"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 My.BarackObama.com, 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 MyBarackObama.com 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!