Corporate blog assignment – See Obama v. Clinton.

June 2, 2008 at 1:24 am Leave a comment

As it appears the end of the Democratic primary is upon us, I’ve had some corporate communication types ask me, “What does this mean? For me?” The question inherently recognizes that something is going on in the American body politic, and that it must mean something for business. And that it probably has something to do with blogs.

Completely self-serving for a political blogger? Sure. Still true? Care to chance it? Didn’t think so. Here’s a tiny, tiny bit of what I think this all means for corporate blogs, and why the victory of Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton is the perfect analogy any corporation needs to study before they enter the blogosphere.

There is money to be had. Lots.

The figures raised online for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are staggering – they now approach half a billion dollars. How did this happen? And what does it mean for my business?

Social media and the internet, largely fueled by blogs and the opinion-leaders of the blogosphere, have created a new arena in which peer-reviewed recommendations create a critical mass from which huge sums of money flow almost without effort. Barack Obama led the way, through pioneering use of the internet, and Hillary Clinton simply had to follow.

An example. Early in the contest, political bloggers criticized the Obama campaign for a lack of “outreach” to blogs, while the Clinton campaign made a point of holding blogger conference calls, advertising on blogs, and cluing in opinion-leading bloggers to insider stuff. Obama’s approach was bottom-up; raise the money, build the lists, connect everyone, and the rest will come. Clinton’s was top-down; work the opinion-leaders, pay them off with ads, and get them to lead their readers.

We know which one worked. Major bloggers took a step back from the heavy handed approach, and simultaneously began to see their readership leading them. The dollars started to pile up, as friends encouraged friends to donate. Soon the major bloggers’ hands were forced by their own readers. A tipping point can’t be readily identified right now, but the ecosystem created by the Obama campaign became so powerful that he now raises money every time he breathes, at the rate of $54 per second.

That is the power of social media, given the chance to operate on authenticity.

Old world vs. The Blogosphere

The sale of goods and services doesn’t engender much passion normally. Politics does, and politics is in the DNA of the blogosphere. When a corporation meets the blogosphere, the company will inevitably intersect with a thriving community of veteran advocates ready to engage on their terms, not the company’s. Navigating these waters is treacherous business.

Just ask Bill Clinton. It’s been widely commented that Bill Clinton simply was not ready for the new media cycle, driven in large part by the blogosphere. He has misinterpreted his own misunderstanding for a bias toward his wife. Wrong. The one way conversation with the media which Bill Clinton (read: your company) was used to is gone. Anyone re-entering politics after last engaging in national politics in 1996 will find a universe of voices who talk back, who weren’t even imaginable in 1996, and who don’t respect the old rules.

The same will hold true for any company that enters the blogosphere today. The new rules will seem almost unfair, but are reality. If Bill Clinton, a master politician, was surprised by what met him and his wife in the blogosphere, imagine how your company’s board will react.

Example. I once talked to a manager at a major software company about blogs, and she was dismissive in an almost rude tone. Then one day one of her employees posted something negative about her company on a blog. She was enraged. Human resources went to battle stations. The president of the company got involved.

I just laughed, and this enraged her more. My response was that you may not know what a blog is, or care about it, until your name appears on one. That’ll get you to read blogs. Real fast. And from that point on, constantly. In the political blogosphere, hand to hand combat like this was the rule from the day the first blog launched. There isn’t a single battle a political blogger worth his salt hasn’t seen, from all sides, many times. The way a corporate blog presence engages this kind of combat will decide who wins.

Authenticity rules. From now on.

The repeated attempts to tar Barack Obama as a Muslim terrorist, then as a Christian radical, all were fed by the blogosphere. Emails and Youtubes were picked up by opinion-leading bloggers and gave the story an undercurrent that eventually crashed in waves over the mainstream media. Barack Obama engaged the controversy with an authenticity that is hard to put a finger on, but that was simply required by the situation.

This will happen to your company. If not soon, then soon enough. The blogosphere is a place where controversy, lies, and smears spread like wildfire. And when this happens, to your company, perhaps because of something on your blog, authenticity in the blogosphere will be the only way out.

It was the only way out for Barack Obama. Herein lies a paradox. In the old one-way-conversation world, not only would the Muslim/Wright controversies likely not have occurred (first half of paradox) but if they had, (second half) they would have sunk his campaign. In the new world, dominated and led by a blogosphere that hunts down lies like white blood cells to destroy them, a conversation began instead of a firing squad. And in that conversation, if Barack Obama had displayed one scintilla of phoniness, he’d have been done. Finished.


These are just a few thoughts that have been springing into my mind lately, now that Barack Obama is going to be the Democratic nominee. People dismiss the talk of change, but being dismissive of something that is moving under your feet is usually a mistake.


Entry filed under: political blogs, strategy. Tags: , .

Kodak’s blog, A Thousand Words, but one will do Kodak – how not to engage the blogopshere

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