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Networking You Can Believe In

Alwin Jones, Literature

Political campaigns have traditionally courted enormous, static voting blocs: the black vote, the labor unions, soccer moms. In writing about Barack Obama’s ascension to the presidency, Alwin Jones discovered a candidate intent on reaching individuals rather than presumed coalitions. Obama’s forays into social networking have not only changed the face(book) of political campaigning—they’ve also forced us to reconceptualize how political communities work.

“Social networking sites allow you to identify with others in so many ways,” Jones says. “Through political interests, sure, but also through athletic interests, literary, musical, academic interests. Obama was able to merge old practices with new technologies, to reach as many people as possible where they are.”

Obama’s thorough courtship of seemingly disparate micro-communities has been a wake-up call for many a marketing executive. Cruising the Web simply (and endearingly) as “Barack,” he made the obvious sorties to Facebook and MySpace. But Obama also engaged business professionals on LinkedIn and microbloggers on Twitter. He unearthed potential supporters from all walks of life—recalibrating his message as needed—and then corralled these converts together on his own networking site, my.barackobama.com.

From this new nexus, community members could volunteer to canvass or work phone banks or stage rallies. They could organize themselves. “Obama’s team understood that ‘Web 2.0’ is more than just the latest buzz phrase,” Jones says. “President Obama’s Web strategy is now being seen as a powerful new blueprint for businesses.”

While Jones is obviously impressed by the size and breadth of Obama’s coalition of individuals, he also warns that “We can never avoid being exclusionary. What about the demographic without Internet access? What of older generations, who don’t communicate in this way?” The gaps in an alliance forged largely online are yet to be made plain, and we don’t know how (or how much) Obama will use this new form of communication as president. But the distance between linked-in voters and cyber-savvy political candidates may never seem quite as vast again.

Alwin Jones

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