King Maker & Social Networking Made Obama A Rock Star?

"Kingmaker" is a term originally applied to the activities of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick during the Wars of the Roses, when he was instrumental in getting King Edward IV to ascend to the throne of England. The term has since come to mean any person or group who has great influence over a political succession, without being a viable candidate themselves. Kingmakers may use political, monetary, religious, or military means to manipulate the opportunities for succession. But up until this past year, no one has accessed the tools of the electronic media for political gain with the level of success we all observed in the most recent election.

So was social networking responsible for Obama's successful political campaign? 

Wunderkind, Chris Hughes at the ripe old age of 25 was an unlikely kingmaker. He grew up in Hickory, North Carolina, the only child of older parents of modest means -- his father was a paper salesman. But by intuitive curiosity and happenstance he helped create one of the most targeted and successful startups in modern history, Barack Obama's run for president.

Hughes's intellect was not his only major asset. He also had the uncanny ability of being in the right place at the right time. So what catapulted Hughes into the cross-hairs of a rising star in the Democratic Party? Most likely his chance meeting with Mark Zuckerberg, a fellow Harvard student who was fooling around with a little unknown online campus network called Facebook. Brought in at the early development stage gave Hughes a phenomenal opportunity to test some of his theories on online behavioral activity. Known as the "Empath" amongst his fellow scholars, Hughes soon became the official Facebook evangelists: part anthropologist, part customer-service rep, part media spokesperson.

In the fall of 2006, with midterm elections approaching, Facebook offered political candidates the opportunity to set up mini-profile, well before celebrities could have their own fan pages. Opportunity struck again, When a freshman senator from Illinois came a knocking and Hughes accepted the call.

As director of online organizing for the man who put community organizing on the map, Hughes’ techie acumen attracted the attention of the Obama team at the onset of the campaign. Hitting the ground running, he became a miner of human behavior data that he salted into online systems. That catalyst ignited an historic campaign that was able to access the most robust set of Web-based social-networking tools ever used in a political campaign history. This in turn enabled and energized citizens to turn themselves into online activists, long before a single Obama field staffer was able to interact with them face to face.

"Technology has always been used as a net to capture people in a campaign or cause, but not to organize," says Obama campaign manager David Plouffe. "Chris saw what was possible before anyone else." Hughes built something the candidate said he wanted but didn't yet know was possible: a virtual mechanism for scaling and supporting community action. Then that community turned around and elected his boss president.

Obama was the underdog. He had little political experience at the national level and no executive experience to speak of. If elected, he would be the first African American president...a major hurdle to clear.  While he trailed the established front-runner, Senator Hillary Clinton, by a hefty margin, the conventional wisdom was that Hillary had it in the bag. Clinton was raising immense sums of money and lining up powerful supporters. She had a seasonal team of old-style consultants skilled at manipulating the old media. And there was the opening! Hughes seized on the new media of the Internet to guide Obama's course into waters that were new to the candidate, but more importantly were under utilized by the Clinton and John McCain.

According to Fast Company,  Hughes' key tool was, or MyBO for short, a surprisingly intuitive and fun-to-use networking Web site that allowed Obama supporters to create groups, plan events, raise funds, download tools, and connect with one another -- not unlike a more focused, activist Facebook. MyBO also let the campaign reach its most passionate supporters cheaply and effectively. By the time the campaign was over, volunteers had created more than 2 million profiles on the site, planned 200,000 offline events, formed 35,000 groups, posted 400,000 blogs, and raised $30 million on 70,000 personal fund-raising pages.

All now agree, that is was because of the site the tides turned in Barack Obama's favor. Raising more than $500 million through average donations of under $100, in addition to mobilizing new voters was the major tipping point for Obama's victory.

In this video, Chris shares some of the new and revolutionary social networking techniques he employed within the MyBO website:

As we are all aware Hughes' king making efforts paid off royally. But, what does a kingmaker do after his king ascends to the highest office in the land. In Chris' case, you close one chapter and open another. On March 18, 2008,it was announced that Hughes had chosen to leave the political arena in DC to join a venture capital firm General Catalyst Partners as an entrepreneur in residence. The move is part of the Cambridge, MA firm's effort to build a new generation of digital media and social-networking start-ups and open a hi-tech corridor in the NE similar to the Silicon Valley on the West Coast.

However, who knows what the future might bring for this unlikely king maker. Perhaps he will be called back into service in 2016. Be interesting to see how much Chris Hughes and Social Networks have evolved in 8 years!
Mar 21, 2009
by Anonymous

King Maker & Social Networking Made Obama A Rock Star?

Social networking helped Mr. Obama to reach the younger generations and mobilize the grassroots movement. That contributed to his successes, whether that was the reason for his success, I don’t think so. Obama spent his large campaign budget on traditional media, internet and social networking was added to the equation to further contribute to the image create around Obama, change – Hope - New era etc etc . . .

Mar 21, 2009
by Anonymous

There was an Obama online movement?

Social Networking had almost nothing to do with getting Obama elected. Sure, he was talked about on the social networks, and people who supported him organized on social networks, but that was all a result of the media support he was all top down. The single largest bottom up, *grass roots*, Obama online movement came in the form of the group which organized at to urge him not to support telecom immunity, which he did anyway, even after saying he would filibuster it.

Obama's online presence is a facade giving the illusion of interaction with the people, so he can continue to run his own agenda. He picks and chooses what he wants to do regardless of what the community wants. He knows what questions he's going to answer while he lets the crowd ask them. Ask the wrong one, and you're out of luck. Take the marijuana questions at for example. It was the single most popular issue at and Obama basically ignored it.

The Ron Paul supporters raised 4.2 million dollars in a day and then 6 million dollars in a day 6 weeks later. They organized and funded an advertising company which flew the Ron Paul Blimp for 6 weeks at cost of a half million dollars. All of it was done online using social media.

When seen next to the Ron Paul online movement, there was no Obama online movement. Obama online was merely the reflection of big media priming the public.

At some point the Internet candidate will win. When people and politicians embrace the free web, political success is not dependent on vast sums of money or how much airtime news networks allot. It is dependent on how compelling the platform is. It is dependent on how compelling the supporters are.

Social Media enables the vocal minority to become the majority.

Mar 22, 2009
by Anonymous

So ao elegant and savvy

If only someone in Obama's circle knew what a DVD region code or appropriate gift was, who invented the computer or the automobile, what a 5-day online review period was, or knew the average bowling score of a Special Olympian. Then we'd have something. Thanks for the major tool, Hughes.

Mar 23, 2009
by Anonymous

one black sheep social network

I know, and am a member of, one of the few social networks not contributing to Obama's superstar status... is full of intelligent, wealthy people who would prefer to choose their charity rather than be forced into giving all their money to the government

May 26, 2009
by Anonymous

The Way It Is

Ya, but we all know all those obama supporters, and pro-obama social networkers, located within America are going to die along with all the rest of the overseas population of America within the generation, at the hands of The Americans themselves. THAT'S why I don't live in America and NEVER WILL. The Americans will kill them all and that's what they're working to do.