Saturday, November 15, 2008

Social Media, Millennials and Obama...and FDR?

There is no doubt that social media and the Millennials were two intertwined forces that propelled Obama to the Presidency.

Offering evidence to the idea that Obama will be the first President to use web-based, social media as a primary communications tool, this morning I saw a link on Yahoo! to what is about to become a weekly radio address from President-Elect Obama. Of course, there are already links on YouTube and as well. It's being dubbed a "'web-side" or "Tube-side chat", remixing the fireside chat used by FDR to reach Americans right in their living rooms during the dire days of the Depression. Only now Obama is meeting people everywhere and anywhere they happen to have a link to the Web.

As often happens to a Web wanderer, one link led to another and before long I found myself watching Obama's election night acceptance speech for the fifth time. At about 1:15, the camera pans viewers to give a glimpse of crowd reaction. I was struck by this image:

For me, this young man's expression captures the essence of how many Millennials looked at Obama from the start, spurring them to mobilize on his behalf in unprecedented numbers.

The key, of course, is for Obama to harness and channel this energy in the months ahead, asking not only Millennials but all of us to sacrifice time and energy for one another as Americans, and especially for those citizens who are most vulnerable and hardest hit by the economic downturn.

I'm not the only one speaking about this connection. First, spend some time with this article by Jonathan Alter entitled, "Reaching Out with Radio. I'll quote at length since it's so applicable:
A few days after Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sworn into office, he sat in the White House working on a radio speech about the country's banking crisis...It was the depths of the Depression, with a quarter of Americans out of work, homeless and destitute.

The American economic system was in a state of shock...The New York Stock Exchange had suspended trading, and the Chicago Board of Trade bolted its doors for the first time since its founding in 1848. This was the bottom. I

Roosevelt's inaugural address at the Capitol had begun to restore hope...Then FDR used a new medium in a new way to change millions...FDR brought natural talent to the role. His speaking voice was a beautiful, relaxed tenor, not the contrived basso profundo of pompous politicians.

Roosevelt owed much to technological good fortune. In 1921, the number of radios in the United States was in the thousands. By 1928, there were 9 million, and by 1932, 18 million, with about half the households owning at least one radio.

Gerald Ford, about 20 at the time, remembered FDR's Fireside Chats as "big events -- we would all stop and listen." Ronald Reagan's biographer, Lou Cannon, has written that Reagan's "metaphors [were] the offspring of FDR's." And Bill Clinton recalled hearing his grandfather talk about how he sat in rapt attention, "then went to work the next day feeling a little different about the country."
Let's return to 2008. Here's another link to some brief comments on from Paul Levinson, a professor of popular culture and media studies at Fordham University...and an excerpt:
I think what we have been seeing on TV is very similar to what took place on radio during the Depression, in that both are about reassurance...Just as hearing Roosevelt's words reassured Americans that things were going to get better...What we have been seeing the past weeks reassures us that America has not been hopelessly diminished.
While I never thought that America was "hopelessly diminished" and it is far too early to compare an Obama presidency to FDR, it is clear that Obama will continue to use social media in a way that capitalizes on its best elements: giving each of us and all of us the ability to connect and collaborate beyond time and geography to discover solutions for the challenges that can only be addressed through a profound change in approach and action.


ConnectingTheDots said...

Thought-provoking post and blog. Relevant to your comments is the fact that many experts have argued these days that there are five, not four generations in the U.S., including Obama's generation: Generation Jones…the heretofore lost generation between the Boomers and Gen X, now 42-54 years old.

I’ve noticed quite a bit of buzz about GenJones in the context of this election; I saw several discussions on national TV about Obama being a Joneser, as well as about GenJones voters being a key swing vote.

You may find this link interesting, my friends and I have been linking people to this page because we think it matters: it has a bunch of print excerpts and videos of big time publications (e.g. The New York Times, Newsweek, etc.) and pundits (e.g. David Brooks, Clarence Page, etc.) all talking about Obama’s identity as part of Generation Jones:

Andrew Krzmarzick said...


Thanks for your comments. You are absolutely right about Generation Jones. Most experts only cite four generations, but there is something unique about the birth cohort between Boomers and Gen X.

In addition, I am beginning to see a split among Millennials as well. Those born around 1985 are less into the array of Web 2.0/social media tools and more focused on MySpace/Facebook as the primary tool. Moreover, this group born after 1985 use cell phones for communication more than web-based tools.

Thus, the true "Web 2.0 generation" may be an entirely separate cohort that spans 30 years (1954 to 1984) with those born after 1984 being more akin to a Web 3.0 generation, who will access the web almost exclusively via mobile devices in the years to come.

Thanks again for your comments

Ari Herzog said...

I await the use of social media as the primary communication tool from an Obama White House. I don't see it yet. Even the YouTube broadcast yesterday was a secondary thought to a radio address, and did you notice how his head kept bobbing between the teleprompter and the video camera?

An integrated communication campaign will have to be used to reach all segments of the world, but time and geography, as you say, is catching up to Capitol Hill when they will have no choice but to use social media as the only communicative means.

The remaining question is whether the White House will "use" social media as a one-way communications medium, or as a give-and-take conversation?

Anonymous said...

Ari Herzog makes a good point. Being that one major aspect of Web 2.0 is that it fosters interacation (i.e., two-way versus one-way communication) I was surprised that the Obama address on YouTube, which is posted by ChangeDotGov, does not allow for comments, as indicated by the message "Adding comments has been disabled for this video."