The only people who talk about politics are politicians, right?

We’ve talked about Coke’s online achievements and Google’s print media successes so what else is there to discuss? – aah politics! They’re old, they’re grey-haired and generally not as tech savvy as the younger audience they lead, so how are politics relevant to PR? Two words: Barack Obama.

Barack Obama, President of the United States of America. Source: creative commons.org.au

Barack Obama, President of the United States of America. Source: creativecommons.org.au

In the lead up to the 2008 American presidential election, Barack Obama launched a campaign like no other. Recognising that around 16% of registered voters follow candidates for office on social networking sites, Mr Obama saw an opportunity to differentiate himself from the competition – a decision that would later see the election labeled as the “Facebook election”.

With a focus on digital and social media, Mr Obama amplified his online campaign activity through podcasting, MySpace, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Becoming the most active election candidate on Twitter and befriending an additional 20 million Facebook supporters during the campaign period, Obama “rocked the youth vote” by targeting the 81% of young American people who use social media (Barnes, 2006).

But it wasn’t Obama’s dominant online approach that stood out most, it was his ability to use social media as a way to connect with the public. In other words, Mr Obama had adopted the practice of PR 2.0 in order to create a relationship with the American people. After all, in a recent Pew Research Center survey, 35% of registered voters who use social media to follow a political candidate said a major reason they do so is because it makes them feel as though they are personally connected to a politician.

And, it was that personal connection between Barack Obama and the American people that slingshotted his campaign to success. Barack Obama’s triumph marked the first US presidential election that was won on the internet and saw him become the first African-American president of the United States, being re-elected to office in 2012.

So what can we learn from this? That Barack Obama has paved the way for political campaigns around the world? That all future elections must be fought online? That politics can actually be cool and relevant to public relations?

Whatever it is, a discussion of politics shouldn’t be left for politicians, it’s a discussion we PR enthusiasts need to enter into. They may be old and relatively slow to the social media mark, but the combination of politicians and PR 2.0 is a dynamic force and one that is raising the bar on political campaigns everywhere.

So if you’re reading this Ms Clinton in the lead up to the 2016 US election, take note, because it’s time to start Tweeting!

Here’s part 1 of a four-part YouTube series on Obama’s social media success – strongly encourage you guys to watch the rest of the series!

Barnes, S. B. (2006). A privacy paradox: Social networking in the United States. First Monday, 11(9).

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