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Is Obama Ready To Be A Two-Way President?

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A Sad Day In Silicon Valley

Where there’s victory, there’s also opportunity…

This Presidential election was profound in its results. Obama won both the Electoral College vote 364 to 163 and the popular vote 53% to 46% with roughly 120,000,000 votes cast. This election was the first in 50 years, in which there was no incumbent President or Vice President from either party competing for the Presidential nomination. Close to 65% of the American population voted in this election, its highest turnout since the election of 1908.

With Obama’s wins in key “swing states” including Ohio, Florida, Colorado, and Pennsylvania, this election was nothing short of a landslide victory that fundamentally redrew America’s political dynamics. A Democrat had not won Virginia and Indiana in a generation.

Credit: CNN

But let’s examine the election another way, one that may bring to life a different picture of how Obama earned his place in history. His campaign both redrew political lines and also forever changed the way candidates reach out to constituents.

Online tools such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter contributed to the netting of record-breaking campaign funding and the staggering galvanization of a younger generation of first-time voters who truly made an impact and a difference. The Obama campaign, for example, outspent McCain nearly three-to-one, which was a testament to the capabilities of technology and the corresponding impact of sociology let loose on the Web. The Obama campaign leveraged multiple technology platforms and social immersion strategies to engage constituents directly, raising an astounding $660 million in campaign contributions.

They went directly to the people.

The Obama team, for example befriended almost 130,000 friends on Twitter with an almost equal amount following him.

On Facebook, the Obama page boasted over three million fans compared to McCain’s 618,000.

YouTube also swayed towards Obama with a network of 358,000 to 191,000, with the Obama camp posting over 1,800 videos compared to McCain’s 330. These videos accounted for 110 million views.

If you compare the other social networks and communities from FriendFeed to MySpace to Flickr, the stats are asymmetrical in Obama’s partiality.

Many of these two-way tools however, were simply used as broadcast mechanisms to send updates, solicit contributions, provide updates, and to also rally and unite supporters, albeit successfully.

Reaching the other 46%

My question is: What if these same social media tools where deployed to not only communicate “to” constituents, but also to listen and interact with supporters as well as those who don’t currently endorse the President-elect?

Over 46% of America voted against Barrack Obama, with 22 states going to John McCain, regardless of weight in the Electoral College. Either way you look at it, that’s still a significant portion of America who didn’t believe #change or #hope were attributes of the Obama campaign. These voters believed their future lay with another candidate.

Whether you’re a Democrat, Republican, Independent or member of the Green Party, you cannot overlook the power of real world community relations combined with the reach and engagement of online social communities and networks to change politics as usual.

If Obama dedicates a team aside from the outbound crew that “pushes” content through social channels in order to strategically reach, listen to, and embrace the 46% who voted against him, he might be able to run a truly democratic term. It could also curtail the necessity to campaign as much while in office in order to focus on the issues we elected him to fix

All signs and words emanating from the Obama camp and Mr. Obama himself, point to a strategy of leveraging today’s powerful, two-way bridges of communication.

In a text message sent to supporters on the eve of the election, he reaffirmed that they will be part of the Presidency moving forward, “We have a lot of work to do to get our country back on track, and I’ll be in touch soon about what comes next.”

But perhaps the most revealing promise that showed Mr. Obama will run his office for all the people of the United States, not just those who voted for him, was shared through his words on November 4th:


I will listen to you, especially when we disagree…and to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your President, too.

His first step towards bringing the vision of running a cross-party campaign is the launch of Change.gov, a portal for transparency and interaction during, and hopefully past, the transition.

In a sense, Change.gov is a simple and engaging site, but also highly intricate in its goals to give voters a voice. It is a resource center for sharing information, updates, jobs, and also provides a channel for people who share their vision, concern, and ideas with the President and his advisors through text, images or video.

Mr. Obama offers this message to visitors:

I ask you to believe – not just in my ability to bring about change, but in yours. I know this change is possible…because in this campaign, I have had the privilege to witness what is best in America.

Change.gov is the first step in a long road of reshaping the dynamics of politics and communication with voters.

They’re on the right track however.

Obama’s history-making campaign that fused community relations with social sciences, after all, carried him to the Democratic nomination and also the Oval Office. Mr. Obama and his team have cultivated and collaborated with a database of millions of people that spans a sophisticated contact relationship management infrastructure that spans across the real world to all popular social networks.

With an elaborate and revolutionary channel that will only grow with his Presidency, Obama takes office with a powerful new medium that may eclipse the reach and drive of traditional broadcast media.

But, what about those who voted against him?

What’s the channel for Obama to ask, “Why didn’t I get your vote?” Is it Change.gov or is it through the combination of inbound and outbound engagement that will unearth the key concerns that offer genuine potential for not just listening, but also intelligent response and earned support?

It’s a two way street.

This isn’t just about broadcasting content through new channels or merely soliciting feedback, participating in popular networks or actively listening. It’s the ability to identify and internalize themes to precipitate change and earn support through action—not just words.

For the first time, the U.S. President can cultivate grassroots communities directly where people create, discover, and share information online. He is already thinking in this direction, as evidenced by his intention to record the weekly Presidential address on Youtube, in addition to broadcasting it over the radio. The videos will be hosted on Change.gov, with the first one already recorded.

Other opportunities to engage with citizens online include:

- Launch a social network at Change.gov and/or whitehouse.gov

- Create a citizen feedback and collaboration page at GetSatisfaction

-Solicit policy proposals that people can vote up or down on Change For Us.

- Open the blog to comments on Change.gov (with community moderation).

- Address the country on YouTube with updates, polls, and also address issues in between official State of the Union broadcasts.

- Capture behind-the-scenes footage of the inner workings of the White House and share across all video networks.

- Create a user-generated channel on Magnify.net that features content from constituents.

-Create an @obamacares or @whitehousecares account on Twitter and other micro-blogging communities to listen and respond directly within each network.

- Complement the Presidential radio show with a regular podcast or livecast on uStream.tv or BlogTalkRadio and also interact with the people online, in real time.

- Publish speeches and important policy documents on document networks such as Scribd and Docstoc to be shared and disseminated throughout blogs and personal social profile pages.

(What other ideas do you have? Add them to comments).

This is how a President, or any politician or business for that matter, can authentically connect with the people formerly known as the audience—in the real world.

Treat us like customers

Most, successful businesses around the world place customers at the center of everything. Before the Web, for instance, Nordstrom built its engendering foundation on world-class, and now world famous, customer care.

There’s an extraordinary opportunity here for the White House to leverage these new and influential channels of conversation to embrace and cultivate voters as if they were customers, winning market share, one person at a time.

This is an era in which information is democratized. The Web potentially offers a live and unfiltered looking glass into the office of the Presidency and also the thoughts, insights, support, satisfaction, and grievances of the American people.

The Web cuts through political tape to spotlight the issues that matter most to the electorate. It creates the foundation for people to participate in a truly democratic, crowd-sourced Government that can directly channel their discontent or new ideas.

It’s through this collaboration that any public official, particularly the President, could continually maintain a real-time pulse of the country to learn from the very human effects and responses to government actions to run a more in-tune and effective administration.

People shouldn’t only have a voice during an election time; listening and responding should be an ongoing practice and process of any office. This is a political ecology rooted in sociology and conversations. It’s the art and science of stripping down the politics to reveal the truth.

The President can’t satisfy everyone, that’s just the reality. It’s human nature to disagree. This President-elect is not purporting to be perfect, but it seems he’s honestly willing to learn. With a national chief technology officer in place, combined with an informed engagement team versed in social sciences and psychology, he can use technology and two-way channels to not only increase economic efficiencies and boost education and media literacy, but also to “listen” to those influential beacons in order to continue to redraw, or potentially erase, party lines.

In my techtopian dreams, I hope that these incredible networks remain a constant source of conversation to extend beyond campaigning, but also collaborative governance that unites people.

It’s not about being Republican or a Democrat, it’s about representing the majority of the people, their views, passions, ambitions and struggles, in order to be a representative of the people for the people. This is Obama’s opportunity to use the tools and channels of today’s emerging voter demographics to rewrite the future of politics, while serving the best interests of the American people in the process.

Sometimes the best advisors and cabinet members are the very people who elected that person into office, and maybe, just maybe, also those who voted against him in the first place.

If the Obama camp reads this, I’m more than happy to release @obamacares and @whitehouse cares on Twitter. I held them for you.

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