How did Barack Obama do it? Pundits and scholars have already given this a thorough going over and I will not go into all here, but clearly, as John McCain said in his concession speech last night [video and transcript]:
...his success alone commands my respect for his ability and perseverance. But that he managed to do so by inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans who had once wrongly believed that they had little at stake or little influence in the election of an American president is something I deeply admire and commend him for achieving.
Yes, inspiration and aspiration are clearly incentives for people and, at least this time for most of the people, trumped fear. But developing a campaign that transformed his vision and personal qualities into an intimate relationship with millions of volunteers and voters should be what social marketers and other change makers need to focus on. The use of new communication technologies by his campaign was not the essential ingredient for their success. Consider what The Wall Street Journal editorial page (subscription required) grudgingly had to admit about him a few days ago:
...while community organizing may not be much of a credential for the Presidency, Mr. Obama's ability to organize a campaign speaks well of his potential to manage a government.
From where I am standing today, I think the key to his successfully building the campaign and mobilizing a diverse group of Americans was in using technology in new ways - to build a community not seen before in American politics. Not to use new technologies as another channel to communicate at people, but to do it with them. We are use to hearing candidates of all stripes talk about respecting voters, but I was convinced of the essential element of the man last night at 11:54 PM (EST) when I received this text message:
We just made history. All of this happened because you gave your time, talent and passion to this campaign. All of this happened because of you. Thanks, Barack.
This is not using new technology, this is using technology in new ways - to build relationships and honor the people formerly know as the audience as co-creators of their experience.
The email from him also is instructive as well:
I'm about to head to Grant Park to talk to everyone gathered there, but I wanted to write to you first.
We just made history.
And I don't want you to forget how we did it.
You made history every single day during this campaign -- every day you knocked on doors, made a donation, or talked to your family, friends, and neighbors about why you believe it's time for change.
I want to thank all of you who gave your time, talent, and passion to this campaign.
We have a lot of work to do to get our country back on track, and I'll be in touch soon about what comes next.
But I want to be very clear about one thing...
All of this happened because of you.
This is what builds the relationship between change and the individual. Not simply repudiation of the old, or aspiration for the better. But the collaborative spirit that is expressed through all of his communications - not just on the web, or in stump speeches or in town hall meetings. What came through to many of us, though the cynics will disagree vigorously, was authenticity. President-Elect Obama stated last night in his victory speech [video and transcript]:
This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were.
It can't happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.
So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.
The campaign fever will quickly subside among many people, but change will not now come naturally or organically. The challenge, I believe, for the Obama administration will be how to continue this dialogue with people, continue to engage in relationship-building with the American people and sustain it when the inevitable conflicts and hard choices must be made. His promise to us last night was: I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And, above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation, the only way it's been done in America for 221 years -- block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.
He may not call it social marketing, but the clarity of the call he is making for a mutual exchange - the reciprocal sharing of truth, honesty and hard work - will lead to change if that exchange builds and reinforces trust and generates value for both parties. I am excited by the idea of a new relationship being forged between people and this government to make America a better home and global neighbor. As I tweeted last night, it is time for us to get to work to make it happen.