Monthly Archives: February 2012

Barack Obama: The Moneyball President

It’s well documented that Barack Obama’s use of social media in the 2008 presidential campaign was a huge advantage in building a valuable network of supporters.  Importantly, these supporters can be mobilized at a moment’s notice (or hounded for donations continuously).  But what’s surprising is that he has largely maintained that advantage even with the increase in social media awareness among Republican presidential candidates and other rivals in 2012.  That kind of sustained competitive advantage is difficult to achieve, and I believe it is a product of fortunate timing that will be nearly impossible for future candidates to duplicate.

I would argue that President Obama’s social media dominance is an example of exploiting an inefficient market.  According to my amateurish grasp of economic theory, an efficient market is one in which everyone has access to more or less the same information, so there is no sustainable advantage to be gained by anyone in the market over time.  Some argue that financial markets work this way, and that all information is instantly reflected in the market.  In an inefficient market however, not all information is reflected in the market, and advantages can be gained by having information on securities that may be overvalued or undervalued.  I’d like to thank Professor Reuter for that, and also apologize if I butchered it.

Another real-world example of this that illustrates the point is the story of Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane, made famous by the book and movie “Moneyball.”  Beane essentially realized that the market for baseball players was inefficient.  Teams were using methods of evaluating players that did not best predict their contribution to winning games, leaving some extremely undervalued players out there for the taking.  With better information and statistical analysis Beane was able to find valuable players that other teams had overlooked, and build a winning team for less money.  Beane’s methods have been criticized by some in recent years for the simple reason that the A’s eventually stopped winning.  But in reality, once other teams gained access to his information and started applying it to their own teams, the A’s competitive advantage disappeared.  The market became more efficient.

In 2008, the market for voters’ online attention was inefficient.  Information on how to reach voters online was not commonly understood and many, including John McCain, seemed unaware even of how important it was.  Social media was undervalued, and Barack Obama swooped in on a great investment with serious returns.  The charts below were created the month of the election, and compare Obama and McCain’s relative social media presence.

Charts via Pete Quily: Link

What really stands out to me is that the McCain campaign only tweeted 25 times throughout the entire campaign, severely undervaluing the power of that platform.  McCain has since become an avid user of Twitter, but obviously far too late.  Republican politicians in general have been catching up lately in their awareness and use of social media, with all of 2012’s Republican presidential candidates using Facebook and Twitter often and (relatively) effectively.  But surprisingly, Obama has been able to maintain his advantage pretty convincingly.

Via Overdrive Interactive: Link

It makes sense that the market would become more efficient as candidates realize the real value of social media, so why does that donkey still tower over the herd of elephants at its feet?  I think it’s a product of the year that Obama was elected.  2008 was the first true social media election and Obama was the only candidate to take full advantage of it.  He built up a formidable following, and had four years to build it up and gain valuable information about his supporters.  His head start and continued social media savvy have extended his advantage beyond what I would have expected in such a fast moving medium.  In future years, it will be nearly impossible to build that kind of advantage in a national campaign.  A candidate might have a slightly better presence by virtue of popularity, but the market is now far too efficient for another Barack Obama to happen.

In full disclosure, I was a donor to the Obama campaign in 2008.  I haven’t been so far this time, mostly because I have a wedding to save for.  But as a Twitter and Facebook follower, an e-mail and text message recipient, I’ve seen first-hand the amount of skill Obama’s organization brings to social media and how well they target their message even within different supporter groups.  I would still argue that their advantage would be unsustainable for much longer, and would be impossible to replicate in the future.

On the other hand, maybe they’re just that good…



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What Works in Twitter Marketing – A Consumer’s Perspective

In our first class of MI621 we learned about a woman who was in one of those “stuck in a plane on the tarmac for 11 hours” situations.  In the past, passengers complained, probably got refunds, and the airlines just waited for the fuss to die down around the situation.  But this woman had a tool at her disposal that she was able to leverage against the airlines, and she used it surprisingly well.  What she did was find online news articles about the incident and use the comments section to spread her manifesto against the airlines.  Through this, she was able to find enough people who were also on the flight, they started a website and an organization, and their efforts eventually got the law changed in New York State so that kind of thing would never happen again.

I mean think about it… the COMMENTS SECTION OF NEWS ARTICLES!  That is the undisputed armpit of the internet.  You could read an article about a poor rice harvest in China, and the conversation will devolve into “It’s Obama’s fault!”  And that’s on the polite side.  What does that have to do with marketing on Twitter?  Well, what struck me is that if this woman was able to start a movement through the comments sections of news articles, just imagine your power to reach people through well organized social media.  Professor Kane told us that only when a technology gets boring do its uses really get interesting.  I think this is evidence that social media is at that moment.  Social media isn’t just Facebook, Twitter, WordPress and Tumblr.  All media now has a social aspect to it.  There are comments sections, CNN Facebook chats, even the games on my iPhone allow me to chat with my friends or complete strangers in random games.  Social media is ingrained pretty deeply into everything we do online, so the technology isn’t really the question anymore.  The question is how to effectively reach people with it.

Yes, this is real.

It’s not as easy as simple advertising (not that advertising is easy either).  What makes a company’s social media “just work” and what makes it just weak?   It’s hard to identify.  In a space like Twitter, if you’re not looking out for it, you won’t even notice.  A company who does it right will be just another good follow.  If a company does it wrong, you’re probably not following them anyway.  Here’s what I’ve observed:

Is Twitter even for you?

First off, who are you trying to reach?  If you sell Depends, catheters, or 4:00 early bird buffet specials, your target market is not exactly blowing up the Twittersphere.  Maybe they will be in 40 years.

On the other hand, some companies may say, “Why not give it try?  What’s the harm?”  On Twitter, if you’re not prepared to really put in the effort, you can do more harm than good.  An unused or misused Twitter account makes a company look out of touch, and the kind of person who uses Twitter is the kind of person who notices things like that.  To bring out my inner nerd and quote Yoda, “Do or do not.  There is no try.”   A decision to jump into any social media should include a dedicated social media strategist, who is constantly engaging with customers.

Social media fail.

Give us a conversation

Don’t just talk at us, talk with us.  Respond to people.  This doesn’t mean everyone (you couldn’t possibly) but just seeing a company respond to an individual request makes me think that they’re listening, and that I could reach them if I needed to be heard.

That being said, don’t let your conversation stray too far off message.  There’s enough inanity on Twitter already, and being asked about the latest sporting contest by a toilet paper company comes off as just a bit disingenuous.

You have to give us some value!

Social Media isn’t the same as advertising.  If all you do is try to sell us, only your biggest fans will care (and you’ve already got them).   What do we get for following you?  Special offers, available only to those of us in the know?  An outlet for actually reaching the company, and getting answers?  Your social media outreach should offer us something new, something that we can’t get through our other interactions with your company.  Otherwise, why are we here?

But don’t get too comfortable…

Try not to forget, you’re still a company with a reputation to uphold.  If you dive into social media haphazardly, you do so at your own risk.  It is well worth finding an experienced professional to manage your social media outreach, as the road is littered with Twitter feeds that were passed off to the nearest intern with… mixed results.

What do you guys think?  Any others that I didn’t hit?


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