The start of the US Presidential election reminds us of the impact of the social web on Barack Obama’s first campaign, in both the primaries and the election itself, as long ago as 2008 (ancient history in social web time).

Re-examining that period, often called the first social Presidential election, provides interesting insights into the rigour, planning, and adept execution of Barack Obama’s campaign, and reminds us of how much of this remains valid to this day.

At the core of the campaign’s success was the ruthless self-assessment by Obama and his campaign managers that he was very much the underdog, particularly when competing against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries – someone who was part of a political dynasty, had blanket brand awareness, and was funded to the hilt.

This is a familiar commercial scenario, especially for companies launching new products or entering new markets. And it’s the archetypal play for disruptors.

Obama’s deployment of social media and real-time digital strategies and tactics was therefore designed explicitly to claw back the advantage. The commercial comparisons remain obvious and relevant to this day: if you have to cut through, the social web can give you an advantage.

In their book* on Obama’s use of the social web (now over seven years old) Barry Libert and Rick Faulk list the following lessons learned from the campaign:

  • cultivate grassroots
  • create a community
  • nurture contact lists (in social terms this translates to your Followers across all social channels) [today we would expand this to embrace the concept of ‘engagement lists’]
  • allow your new grassroots to grow into every crevice [today we would add, support and equip them in this]
  • arm yourself against cheap shots but don’t take them yourself
  • turn CRM into what they called customer-managed relationships (CMR) [a new concept then, and one that still has merit]
  • make your marketing mobile

This remains a useful template for any social-led campaign. What’s changed dramatically since 2008/2009 has been the rise of real-time analytics as part of what makes social marketing, social selling and social-led business development effective.

Re-read the list of lessons from Libert and Faulk above, and add what’s new:

  • real-time analytics
  • real-time integration of the now-millions of pieces of real-time intelligence from the social web with existing organizational data
  • real-time insights

The picture becomes complete: you now have a fully-integrated, social-led campaign engine.

For a politician, the campaign engine drives an election.

For a commercial organization, it drives customer retention, business development, and profit enhancement.
Ask Obama.

*Barack, Inc., by Barry Libert & Rick Faulk, published in 2009 by FT Press. (A version of this article appears on