The Network 2008: “There IS Nothing So Powerful As An Idea Whose Time Has Come”

by Marianne Richmond on November 3, 2008

We are in the final countdown in the campaign that has eaten us whole over the past two years and it seems a foregone conclusion that Barack Obama will be our next President.

To some, this is a deferred dream, finally fulfilled; to others it is a nightmare of constitutional proportions. If nothing else, Mr. Cool evokes passion in his supporters as well as his detractors while McRage, the candidate formerly known “as a man of character and experience“, evokes passion in his detractors and something more like frustration in his begrudging supporters.

So, how did we get here? To quote Henry Jenkins “Obama has constructed not so much a campaign as a movement.” To quote me, McCain didn’t really even construct much of a campaign. He even let what at the time seemed to be a stroke of genius, his choice of Sarah Palin as VP be re-framed as a kind of csenior moment. Nothing was more illustrative of this than last nights SNL.

And a slight digression since I mentioned Governor Palin….and the is she “ready” to be President question? Perhaps we would all be better off if there was a job description for both the Presidency and the Vice Presidency…with a paragraph called “job requirements”. Maybe there should even be a qualifying exam. Some psychological testing? I mean after all, these are jobs and “we the people” are doing the hiring.

In my opinion, George H.W. Bush was the last VP that I can recall who had the resume for the top job….businessman, Congressman, head of the CIA, Ambassador to the UN. He should have been a distinguished president but I am hard pressed to recall much about his single term that would qualify.

OK,  with a tip of the hat to Victor Hugo, let’s return to the thought that there IS nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come…..because I think that statement defines this election. No, not to worry my friends…I am not talking about the campaign itself, I am talking about the construction of the campaign.

Back in the dawn of this campaign, I wrote a blog post titled, “President John McCain Delivers the State of the Blogosphere.” Yeah John Edwards. When I am wrong, I am wrong. Well, wrong guy. Barack Obama has driven the use of the social web all he way to the White House (I will issue a retraction tomorrow if the outcome is different).

We will be told by the pundits and likely come to believe that Barack Obama’s message of change is what propelled him to victory. Just like conventional wisdom says that JFK’s message propelled him to victory rather than Cook County, Illinois. But it is the medium that delivered the message that made the real difference in Obama’s message of change versus Hilary Clinton’s or John McCain’s. And that is not meant to detract from Obama’s achievement rather it is said in admiration of the fact that he put it ALL together and did something that few believed could happen when he began.

Joe Trippi saw the power of the networks when he managed Howard Dean’s campaign in 2004 however  Dean self destructed and social networks was just an idea without an infrastructure,  not an idea whose time had come. Actually, thanks in large part to the Dean campaign, it was the year 2004 when Merriam Webster named “blog” the word of the year…how quaint. Obama as my kids would say, dominates social….Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and YouTube.

David Talbot writing in the MIT Technology Review on the topic of Obama’s social networking strategy quotes Trippi paraphrasing James Carville, “This year it was the Network stupid.”

As Talbot explains, Throughout the political season, the Obama campaign has domi­nated new media, capitalizing on a confluence of trends. Americans are more able to access media-rich content online; 55 percent have broadband Internet connections at home, double the figure for spring 2004. Social-networking technologies have matured, and more Americans are comfortable with them. Although the 2004 Dean campaign broke ground with its online meeting technologies and blogging, “people didn’t quite have the facility,” says ­Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford law professor who has given the Obama campaign Internet policy advice, “The world has now caught up with the technology.” The Obama campaign, he adds, recognized this early: “The key networking advance in the Obama field operation was really deploying community­-building tools in a smart way from the very beginning.”

And not only did he use the network….he “got” the essence of the network: The people formerly known as the audience. The candidate formerly known as a  community organizer understood a few things about community organizing. As we in social media know, community is not online versus offline. And the flow is not top down. Everyone is a publisher and as Obama knows, participation is powerful….the enlisted five thousand $5 donors, versus the one  $5000 donor.

Both The Machinery of Hope in Rolling Stone and The MIT article referenced above provide great details of the power of an idea whose time has come. And see Social Media Lessons from the 2008 election.

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