I never thought that one of the best examples of a social site would come from a politician, but it did.
It’s a lesson for all websites, including media players, on how to use the web to build sophisticated relationships and loyalty with your users. It’s the model to follow on how a site can get its readers to create content, market and spread its brand across the web like a contagious virus.
That’s what the Barack Obama website did, and its unique online campaign is taking the credit for helping him win the 2008 US Elections. Of course there were other factors, such as the small matter of a grave, global economic meltdown, and the fact that one of the most hated presidents in world history from the opposing party was on his way out. Then, of course, there were the millions Obama had behind him – although much of it was raised in little bits via his web presence.
But still, it’s no coincidence that the most extensive online political campaign ever also found itself on the winning side.
Apart from Obama’s social media presence – everything from Facebook to Twitter to YouTube – the site’s social network my.barackobama.com (or “myBo”) was particularly groundbreaking. For me it raises an important question: What’s a website these days without a social network layer?
It’s just a thin, unsticky, non-viral site that misses the point. An unsocial site is a missed opportunity to connect with your user in a substantial way to deliver targeted content, advertising and build real community around your content or e-commerce proposition. It misses the opportunity for your users to connect to each other and do things like share – another way of saying “market” – your site’s content and services.
Social networks are so core to sites these days that there are out-of-the-box social network solutions that you can just bolt on to your site. These include free, hosted solutions like Ning.com or Kickapps.com that you can just plug in, and hey presto, your site is social. Some companies turn to these rather than creating their own, although they can be restrictive. (Ironically, Obama’s opponent, John McCain, used Kickapps as his social network solution.)
Even Google is muscling in on the action. Its recently launched Friend Connect is an example of the trend, enabling any website to offer social applications and content from Facebook, hi5, Orkut, Plaxo, MySpace, Google Talk and other social networks.
The Barack Obama website built its own social network functionality, creating something that was no doubt the most sophisticated political party website ever created. It put some dedicated social network sites to shame. It’s also no surprise then that the man behind the Obama social network site was none other than Chris Hughes, the 24-year-old co-founder of Facebook.
This is how Hughes used myBo to help win an election:
• MyBo offered integration with Facebook, allowing users a link-up with their my.barackobama profile, and then cleverly inviting existing Facebook friends to their Obama profile. It was simple and seamless; therefore it was used.
• Users could create blogs and groups on the site that they used to campaign for Obama’s cause.
• An activity tracker gave users marks out of ten, depending on how active they were in campaigning for Obama online and offline. They received points for organising events, raising funds, recruiting to groups, joining groups, and writing blogs.
How clever was that?
• A Neighbour-to-Neighbour tool allowed users to find undecided registered voters living near them to canvass.
• MyBo also had standard social network functionality such as finding friends, finding events and hosting your own events that campaign for Obama. It was brilliant.
It is the website that political parties around the world will base their online political strategies on. And here, too, are lessons for online media.
Matthew Buckland is the general manager of publishing and social media at 24.com. Read his blog at !_LT_span style=”text-decoration: underline;” href=”http://www.matthewbuckland.com/”www.matthewbuckland.com!_LT_/a!_LT_/span.
- This column first appeared in The Media magazine (January 2009).