Integrated Communications – Not Social Media – Won The Election

Jennifer Leggio wrote today that Obama won the election – not social media:

I believe the big snake oil spotlight shines down upon us brightly — and justifiably — whenever we try to credit social media with a success that isn’t really a rightful success for it to claim. The 2008 election, and President-Elect Barack Obama’s triumph, is one such example.

Once again, as Jennifer often manages, she got me thinking. Ultimately I both agree and disagree with various parts of Jennifer’s post.

Social media didn’t win the election

To claim that social media won the election for Obama would be ludicrous. As Jennifer points out, the economy, candidate choices, platform positions and other factors had much more of a direct impact (in my humble opinion) than the videos, networks and other forms of media that the Obama campaign used.

Social media did play a part

With that said, I do believe that to claim that social media had no part in the victory is also false. Consider the Obama campaign’s ability to motivate young people or their astonishing ability to raise donations through small individual contributions. Social media likely had an impact on these factors, which in turn had an impact on the broader campaign.

The importance of Obama’s tightly-integrated communications strategy

It would be almost impossible to single-out one thing that won the election. The political environment alone, with an unpopular president and an economy in disarray, likely had a large impact. The choice of Sarah Palin as McCain’s running-mate was another. Neither of these was under Obama’s control.

Like it or not, the best policy in the world can be useless if it’s not communicated effectively. One thing was clear – that Obama’s campaign featured a tightly-integrated, well-produced communications campaign from start to finish.

Todd Defren described the Obama campaign’s roll-out as “meticulously planned” and I have to agree. As Media Bistro’s PR Newser noted today, it was disciplined and on-message throughout. That strategy (not just the social media) enabled his team to ride over the bumps, to capitalize on his opponents’ mistakes and to communicate his messages effectively.

I’ve argued for a while that social media can’t stand alone; that it has to be integrated with other communications tactics to increase the chance of it being successful. Social media was an integral part of Obama’s campaign – it was integrated throughout the strategy.

Social media didn’t win the election. However, a tightly-integrated communications strategy, of which social media was an important part, went a long way towards it.

  • Completely agree with you, Dave.

    The US election 2008 was most definitely the one where social media came to the fore as a campaign strategy – but ONLY as part of an overall campaign.

    This is true of social media in any form of PR or marketing – it shouldn’t be the sole focus of your efforts, merely a complementary part of a bigger picture.

    When this is understood, I think we’ll really see the power of social media as a branding/PR/marketing tool.

  • Obama’s campaign was incredibly well put together, from logos to websites, and key messages to public appearances. Marketers can learn a lot from the successes and failures from this recent election (McCain and Obama) – which is why I (shameless plug) wrote my latest post on what we can learn from the US election (slightly tongue in cheek). I look at it more broadly than just the social media aspect of Obama’s campaign. I think the media has focused on this because it is the first time the Internet has been used to this extent in an election, and really to a nation-wide tuned-in audience.

  • Agree with both comments and message of your post. I also think that this is the way forward for marketing – integrated marketing or to put it another way channel agnostic solutions is what works. We could be even bolder and say that a media neutral campaign is what helped Obama win – that and the fact that America was ready for and really desperately needs a leader like Mr. Obama. Marketing should always be about the challenge and not the channel.

  • Hi Dave, Great article, I couldn’t agree more. Social media can’t be a strategy in of itself but it can be really powerful when part of an effective and integrated campaign. I just discovered your blog and referenced this article in my last post. I’ll look forward to reading more! Thanks!