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.

Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.