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July 03, 2008

Barack Obama vs. my.BarackObama.com on FISA -- When Your Fans Disagree With You

Mybarackobama_2 by Josh Bernoff

As you can see from this graphic, the banner at the top of myBarackObama.com, Barack Obama is serious about people's ability to change the world. But we're about to see just what happens when his supporters don't support his decisions. There are lessons here for corporations, too, so watch what happens.

I've written about how Barack Obama has leveraged the power of his supporters, not only through the social network of his supporters, my.barackobama.com, but through energizing those supporters during the primary. Democrats -- and Obama supporters -- are more likely to use social networks, a tendency that could benefit Obama as he attempts to reach out to their Independent friends in the general election.

But social networking in politics is still at the broadcast stage -- candidates ring their networks like a bell to amplify their messages. As we tell corporate clients all the time, once you start talking to people in the groundswell, you need to listen, as well.

Obama is seeing this in a big way. For political reasons -- moving, as all politicians do, more to the center for the general election -- he reversed a previously held position and will vote for a provisions of a bill called FISA that provide immunity from prosecution for phone companies that worked with the government on homeland-security driven wiretapping.

Many of his supporters disagree with him on this and see it as a betrayal? How many? At least 14,000. That's how many of them have banded together in a group called "Senator Obama - Please Vote NO on Telecom Immunity - Get FISA Right", highly visible on his own social network my.barackobama.com. This group is easy to find as it is now the largest group of the thousands on his site. One of his supporters' heartfelt cries of dissent is now the top search result for "Barack FISA." And the New York Times has written about the internal conflict.

What would you do? This situation is likely to happen to you as you participate in the blogosphere, create communities, and pursue corporate goals.

Obama is likely to run afoul of this again and again as he inevitably tacks to the centers -- and away from his supporters -- in the coming months. Here's our advice (and the same applies to you as you make corporate decisions and deal with the groundswell):

  1. Make the right choices. You are not a tool of your supporters, you are supposed to be a good decision maker. Don't be unduly swayed by thousands of your supporters, if you believe you need to make different decision.
  2. Justify your decision. And I don't just mean in the press. In the network. Obama himself needs to make a statement within the network to show he is listening, and justify his decision. He needs to acknowledge that he has supporters, and he listens to those supporters, even when he disagrees with them.
  3. Give your supporters credit. There are lots of good ideas in a network like this. Obama needs to call out some of these, support them, and say where he got them. This will go a long way toward keeping the base energized.

I'll make following statement in closing -- please try to respond to this post based on what a politician or a businessperson should do in this situation, not based on your support of Obama, McCain, or whomever. This is about leveraging the groundswell, not Democrats and Republicans. (A futile request, I know from experience, but it's worth a try.)


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J. Clifford

Your post accepts the premise that a tack to the supposed "center" (it's really to the right) is inevitable and a good idea. This strategy didn't work for Al Gore, and it didn't work for John Kerry.

Barack Obama has broken his brand promise and made his supporters feel crudely supported. This was a very clumsy and unnecessary maneuver that will not gain many Republican or independent votes and has weakened the support from Obama's political base.

George W. Bush never changed his policies when the groundswell was against him, and it didn't serve him well. Barack Obama cannot continue to merely explain his position, because the most influential of his grassroots supporters are able to see through his arguments. Obama cannot defeat them. He should join them.

When one's own campaign web site is taken over in open rebellion by supporters, that's the kind of message a candidate must respond to.

In business, the equivalent situation would be if thousands upon thousands of customers rose up and demanded a particular product change, explaining that the current product fails and makes them feel insulted. A smart business would not argue back that the product really is great. It would offer a new version of the product, and profit from it.

Paul R. Grant


It does start with the strategy though. I don't think you can half-heartedly embrace social media and lead the community into believing it is a two-way conversation, when it is not.

Transparency, as always, has got to be the mainstay of the modern politician.

OK, so some of the community is against his current stance. So I believe that conversation HAS to happen in the community. Certainly not in the press.

Otherwise the community can quickly feel that their value is limited to donations and legwork, and that they actually don't have a voice.

I'd personally be right in the middle of it with the community, reasoning it out with all the members both for and against, to arrive at the 'right' response. The right response will be clear to the majority, as long as the facts are laid our transparently and that there are no hidden agendas.

If on the other hand there are typical political angles that are 'above' the minds of the ordinary citizen, then alas there is no 'change' to believe in.

Actually I see this as a pivotal moment which if handled correctly can win BO many more engaged constituents.


Whether or not tacking to the center is a good idea depends on what Obama's goal is. If his goal is to win the presidency, basic game theory holds that tacking to the center is a requirement for victory. If his goal is to serve his base regardless of political implications, he should change his position on FISA.

If he decides to tack to the center, the best (and least?) he can do is explain to his base why he is doing so, and he is best off doing this in the forum his base is comfortable with.

Josh Bernoff

Paul and dshugrue, I think your comments are on target. But I doubt he'll take our advice.

J. Clifford, I'm not political expert, so I don't claim to know whether moving to the center is the best strategy. You may be right. But I don't think Obama's strategists agree with you. They would probably say, these people will gripe, but they will vote for Obama anyway.

J. Clifford

Without a doubt, many of them will still vote for Obama, but the vote isn't the only thing. What about donations? What about volunteering? Those will drop off, and a lot of those lost volunteer hours will be in battleground states. Word of mouth will go too. Enthusiasm is essential to a presidential campaign.

Also, I prefer to look at history rather than game theory. Sorry, but it seems clear to me that the Gore and Kerry experience of tacking toward the right is not a surefire tactic. Remember how Gore lost so many people to Nader in key states? That wouldn't have happened if he hadn't chosen Lieberman.

Think of the candidate as a brand. The brand has to have a consistent promise, and it won't gain much by pretending that it has the same marketing position as another brand. It will just go, at BEST, from being first in its own position to being second in someone else's position.

With the contention within the Democratic Party, Obama is unwise to move so quickly and so extremely toward the right.

Obama's brand promise included idealism and hope, cast against opportunism and fear. Obama's appeal was to a return to the pure American ideal of government. The problem with what Obama is doing now is that he's trying to mix a bit of impurity in with his purity. That doesn't work. One bit of impurity spoils the promise of purity, and Obama descends to become just another politician, and loses his appeal to all, not just to his base.

If Obama planned on reversing course and moving to the right in the general election, he never should have made the promises that he did, and should have chosen another brand position.

Yes, Obama should engage with the online community. However, he can't just do so by telling them the lame excuses they've already heard from him. He made the promises, and now he needs to prove to that community, the rebel group that is now the largest on the entire Obama web site, that he intends to stick to his word.

The Constitution is not one of those things that's supposed to be compromised. People who believe in the American way don't take to it kindly.


Nothing's really changed. Web, TV, whatever. They're still sheep and you're still the wolf. Have you looked into something digital, say, maybe an online animation? www.adagencysecretformula.com


Your post offers sound advice to corporate decision makers sceptical of the power of online communities, and their ability to mobilise around a cause, an idea, or a product.

The test for any corporation (and indeed for Obama, in this instance), is to stay ‘authentic’ when extending their brand online.

The Obama campaign has already demonstrated to the corporate world how to have a conversation with your primary constituents online (something I blogged about last month at http://tinyurl.com/6x9z4n ).

How his now campaign responds to what his constituents have to say on a very public forum will no doubt guide corporate decision makers in their own social networking efforts.

J. Clifford

Well, Obama has acted - not to change his opinion, but to issue another statement. It was not well orchestrated.

There were two promises for a speech. One for Wednesday evening, and then another on Thursday morning. Both speeches never happened.

Then, Barack Obama issued a written statement, and did not appear to answer any questions or to "listen". It's not even clear that Barack Obama wrote the statement himself.

Instead, three campaign aides were left answer questions of people online.

Obama himself stayed in his bubble. He had better things to do.

When you outrage your supporters by breaking a promise and going against their values to support a policy they fear and despise, that's really not good enough.

Brick Marketing

No matter what..with each decision he makes, he will not please everyone. It's a tough call as to what to do but he must stay true in listening to what his supporters have to say and acknowledging it as it states in this article.

Murray Polner



Well, in the name of comparing this to the business world, I look at this issue as the voters are consumers, the candidates are the product, and the issues are the products features. Then look at this from a standpoint of the types of decision making by the consumer.

I think we can all agree (I hope anyway) that more the majority of us, voting for the president is what marketing academics call a “high involvement” decision, more like buying a car than buying chewing gum. Per the latest marketing research, people use on average 3 criteria to decide high involvement purchases (7 criteria at most). These criteria have importance (or weight), and if the product features either “match” or come closest to “matching” the criteria, the product is a “sell”. The other criteria fall into “nice to have”. For instance, I wish my cup holder was larger in my Nissan Sentra, but it didn’t play a role in determining what car to drive.

Now apply to this situation. There are 14k supporters of the “Vote NO on Telecom” group, but how many of these supporters view this issue (feature) as important or just “Nice to have”? You may retort with the fact that these people did sign up for the “Vote NO” group, but social networking is easy, so signing up for a group like this is not necessarily an indicator of importance/weight. In addition, this issue is very complex and I don’t think it is hyperbole to say that 90% of people in general do not have an in-depth understanding of the benefits and costs. (side note, I am not being political about this, I feel this would be true of a “Vote YES” group as well as a “Vote NO” group) Contrast this with an issue like gay marriage, where everyone on both side are knowledgeable, they simply disagree. For this issue, I think that people mainly rely on gut feel.

Now regarding strategy. I am guessing the Obama is very knowledge about this issue, and in his mind has determined the benefits outweigh the costs. In addition, I bet he believes that this is not an issue that will make or break the election, so he can be transparent and be comfortable. And lastly, McCain offers nothing different.

So I think your advice is quite valid. Show appreciation to your community and explain your beliefs. The one item I would add is that he needs to keep a pulse with this group. Criteria and weights change, and he needs to track these changes if this issue becomes an important criteria. As a result, these people could simply not vote, which could hurt Obama. One way I would suggest is to watch if the community is changing from a tiny minority offering the vast majority of the content to a community where the majority is offering meaningful content. Outside of the normal web metrics, a good way to do this is by developing a contribution measure, usually a number that is calculated by one’s involvement in the community.


if barack obama votes for the fisa bill i will not vote for him. i expect lawbreakers to be held accountable for their actions. obviously, he does not. perhaps obama has a sense of entitlement that he too is above the law. how then is he different than the crooks in the bush administration?
the slogan says change but the behavior shows more of the same.

Meredith Martin

I am disappointed he changed his vote and it isn't sitting too well with me either, but everything about this isn't sitting well pretty close to after he clinched the nomination.

As one of those people that donated to him (albeit minimally), and for a candidate for the first time in their life which was more the point; I do believe closer to the center to is a healthy move politically, and for the country as a whole.

Having said that, on this one vote in particular I had to ask myself - what is there truly to gain by having these corporations be sued? There are enough companies sinking in the toilet at the moment, why add telecom to the list. Personally, I'd rather the government that instigated it be sued and leave the corporations and the people they employ off the list.

And... something still makes me uneasy. I'm concerned he wont get in, but almost a little more so about what might happen to him if he does.

That being said, when Bush got in the first time I remember saying - out loud - well how bad could it be?

Ed. - whatsonnews.com

I guess am not alone in my thought.

Well, we would have to wait and see. I have this sneaky feeling 'something' is gonna happen if he eventually gets in.

Tim Dawes

You've got to ask yourself why people are voting for Barack Obama. They may be voting for him because of his stand on particular issues. In that case, malcolmkass is probably right. His stand on this one may not be big enough to derail many voters.

On the other hand, if people are voting for him as a call for real change, then this is a huge misstep because it signals he's not for real.


Buy a couple of books on encryption, download some open-source encryption software and you render FISA irrelevant.

That's my proposal. Assume personal responsibility for defeating ALL spying directed at you. It is not all that difficult.

I have supported Barack Obama all along. He is still my preference, compared to all other Democratic and Republican options. So, I will hold my nose and vote for him. Until Barack Obama flip-flopped on FISA, I was an enthusiastic supporter. Now, I'm a sad and disappointed supporter.

I have a few other problems with Barack Obama on the issues. He seems to be saying it would be a great idea to relocate the senseless death and destruction of Iraq to Afghanistan. I disagree with that, too.

The Taliban are the ultimate bad news for any neighborhood. But the gang at the White House, the CIA and the Pentagon loved the Taliban with unbridled passion until they refused to sign off on a pipeline deal UNOCAL (Union Oil of California) wanted. Then the TALIBAN HAD TO GO.

So, America's young men and women are unwittingly turned into mercenaries for the Seven Sisters Oil Cartel (Google it -- it is the REAL cartel). It makes me sick.

Excuse me. Where do I go to get real change?



Obama should respond right away when things get out of hand in this way. That should also be the case with a business. Corporate management at the highest level should be alerted to these "opportunities" by those that monitor the site. It is dangerous to follow the crowd. Obama and any corporation in this situation needs to carefully consider their position in the face of the unrest. Unfortunately in politics and business the "crowd" often doesn't accept any realistic limitations or the truth about something. Obama is probably in the position where the type of people who are not on the website need to vote for him to get elected. He has tough choices. With business the issue may be profit margin. Should drug companies not charge enough for new drugs to cover R & D because a user base is outraged? I don't know. It's tough to find a balance between serving the community and accomplishing political or business goals.

James Tucker

As of July 23 the FISA group on Obama's site is now over 23,000 people.

I am also disturbed by his flip-flopping on this issue when supporters will be looking at each move.

If the American public is looking at hiring (electing) a CEO for this country - and we are now engaged in the interview process - then it has decreased the candidates score.

As for the FISA bill, I have this note on my email sig file:

NOTE: This message may be read by the US Government without need for warrant or court order, domestic or abroad. Due to blatant disregard to 4th amendment rights on yet another dim day in US history, July 9, 2008, telcoms have carte blanche with your data, calls, and privacy rights. These companies can now access your digital life at anytime:

Oh, before printing this email, please remember the environment.

Anyone is free to copy and use the above sig file.

James Tucker

Just found this and wanted to share with you all. There is a petition going around for Senator Obama:

Get FISA right
Tell Barack Obama You Demand Accountability



Dave Romo

Senator Obama:

I am a bilingual Native Texas living in Dallas.

I want you to win. I am trying to convince my fellow Mexican-Americans, and anyone else who will listen that you are the clear choice for President. I am a cradle Catholic and I believe that Senator Joe Biden will be an excellent Vice President. So he talks too much? I have two sisters who do the same thing and I love them.

I am honest, SMU graduate, know both languages, English and Spanish fluently, have lived in Texas all my life, know the Mexican culture, and I can talk.

I taught School in Dllas for several years as a Substitute Teacher, and cleared with Security, for National, State,
County, and local.

Can you use me somewhere in the campaign??

972-386-5840, Cell 972-805-7108, Fax 972-386-5840, E-mail: daveromomusic@att.net

Dave Romo

Honorable Senator Obama:

We need you as our Next President for 8 years.

If you can use me in your campaign: I am honest, semi-retired, supporting a sick sone and a sick mate.


Taught school in Dallas for several years as a Bilingual Substitue Teacher.

I am a Native Texas - Mexican-American -Veteran of the USMc.

Security - Cleared National-State-County-Local

Graduated SMU with BBA

And just like Senator Joe Biden, I can talk.

972-386-5840, Cell 972-805-7108, Fax 972-386-5840, E-mail: daveromomusic@att.net

Wesley and Carolyn Harris

We have just learned of your loss of your Grandmother. We are deeply sadened for you. We wish that she could have lasted one more day to see her Grandson make History. She raised a fine Grandson and was very proud of you before she passed. I am a Grandmother that is trying to help one Grandsone to get into college. One is in the military and one is too young yet. I know what Grandmothers feel when the people we have raised work hard, be honest, and make a difference in the world. We Grandmothers have great hopes for you to do great things in the world to make a difference. Make us all proud. She will be watching you always.

Grand Parents from Clarksville Tennessee

Denise Hines

Hi President barack God will bless you with all the stength you need to make it threw anything you need to go threw just keep your hand in God hand and never give up. WE LOVE YOU FOR ALL YOU STAND FOR, Remember your love one is in god hand and what better hand can she be in (NONE).



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