What does Barak Obama have in common with J.F. Kennedy & Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt? Will social media technologies effectively reach all social and economic levels in America?

Global Electoral College

New media technology is providing people globally with an opportunity to vote for an American President. Will new technology also increase voter turnout in America?

The Economist has devised an interesting way for its readers worldwide to join the current presidential election, by creating a “Global Electoral College” that assigns votes to each country based on its population size.

As noted by the Economist recently,

“As in America, each country has been allocated a minimum of three electoral-college votes with an extra vote allocated for every 700,000 or so of population. With over 6.5 billion people now enfranchised, the result is a  larger electoral college of 9,875. Every nation needs to have at least ten individual votes in order to have their electoral-college votes counted. The GEC online voting booth is open until 5PM EST on November 2, 2008, when the candidate with the most electoral-college votes will be declared the winner in a live announcement by Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait.”

The Obama (and to some extent McCain) campaigns realize that the masses need to be mobilized, and different media need to be used depending on the age of the voter and socioeconomic situation. One technology that could be used to accomplished goal is the mobile phone.

According to the recent NY Times and the latest Pew Research Study “Only just over a quarter of Americans – 27 per cent – picked up a newspaper on any given day, where well over a third – 37 percent – regularly go online for news.”

Social media and in particular mobile devices (voice, text, and e-mail) can effectively communicate to all social and economic levels for the following reasons. With the trend for news information moving from print media to the Internet, and the increasing shift towards using mobile (and social media technologies) for receiving news and information, people are relying more on their mobile phone to receive and communicate information. One reason for this is that the mobile phone has been shown to be effective in reaching multiple socioeconomic levels. For example, if we take a look at mobile phone use in Africa and Asia, you can see that it is in wide use in many extreme cultural and economic conditions. (see blog post dated 9/12-08)

Mobile phone services such as text messaging, e-mail, and Internet access have the power to reach effectively the masses and niche markets, and penetrate most ethnic, socioeconomic, and linguistic niches. This is because it is affordable, compact, and provides multiple add-on services for communicating. Content development is the next stage in increasing user base and its ability to influence people. As noted by the Economist,

“Behind these statistics lies a more profound social change. A couple of years ago, a favorite example of mobile phones’ impact in the developing world was that of an Indian fisherman calling different ports from his boat to get a better price for his catch. However mobile phones are increasingly being used to gain access to more elaborate data services.

A case in point is M-PESA, a mobile-payment service introduced by Safaricom Kenya, a mobile operator, in 2007. It allows subscribers to deposit and withdraw money via Safaricom’s airtime-sales agents, and send funds to one another by text message. The service is now used by around a quarter of Safaricom’s 10m customers. Casual workers can be paid quickly by phone; taxi drivers can accept payment without having to carry cash around; money can be sent to friends and family in emergencies. Safaricom’s parent company, Vodafone, has launched M-PESA in Tanzania and Afghanistan, and plans to introduce it in India.”

And in China lower economic conditions encourage the use of a mobile device to send and receive information.

“As countries work their way up the development ladder, however, the situation changes in favor of full mobile-web access. Jim Lee, a manager at Nokia’s Beijing office, says he was surprised to find that university students in remote regions of China were buying Nokia Nseries smart-phones, costing several months of their disposable income. Such handsets are status symbols, but there are also pragmatic reasons to buy them. With up to eight students in each dorm room, phones are often the only practical way for students to access to the web for their studies.”

Finally, the total number of students this year that have landline phone service at Amherst College, Massachusetts is 5, and the likelihood that a student with an iPhone/iTouch is in the class of 2012 is approximately 1 in 2.

Is it effective to use a retro and new media marketing/branding strategy to launch a  political campaign in 2008?

Barak Obama’s current marketing and branding campaign resembles that of a political campaigning strategy of the 1950’s. Obama may not realize that his political campaign strategies are in part similar to the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt. Nasser’s political campaign communications by radio (a communicate device that at that time was affordable to wide social and economic audience), to the Egyptian people, won the hearts and minds of his country men and women, and eventually the election. He was the first Egyptian political candidate to incorporate radio into a political campaign, and in doing so influenced several different economic levels and social communities in Egypt. This strategy is said to have lead to a reshaping of the political, economic and social life of Egypt, and the Middle East from the early 1950s, until the early 1970s. One could argue that Obama’s strategy is a similar to Nasser’s, because of his strategic use of new social media (including text messaging) to reach the nonvoting youth that communicate information by viral means, Americans that actively participate in the voting process, and those hard to reach economic and educationally challenged Americans communities through the United States that do not generally participate in the voting process.

In the most recent Cassandra trend Report, they drew a similar analogy by noting that the potogenic and telegenic appeal of John F. Kennedy helped him beat out Richard Nixon in 1960. Well in 2008, it is Barack Obama that has leveraged social technologies to raise nearly 350 million dollars in the past year alone to fuel his political campaign. This unparalleled multi-media campaign has positioned a relatively unknown, first term Senator from Illinois into a race for the presidency. He should be credited with one of the strongest political campaign marketing and branding performances in American history, Obama has embraced the use of all appropriate marketing vehicles and opportunities such as My.BarackObama.com, (MYBO, serves as a platform for community activism and fundraising), Countdown to Change iPhone application, text messaging technology through Twittering, and more. The Obama branding machine has also inspired street artists and celebrities like Shepard Fairy who created a poster to show his support of Barack Obama. The limited edition prints sold out in moments.

As trends in Asia and Africa have shown, people living in challenged economic conditions can now be effectively communicated by mobile phone; this technology will provide new opportunities for political candidates to motivate them to take part in the election process.

By using social media technology, the Obama campaign has found a way to reach out to the nonparticipating public, even those individuals that (due to economic, educational and cultural conditions), do not participate in the elections process, and feel their vote will not make a difference. This is a political campaign that is not unlike those political or business marketing/branding campaigns launched in numerous developing countries (perhaps the years Obama spent as a child living in Indonesia have provided him with a global perspective), around the world.  Although, they rely on the mobile device exclusively to reach the urban and rural masses to win their votes and conduct day-to-day business activities. Mobile phones could also have the power to increase voter turnout as the user base increases. This is in part because of its non discriminating ability to penetrate the masses.

In the end, even those who do not support Obama’s political agenda should agree that his communication skills are excellent and progressive. Obama will soon find out in the coming debates and presidential election if he was able to influence voter decision making, and turn out through the early adoption of social media technology. We are also likely to see the mobile phone and new social technologies being used as part of most marketing and branding campaigns in the future. This is because they are affordable, portable, and rely on a personalized approach to communicate to the masses and niche audiences, as successfully proven throughout the world.

By Peter Sabbagh


Hey there! Resource for Social Media is launching its micro-novel called NYCrimeStories using Twitter. RFSM will broadcast short forensic psychiatric crime stories that take place in New York City. Join our twitter broadcast to follow interesting and exciting criminal law events as they unfold in the Big Apple.

What is the micro novel? Will writing and reading novels via hand held sms devise find a market worldwide? The press seems to be divided on this trend (excluding Japanese press), I think there is a good argument in favor of increasing popularity of content driven sms usage in the United States and globally. First, some facts about mobile and text “sms” usage around the world…read our blog post on the global popularity of the micro-novel.

By: Peter Sabbagh


One response to “What does Barak Obama have in common with J.F. Kennedy & Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt? Will social media technologies effectively reach all social and economic levels in America?

  1. Pingback: Monday Catch Up: Blog Stroll » Journalism 3.0: - The Future of Journalism According to a Member of the Facebook Generation

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