long term was the crowning of the Internet as the king of all political media. It was the end of the era of television presidency that started with JFK, and the beginning of the Internet presidency.

“Barack Obama built the biggest network of supporters we’ve seen, using the Internet to do it,” Joe Trippi, an Internet political and business consultant who pioneered the use of the Internet in politics managing Howard Dean campaign in 2004, and who managed John Edwards’ campaign in this election, told InformationWeek. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that communication through YouTube and other social networks put him over the top.”

Obama used a combination of television, the Internet, and social media to recruit volunteers and supporters, and cement relationships with them. He asked supporters to supply their cell phone numbers, and sent out regular text-message blasts, even announcing his selection for vice president over text message. Using a custom social networking site, created with the help of a Facebook co-founder, Obama supporters were able to log in and find lists of people they could call, or whose doors they could knock on, to try to persuade others to vote for their candidate.

And it’s only the beginning, said Trippi. That kind of networking will likely transform the White House. Trippi anticipates Obama will create a similar social networking for his legislative initiatives and recruit supporters to lobby Congress to get his policies enacted into law.

The result will be further increase of presidential power and the erosion of congressional authority. “Congress will be put between a rock and a hard place, if millions of citizens sign up to help the president pass his agenda,” Trippi said. “If the president says, ‘Here are the members of Congress who stand in the way of us passing health care reform,’ I would not want to be one of those people. You’ll have 10 or 15 million networked Americans barging in on the members of Congress telling them to get in line with the program and pass the health care reform bill. That will be a power that no American president has had before. Congress’ power will be taken over by the American people.”

The Obama administration is expected to build on a foundation of grassroots support in his private social network, on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. YouTube users alone spent 14.5 million hours watching official Barack Obama campaign videos — and that isn’t even including user-generated videos, Trippi said, adding that amount of network time for political commercials would have cost $46 million — and, while YouTube users requested the videos and therefore most likely watched them, there’s no way to tell whether anybody’s watching TV commercials.

The Obama campaign used Google (NSDQ: GOOG) Maps mashups to help volunteers find local campaign resources and people to contact and try to persuade. And, of course, it used the Internet to solicit donations. Some 3.2 million people donated to the Obama campaign through its Web site.

Obama’s Facebook page has 2.6 million supporters. Obama’s official Facebook application has 161,000 active users, who used the application to share news items, blog posts, speeches, and videos.

The BarackObama Twitter account has about 123,000 followers, making it the most popular account on Twitter, according to the Twitter tracking site Twitterholic.

By comparison, John McCain’s Facebook page had 624,000 supporters.

The statistics mashup tool Trendrr.com reported that Obama was mentioned in nearly 500 million blog posts since the conventions at the end of August. During the same period, only about 150 million posts mentioned McCain. On social networks, Obama led, with 844,927 MySpace friends compared with McCain’s 219,404, according to the Web 2.0 blog ReadWriteWeb.

Joe Baker is one Obama volunteer who used the Internet to help work for his candidate. He worked in an Obama campaign office in Chico, Calif., making phone calls to persuade voters, staffing the front desk, taking donations, and greeting people and taking donations. Baker is a disabled, retired Army officer.

He praised the Neighbor to Neighbor application on the Obama Web site as a means of getting out the vote. Obama supporters in swing states could log on to the Obama Web site and get a phone list of people in their neighborhoods to call and encourage them to vote for Obama. Baker and his colleagues in Chico used the site to coordinate with Democrats in Reno, Nev., to persuade Nevada voters to support Obama.

“MyBarackObama was very much a key place,” Baker said. “The tenet of the campaign was to always send people directly to what Obama had said.” The campaign made that easy by making Obama’s position papers, statements, and videos readily available. “They didn’t necessarily want us to tell people our opinions, they wanted it to be representative of what Obama thought.”

Baker, whose injuries sustained in Vietnam and subsequent military service make it difficult for him to stand or walk for long periods, is active in Second Life, using the name “Willys Faulkes.” He built an Obama campaign headquarters in the virtual world, where supporters could download campaign literature and get in discussions with other Obama supporters, undecided voters, and McCain supporters as well — the Republican campaign also had supporters in Second Life.

Obama’s Internet candidacy should be a lesson for business as well, said Trippi, who does both political and business consulting on the use of the Internet. “You have to change your whole way of thinking,” he said. “You’re going to lose control of your brand to a large degree, unless you create networks to change your brand.”

Historically, businesses have sought to be big and controlling Goliaths, and the Internet and social networks are becoming armies of Davids. “You don’t want to be Goliath anymore, you want to be the guys handing out the slingshots,” Trippi said.

For example: The traditional recording industry is a Goliath, trying to force people to continue to buy whole albums and CDs to get one good song. The army of Davids consists of consumers downloading music.

Apple is the company selling slingshots, in the form of iPods and iTunes.

this article taken in part from InformationWeek.

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