Barack Obama’s success in the United States Democratic presidential primaries in 2008, when he campaigned to win the Democratic Party’s nomination to compete to become President of the United States, has been attributed largely to his effective promotional use of social media websites. Many observers pointed out his strong support on websites like Facebook and MySpace, and Chris Hughes, who co-founded Facebook and co-ordinated online organising within Obama’s presidential campaign, dubbed Obama’s online backing “unprecedented”. We assess what the current President can teach about how to use social media to develop an appealing brand.

From junior Illinois senator to presidential candidate

Obama first announced his candidacy for the office of President on February 10, 2007, when he was a junior Senator from Illinois. By November 5, 2008, there were many signs of the huge support that he had attracted from around the country and even beyond that; among these signs was a Facebook group called “Barack Obama (One Million Strong for Barack)” with 894,913 members. This level of support was amazing considering that, before the 2008 campaign, he was unknown nationally and was overshadowed by Hillary Clinton, who had both a strong brand and a huge political network to turn to.

Obama became an online ‘friend’ to many Americans

Crucial to Obama’s overcoming of the Clinton challenge was his and his team’s knowledge of social media and how to use it effectively for campaigning. Though it was once commonly very difficult and costly to make a new product and effectively brand it, social media can greatly ease the process of doing both of these things. This is largely because many members of the public no longer trust big impersonal brands; they are much more likely to trust their friends. Obama successfully used social media to become something of a ‘friend’ to many Americans.