Once again, social media is taking more credit than it deserves.
I'm a proponent of social media for business and community benefit, obviously. However, I believe the big snake oil spotlight shines down upon us brightly -- and justifiably -- whenever we try to credit social media with a success that isn't really a rightful success for it to claim. The 2008 election, and President-Elect Barack Obama's triumph, is one such example.
Last night, a few conversations erupted on Twitter that ruffled my feathers. Obama had just finished his acceptance speech and while there was much chatter about this, there were also some voices chiming in about what a huge role social media played in this election. Yes, agree, to an extent. But then the claims when too far, when a couple of folks made comments that a portion of the win goes to social media. I slammed on the brakes. I calmed down. Then I woke up to some blogs making similar claims.
Yes, the candidates' technology understanding and platforms are important, but not the most critical considerations when election a leader on which we place our freedom and security, our health and wellbeing. Yes, the Obama campaign made great use of social media and viral marketing, from his own portal to his active Twitter feed. Yes, blogs are far more widely accepted as a form of news media now than four years ago during the last presidential election. But those people outside of the "bubble" were not getting their facts and figures from social media.
We have to remember that those of us deep in the heart of business and even Silicon Valley live online yet a good portion of Americans do not. We have to remember that while there is a large percentage of Americans using social networks, it still represents only a small portion of Americans, more specifically American voters.
Obama won this election. The fact that the economy was in disarray and that a mockery was made of Sarah Palin certainly helped. Yet Obama won on the merits of his platform, his ability to lead and inspire confidence in Americans who desperately needed to trust in someone after eight years of George W. Bush, the same Americans who believe in his vision for our country. Social media might've helped to communicate these issues but I feel strongly that these credit claims insult and take accomplishment away from the men and women who spent hours and hours on the pavement, at campaign stations, at phone banks, who reached out the majority of Americans that have never even used MyBarackObama.com.
Let's keep our eye on the ball, OK?
As an aside, social media did achieve something great last night -- it didn't collapse. Most of the major platforms suffered no downtime during the weight of the election banter. In a straw poll I conducted last night via my social networks, email IM, and so on, it did appear that even those people who used FriendFeed and Facebook and Seesmic -- the apparent most popular socnets for live results conversation other than Twitter -- were also using Twitter. The microblogging favorite did get a little wonky when everyone was reporting in that CNN officially projected Obama as the winner of the presidency, but the site recovered nicely. See, this is a claim social media can make.
Update 11/5/08 4:06 p.m. PT - For those interested, Dave Fleet provides a great analysis of this issue and this post on his blog.