Lessons from Barack Obama, round two

Here we go again. As Barack Obama hits the online campaign trail for his 2012 re-election campaign, expect a trickle, then a steady flow and finally a flood of posts about how Obama’s online campaigning should be copied by everyone from your pet cat to your grandparents.

On past form, many will gloss over the big differences between US and UK politics and the differences between a campaign headed up by the first non-white President and one aiming to make people buy your brand of shirts.

But as the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones, one of the more perceptive commentators on Obama online first time round, has pointed out, the early signs from Obama’s re-election campaign do give hints as to how the internet landscape is looking. In particular, he points out the relative prominence given to Facebook – the social network now where so many people spend so much time both in the US and in the UK.

Far less prominence is given to Twitter, though that may say more about Obama’s track-record of not making particularly good use of Twitter than it does about Twitter’s current potential. It certainly does not have the mass audience of Facebook, but for reaching journalists, opinion formers and potential activists it can do a great job.

Surprisingly, the Obama 2012 Facebook page makes little effort to promote the grand-daddy of online campaign tools – the one that is and forever will be only one year younger than myself and which Obama’s campaign concentrated on last time – namely email. No email sign up form is pushed at the reader.

Less surprisingly, that official Facebook page currently has fewer fans than the unofficial one – continuing a common trend of the unofficial being more popular than the official in online campaigning (something that was particularly notable with the Liberal Democrat online presences in the 2010 general election).

As Rory Cellan-Jones has also pointed out, the early launch of the Obama campaign illustrates how online audiences and teams of active volunteers usually take time to build up – it’s an environment for tortoises, not hares.

In that respect, at least, the Obama campaign is already giving a lesson that has wide applicability.

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