Here Comes Everybody

Promise + tool + bargain.  The road to the White House?

Technology has put us squarely in the midst of a social revolution.  Gone are the days when neighbors discussed politics and gossip over the fence.  Instead, people around the world named Fred agree to meet in a single spot on a single day, a person in China edits a definition I enter on a virtual encyclopedia, and one email or blog sparks a revolution.  As Clay Shirky puts it, “we can have groups that operate with a birthday party’s informality and a multinational’s scope.”


The political campaign that does not embrace this change is the campaign that accepts defeat.  Shirky argues in his book, Here Comes Everybody:  The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, that a successful online venture requires the a plausible promise, an effective tool, and an acceptable bargain with the users:

In the context of a political campaign, achieving the trifecta means giving people a reason to support the candidate and join the campaign; providing supporters with easy ways to participate in the campaign; and clearly stating what supporters must bring to the campaign and what the campaign will deliver to them.


The Obama presidential campaign demonstrates success when the trifecta is met and lost opportunity when just one element falls short. 


Obama’s campaign promise of “Change We Can Believe In” and now “Change We Need” hits the “sweet spot” Shirky describes.  That is, it is “big enough to inspire interest, yet achievable enough to inspire confidence,” and offers “some value higher than something else he/she already does.” 

Once Obama sinks these supporters with his message, he throws them a line with easy tools to participate:  unprecedented grassroots organizing, online fundraising and volunteering, virtual communities, neighbor to neighbor outreach.  He’s made his campaign a community you don’t want to be excluded from.

Finally, Obama has made the bargain of his campaign clear from the start:  if you commit to me, I’ll commit to you and together we’ll change the world. 




So, he’s perfect, right?  Not so fast.  Early in the summer, Obama bargained with supporters that if they gave their cell phone numbers to the campaign he would reward them by texting his VP choice, ensuring they’d be “the first to know.”   The  campaign provided an easy tool (click here) and unprecedented numbers of supporters handed over their cell numbers, lured by the promise of access to the inner circle.  One problem:  Obama didn’t live up to the bargain.


“That promise was undercut when news organizations confirmed around 1 a.m. today that Obama had settled on Biden. The announcement was sent about two hours later — apparently with no glitches, said Kevin Bertman of Distributive Networks, the District-based mobile company hired by the campaign to send its texts.

Yet some awaiting word were complaining on various blogs and social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. “What happened to the text message?” wrote Hunter Woods on the wall of Obama’s official Facebook page.”

And because we live in a new world, what once may have been one neighbor complaining to another became blogs, postings and emails from Alaska to New York.


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