Darwin would have predicted last night's election this way: "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change."
And we're not talking about a change from the Bush administration in this case. My world isn't politics, it's communications: marketing, public relations and advertising (or the blurry mess the three have become in today's social media soup). Barack Obama adapted to changes in culture and communications to redefine how word is spread and, specifically, how campaigns are run.
And, if ever the medium were the message, so it is here. By embracing the full-scale cultural shift in how people interact with each other, how companies interact with consumers and how institutions interact with constituencies, and how the world interacts with itself, Obama has shown himself as the very embodiment of change.
Oh, come on, cry many voices from the back pew. Enough of the techno babble. Facebook-this, tweeter-that. If you dare use the word blog, I'll immediately place this paper at the bottom of the bird cage.
It may be precisely that perspective that made Obama so successful. The idea that social media are a fad is a mistake far too many marketers continue to make, second only to the notion that social media are "a techie or a youth thing."
Obama's camp made neither of these mistakes. It understood that humans are -- and have always been -- social creatures, and that social media are nothing more than a powerful accelerant to human interaction. To suggest that they are new is akin to suggesting that chewing our food is a modern concept or that the love of warmth is a fad activated by the discovery of fire. Social media are the continuation of our species' drive to connect, communicate and collaborate. Obama embraced this reality and, with it, propelled a network of mobilized, purposeful advocates the likes of which no marketing effort has ever seen.
To do so, Obama hired people who understand this cultural change, including Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes. Tactically, he identified a brilliant technological infrastructure of organizing, rallying and fundraising tools: social networks, text-messaging campaigns, geotargeted e-mails, database sorting to push information out with pinpoint accuracy, and the almighty widget.
Think of a widget as a tool -- in Obama's world, the collection plate at a place of worship. When the plate is passed around, it's easy to drop in a dollar or two, no? Now, pretend the faithful "congregate" on the Internet -- a far larger congregation from which to coax dollars. Furthermore, instead of a Sunday service or two, pretend church is always in session and that the collection plate is everywhere, for the Internet is always "on." Finally, this virtual collection plate could live on all blogs, all Facebook profiles and on a range of online venues. In short, there are collection plates and drop boxes everywhere.
But forget the money (heretical statement ... but wait, that's the point). Not only was Obama adept at getting folks to reach into their pockets for the collection plate, but he was able to use technology to get people to spread the word. The my.BarackObama.com site and the candidate's overall social-media presence drove advocates to the streets, armed with ample knowledge and the tools required to organize on a local level. For example, his official Facebook page alone has nearly 900,000 members. In a matter of seconds he can send a note to nearly 1 million advocates who have agreed to "help."
Obama put these virtual collection plates and mobilization tools everywhere: Facebook, LinkedIn (business networkers), MySpace (youth), YouTube (video), Flickr (images), Digg (social bookmarking), Twitter (mobile), BlackPlanet (African-Americans), Eons (baby boomers), GLEE (gays and lesbians), MiGente (Latinos) ... some 16 different social platforms all talking with people, not at them.
Perhaps an analogy will help. Recall from seventh-grade biology: alveoli -- the 300 million individual filaments at the periphery of your lungs that harvest oxygen out of the air, thereby nurturing every cell of the body with what it needs to stay alive.
Obama advocates on these social networks are "alveoli." Obama is the lung. The body is America. The circulatory system that connects all this is, yes, social media.
Sources say 80 percent of all contributions stemmed from these social networks. According to some, 90 percent of all contributions to the Obama campaign were less than $100 -- just one breath at a time, tiny measures of oxygen feeding the whole body. A $639 million body, that is.
Obama made brilliant use of social media to connect with millions of supporters, and he gave them the tools and words and widgets to connect with millions more. But to suggest that it was mastery of the medium, and not the power of the message, would be a disservice to Obama and an insult to those who voted for him. Within the social-media environment, the message still carries the day even as the Web carries the message. With relentless adherence, Obama brought a message of change that resonated -- whether in his promises to act in contrast to the prior administration or in his history-making speech on race.
What's next? Will the millions of Obama supporters reachable via social-media networks be deployed during the next four years? What about the thousands of mobile numbers procured via the campaign? Will he use the same tactics to influence world opinion?
I can hardly wait.
David Krejci is senior vice president of interactive and social media at Weber Shandwick in Minneapolis.