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Five Ways Obama Is More Social Than Your CEO

On Monday, January 30th, President Obama hosted the White House’s first Google+ hangout, a group video chat provided by the search engine’s newish social network. This was just another in a long list of digital communications tools that this White House has used to reach out to citizens and voters alike. This is a President with more than 24 million “Likes” on Facebook, more than 12 million Twitter followers and a long-standing history of webcasting major events.  Further, he uses email as an effective marketing tool and built a social network as a powerful campaign organizing tool. As a candidate, he used digital to connect with the public, as a President he has proven his ability to adapt as well as innovate, completely changing the way his office communicates with the people.

When I think about the role of our President as Chief Executive of the United States, I see much opportunity for Chief Executives of other corporations to take on digital media with the same urgency, enthusiasm and willingness to experiment. It’s refreshing and shows that the Obama White House has committed to digital as a core communications competency and built a savvy team to nimbly handle it all. It’s also a challenge to other people in power who claim to be too busy to use social media; because if Obama can make time, your CEO can too.

Here are five areas where Obama as Chief Executive is leading the way for other CEOs.

1. He understands the power of Twitter

@BarackObama tweets, really. While his campaign team handles the bulk of his tweets, he does in fact post as himself, and when he does, he signs off as –BO. (Which makes me wonder about that dog’s name.) On the same note, @MichelleObama just joined Twitter this January and signs off as –MO. The fact that they both self-identify and lend their name and identity to a 140-character tweet gives each message more importance and authenticity.

 Does your CEO have a voice in social? Maybe he doesn’t need his own account, but he can at least be given a voice on an existing channel.

 2. He understands a new model of advocacy

Beyond giving their Chief Executive a voice, the Obama White House also understands that Twitter can give citizens a voice. In December 2011, the White House launched a hashtag campaign called #40Dollars, asking Americans what they would do with $40. This effort was directed to House Republicans on the issue of  a 2-month Payroll Tax Extension. Even more dynamic, was the #40dollars infographic released to accompany the effort.  This was a marketing effort that felt more Pepsi than DNC, and it clearly hit the mark.

While not all CEO’s are thinking about Twitter as an advocacy channel, they may take a page from Obama or even Walgreens. In a recent #ILoveWalgreens hashtag campaign, the pharmacy brand used their consumer’s voice as a tool in their negotiations with ExpressScripts. While the winner in this war is not clear, we got to see the C-Suite make a decision to strike hard and fast using Twitter as the corporate weapon.


3. He understands shifting revenue models

On the same day of his Google+ hangout, the Obama 2012 campaign made what I feel is an even bigger announcement. They would be using Square to take campaign donations. Founded by @Jack Dorsey (co-founder of Twitter), Square is a mobile credit card payment system most often seen with other mobile or independent retailers. Now instead of being accosted by a campaign staffer with a clipboard who will sign you onto a fundraising list, you can be accosted by a campaign staffer with an iPhone and a Square who will take your money on the spot (and sign you onto a fundraising list).

Does your CEO look for new payment systems that could bypass existing retail and payment systems? Even if it’s not an immediate answer for your brand, it’s always worth experimenting with how people will pay for products in the future.

4. He understands the power of an image

Mike Krieger, the founder of Instagram, was a guest of Michelle Obama’s at the 2012 State of the Union address. While his presence was to highlight the value of immigration reform in an innovation-driven economy, it was not ignored that the White House had just joined the popular photo sharing tool. While relatively new on the platform, we can expect to see retro-filtered images from the campaign trail being fed into the streams of smartphone carrying voters everywhere.

Back in May 2011, the White House made even bigger news in the world of online images by releasing images from the Situation Room used for the raid on Osama Bin Laden. These striking images created an iconic image in our Nation’s war on terror and allowed the White House to give access and control the story all at once.

When your CEO thinks about how to build a visual story, how often are images discussed? In both of these examples the lesson is one of combining transparency, access and messaging. Imagery can be a powerful tool for telling your story to media and consumers.

 5. He hires digital natives

The Obama 2012 job’s site has the following quote: “We're going to run the most effective, creative, and innovative digital campaign in the history of politics, and our digital team will be core to achieving the communications, fundraising and organizing goals of the cause.”

That statement is hugely exciting to a new media professional like me, and I hope that other Chief Executives see the importance of building a digital-first workforce. In order to face the new and shifting landscape of digital communications, companies need to train and hire the best new media communicators possible, period.

When your CEO asks what his strategy for new and social media should be, the response should highlight these key takeaways.

  • Lead by example and be willing to participate or lend your name to new media efforts
  • Hire the best people to do the job, people who understand digital platforms and how to communicate effectively on them.
  • Give digital employees the freedom to explore and the funding they need to succeed.
  • Build digital into the core of all your communications and marketing efforts.
  • Don’t let bureaucracy get in the way of innovation.
  • Build your presence and engage with your consumers using every tool and platform that makes sense for your brand.


Join The Conversation

  • MorganBarnhart's picture
    Feb 2 Posted 5 years ago MorganBarnhart

    I think it's pretty cool how social our president is. We can only validate certain things that he does on his social networks (I mean, we can't for sure say that he is the one that is always tweeting, but I'm sure he does tweet). It's even more cool that he's on the look out for digital peeps to help out! He has seized social media in a whole new way and I hope future presidents will do the same. Awesome article! 

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