Does Social Media's First President Need To Go Back To The Well In 2010?

The presidents who have navigated and adapted to new technologies during their campaigns and while in office have helped distinguish these successful U.S. leaders. From FDR to JFK to Obama, each embraced new mediums that gave them a greater opportunity to communicate with their voting constituencies in more meaningful ways.


In the 1930s, during his famous 'fireside chats,' Franklin Delano Roosevelt effectively utilized the new medium of radio to communicate to a nation reacting to the Great Depression and who were forced into making a critical decision about entering another World War.

"He would use radio like the great teacher," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Center for Excellence in Journalism. "He would do a fireside chat and literally tell people to pull out their atlases and he would explain where Germany is or where Poland is and he would explain to them, very gradually, why the country might need to go to war."


John F. Kennedy in his historical political debates with Richard Nixon was the first president to skillfully masterJFK vs NixonJFK vs Nixon the new medium of a the television camera to not only beat his opponent but to actually show marked contrast in a way that cast a lasting negative shadow over Nixon, the man and subsequent president.

Barack Obama's timing coincided with the crescendo of Social Media peaking alongside the re-energized youth vote. Obama not only spoke directly to his constituencies via social networks but used the medium to convey and reinforce his message that was also distributed through the traditional channels heralded by FDR and JFK.


In a post, I wrote in March, 2009, titled "King Maker & Social Networking Made Obama A Rock Star," I focused on Chris Hughes, the young wunderkind who was one of Mark Zuckerberg's initial founders of Facebook. Hired away, Obama's campaign team permitted Hughes to use his social media acumen in a way that most say was the primary reason for Obama securing the presidency.

For all those that remember, Obama was the underdog. He had little political experience at the national levelChris HughesChris Hughes 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, 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.

Two years into his term, Obama is still more in tune with technology and social media than most other elected officials. He's participated in Q&As with YouTube users. He has nearly four million followers on Twitter and more than eight million fans on Facebook.

The question is, is this enough? Should the president be pushing the boundaries of social media even more in consideration of the possibility of losing seats in the House and Senate this Fall. And if so, what can he do?

Jack DorseyJack DorseyAccording to Twitter's Jack Dorsey, organizational leaders need to be participating in social media use every day, to make it a part of the culture. "Your leader will make mistakes and will learn from them but what's most significant is that he or she is sharing the learning curve and the lessons throughout the organization," Dorsey says. "

Assigning someone else to look at social media can only go so far - it won't speak to the spirit of what your organization is trying to bring to the world." Dorsey also said that leaders must be willing to try new things themselves, both in their personal lives and in their organizational leadership. "It's an attitude and a willingness to jump in that makes all the difference," says Dorsey. "A leader's passion is clear and contagious. Don't shut out the leader or underestimate his or her power, both outside and inside the organization."

Since Obama's mantra of "change" has not come fast enough, the American people need to receive as much communication as possible as to why? And while traditional media is important, it is not enough to drive the message home. In a Politics Today report, it was noted that during Obama's first year in office he did 91 television interviews, in comparison to Bush's 20 and Clinton's 25 during their first two years in office.

In this video Obama addresses Netroots Nation 2010 in Las Vegas with a recorded message and makes a humorous point that "what happens in Vegas" won't just stay in Vegas, but instead "will be Web cast and tweeted" by the 2000 in attendance.

What's needed for the 2010 November elections is for Obama to resurface some of the fundamentals and creative initiatives Chris Hughes put in place two years ago. Better yet, what might really be needed is to rehire Chris Hughes to assist in the 2010 Democratic elections. If an effort of this magnitude does not emanate from the White House and the individual Senators and Representatives are left to their own devices, Obama might be doing himself and his party a disservice. Social Media is what got him there in the first place - its social media that might get him to stay past his first term. Your thoughts?