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