Facebook co-brands with President Obama

“God, we’ve never done this. I don’t know where to stand.”

Those were the words of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg as she kicked off a town hall Facebook hosted for President Barack Obama today. The town hall, streamed live and followed avidly on Twitter, was a marketing coup for both Facebook and the president – maybe the pinnacle of co-branding.

For about an hour, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg fielded questions for the president from employees at Facebook’s headquarters and from those of us watching from the digital world. As a political forum, the town hall was fairly bland. But I think it was a successful marketing event for these reasons:

1. Facebook elevated its stature from social media leader to national influencer.

And Zuckerberg knew it.

“I’m kind of nervous,” he admitted. “We have the president of the United States here.”

In addition to moderating questions, Zuckerberg interjected his own views on occasion, voicing support for Obama’s stance on educational reform. For his part, Obama acknowledged Facebook’s influence more than once when he cited the times he’s met with Zuckerberg and Sandberg to compare notes on issues of the day.

2. Facebook gave Obama an audience with the affluent high-tech industry, and those of us living in Facebook’s orbit – nothing to sneeze at, considering Facebook’s reach with 500 million people.

And Obama took advantage of the moment, playing to the audience by advocating issues such as energy, immigration, and healthcare reform.

“We want more Andy Groves in the United States,” he said at one point. “We don’t want the next Intel launched in China.”

Jennifer Preston of the New York Times went so far as to ask on Twitter, “Will other presidential candidates seeking election in 2012 get same opportunity w/Facebook livestream townhall? Is this in-kind donation?”

It was the kind of forward-thinking communications approach that helped Obama get elected president.

3. The format was low risk.

Facebook is like a self-autonomous country. What does Facebook have to lose by getting involved in a town hall with the president? It’s not like Facebook followers are going to delete their accounts if they dislike Obama.

What if you are not Facebook, though? Would hosting a major political in a town hall be good for your brand? Certainly it would if you have an agenda to promote or you seek to elevate your stature. If you played host to a town hall as carefully choreographed as this one was, the risk would not be as high as you might think.

Today’s event was not so much about Zuckerberg and Obama cozying up to each other but rather Facebook borrowing brand equity from the office of the president and the president acting as the gracious guest to a country of 500 million.

My battle with bullies

When I was growing up, bullies tormented me occasionally, and writing this blog post evokes some painful memories. I’m sharing my story to raise awareness for Facebook’s announcement to combat bullying by making it possible for people to report harassment to others in their support network.

The announcement was made in conjunction with a White House summit on bullying, where  President Obama said, “For a long time, bullying was treated as an unavoidable part of growing up. But more and more we’re seeing how harmful it can be for kids, especially when it follows them from their school to their phone to their computer screen.

He got that right. Bullying is wrong. And lives are at stake.

I endured bullying because my family moved around a bit. I was always the new kid in town, and neighborhood bullies then and now like to test new kids. It did not matter where we lived: a bully would corner me on a playground, in a school hallway, or maybe in the back of a school bus, and fists would fly.

Wheaton, Illinois, was the worst. Our family moved there in the 1970s. Although I would eventually form some valuable, life-long friendships in Wheaton, at first I encountered a town closed to outsiders. I could handle being ignored by other kids in junior high and high school, but being attacked by bullies was a different story.

I still have a slight scar from one such encounter, a vicious fight that ended with me receiving a black eye and the bully having his head smashed into a locker door.

The only way to cope was to learn how to fight harder and creatively. Bullies usually fought with their fists. I responded by punching, kicking, pulling hair, relying on the hammer lock, and turning ordinary objects (like locker doors) into weapons.

But my experience was nothing compared to what kids are enduring in the social media world. My encounters with bullies, however violent, ended quickly. Typically I dueled someone one-on-one, and when the skirmish ended, the bully found someone else to bother.

By contrast, bullying social-media style – say an attack on someone’s reputation through a nasty post on his or her Wall – can last for an extended period of time and often entails humiliating group harassment (and the group harassment is what makes cyber bulling especially lethal). It’s far too easy for bullies to rally large groups of impressionable peers on Facebook to menace and humiliate others, with tragic results.

And it’s more difficult for a parent to detect verbal bullying (on cyber space or offline). If your child comes home with a black eye, you obviously know his or her life has been disrupted; if your child seems moody, you might miss the root cause.

I don’t think the solution to ask the victim to simply get off Facebook – that’s like asking, “Why don’t you just move to another town?” The answer is to recognize bullying for what it is: unacceptable. As Obama said, being bullied is not a right of passage. What I endured was wrong. What kids go through today is horribly wrong.

Facebook’s effort is imperfect, but it’s a start. I hope you will take a moment to reach out to Facebook and voice your support. And just as importantly, become more aware of the problem. Even if you do not have children, kids live all around you — so why not spend a few minutes out of your day at least becoming more sensitive to the problem? (This website will get you up to speed quickly and so will this one.)

More importantly, if you see harassing behavior — online or offline –step in. Report cyber bulling to Facebook (and if you don’t know how, read these guidelines Facebook provides). Confront the bully yourself — you’ll probably have to sooner or later, so act. Pressure your school — loudly — to help. Discuss the bullying with your child’s teachers personally, and follow up frequently. Pressure the bully’s parents (but don’t expect results — the bully might come from a family of bullies).

Those of us who have dealt with grown-up Internet trolls have experience doing this. Well, the more vulnerable among us need our help. Stand up to bullies wherever you find them.

BP doesn’t care about your Facebook page


By now most marketers can recite many examples of how social media has had a measurable impact on a brand, for better or worse. The BP fiasco is not one of those examples. In fact, the aftermath of the BP oil slick disaster suggests that some companies are beyond the reach of social media.

So far consumers’ use of social to rail against BP have proved to be nothing more than a lot of screaming into the void (my own efforts included). Perhaps you count yourself as one of the 650,000 fans of the Boycott BP Facebook page or one of the 170,000 followers of the wickedly funny BPglobalPR Twitter account. But as ComMetrics blog points out, BP has shrugged off social media reviews. There is nothing to suggest that social has done anything to hold BP accountable for its actions.

With the BP crisis, social has provided more of an outlet for our anger but not a launching pad to galvanize action. We “like” the Boycott BP Facebook page, perhaps post an angry message on its wall, and then call it a day. It’s as if Facebook has become a self-contained ghetto for protesters.

BP’s establishment of a $20 billion escrow fund for Gulf-related damage claims was seen as the first tangible sign that the company was being held accountable for its actions. But BP was responding to pressure brought by President Barack Obama, not by a Facebook page. And Obama’s most notable PR weapon against BP has been a time-honored broadcast medium (television).

So I think it’s fair to ask: are some companies immune to social?

The Top 10 Searches of the Decade


Tired of reading lengthy analyses of the decade we just left behind?  My employer Razorfish has a solution: a visual depiction of the major trends affecting search engine marketing throughout the past 10 years.   A Decade in Search is a rich media experience that touches upon major trends and events ranging from the bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2000 to the launch of Google Caffeine in 2009.  According to A Decade in Search, the top 10 searches of the 2000s were:

1. Facebook

2. Baidu

3. MySpace

4. World Cup

5. Wikipedia

6. Britney Spears

7. Harry Potter

8. Shakira

9. Lord of the Rings

10. Barack Obama

To get insights about the decade ahead for search, please check out Razorfish Search Marketing Trends.  Meantime, do any of the Top 10 searches surprise you?

Obama.com & You

View more presentations from David Deal.

At FIAP Buenos Aires, my Razorfish colleague Joe Crump discussed seven tactics that marketers can learn from Barack Obama, America’s first digital president.  I’ve reproduced his presentation here and highly recommend you take a moment to browse through it. The seven tactics are:

1. Got a vision for what you want to do?  Great.  Now go recruit a team of digital specialists to craft your strategy.

2. Make your message findable.  Make your content visible in the right place at the right time.

3. Be relevant to your audiences.

4. Create engagement.

5. Empower your fans.

6. Reward the faithful.  Give them inside information. Make them feel special.

7. Be transparent.  Use digital to report on what you’re doing throughout your campaign, whether you’re launching a new product or building a better brand.

I would add one more take-away:

8. You need a compelling message.  In this era of consumer-generated content and advertising as an experience, what you say about yourself still matters — a great deal.  Barack Obama delivered the right message at the right time.  As Joe mentions, his vision of change was short, simple, motivating, and viral.  Does messaging still matter to marketers? The answer is a resounding yes.  But, what’s changed is how you deliver that message — not by pushing it but by employing the kinds of tactics Joe discusses, such as empowering your fans and creating engagement.

What do you think?

Who are the top 50 social brands?

Recently Infegy published its March 2009 list of of the hottest social brands on the market — the names that have the strongest reach across the digital world as measured by a number of factors.  Some observations:

  • The Top 5 are not surprising: Twitter, Google, Obama, the iPhone, and Facebook.  But four years ago, did you ever think you’d see the day when a U.S. president would battle Twitter, Google, the iPhone, and Facebook for top billing?
  • I counted three games inside the Top 20 list: XBox (ranked 14), Playstation (#15), and Wii (#17). Anyone surprised that Wii ranked behind XBox and Playstation?
  • It’s not surprising that Wikipedia made the list.  What’s surprising is that Wikipedia ranks only #44.  This is a brand that was created to be inherently social.
  • Look for Kindle (#42) to steadily climb the list — I wonder if Kindle will even gives Amazon (#16) a run for its money?
  • General Motors (#26) ranks ahead of MySpace (#29).

I did a double take when I saw GM rank ahead of MySpace and wondered if this list represented only the “most discussed,” not necessarily “top,” social brands.  But then my Razorfish colleague Megan Anderson told me about a lunch meeting she’d had at SxSW with Christopher Barger, GM social media director.  His team has been on Twitter since January 2008 and runs GMBlogs.com.  Moreover, all GM brands have YouTube channels.

As Megan wrote to me in an email, “The thing that made the biggest impression on me was that their team is very dedicated to clarifying any questions or confusion regarding the situation [GM is] in right now.  When the [Federal] bailout was announced for the automotive industry, they were up all night answering tweets (@gmblogs).”   Megan also directed me to this SxSW panel discussion in which Christopher was a participant.

What do you think of the Top 50 list?

The Obamas and the presidential brand promise

Only in America: the United States struggles through a withering recession, and yet the personal attire of Barack and Michelle Obama creates a national controversy.  Barack Obama is accused of turning the Oval office into a locker room for discarding his suit jacket.  Michelle Obama raises eyebrows for baring her tone arms.  Why all the fuss?  I’ll tell you why: they’re breaking a silly but very potent code of presidential conduct.  Call it the presidential brand promise.  Here it is in a nutshell:

1. (For presidents): I will look better than you. It’s OK for local politicians to look rumpled.  But different rules apply in the Oval office  We want our presidents to look better than we do — buttoned up, not a hair out of place.  We expect presidents to be the fine china in our homes.   In the 1970s, two presidents broke the rule of looking presidential and were promptly ushered out of office after serving one term.  Poor Jerry Ford had the misfortune of doing something we all do: stumbling and tripping in public, as Chevy Chase famously noticed.  Sorry Jerry, we can slip on the ice and fall on our butts in public, but you can’t even stub a toe.  Then came Jimmy Carter,  bless his peanut farming soul.  He also broke the presidential brand promise in a major way when walked in the inauguration parade and then later addressed the nation wearing a cardigan sweater.  Bad moves.  Apparently he failed to understand that although it was OK for him to act like a humble farmer from Georgia while running for office, he couldn’t look like a man of the people while in office.  Even worse, he started doing goofy things — unpresidential things — like fighting killer rabbits.  By contrast, Bill Clinton, another good old boy from the South, never failed to look presidential, even in the face of public scandal for his personal excesses.  Bill Clinton was true to the presidential brand promise.  He might have turned the Oval office into a cheap motel room, but he kept it behind closed doors.  The lesson: presidents will be tolerated for many personal transgressions so long as they keep them behind closed doors.  But we just don’t want someone who looks like an eccentric uncle negotiating nuclear arms treaties.

2 (For First Ladies): I will make no waves.  We want our First Ladies to be as harmless as do-thing vice presidents.  It’s acceptable, even desirable, for First Ladies to champion feel-good causes like education and clean living (“Just say no” to drugs, right Nancy?)  But First Ladies cannot draw undue attention to themselves by acting out or speaking out.  Mary Todd Lincoln broke the presidential brand promise repeatedly, most notably for publicly defending the president and taking strong stances about issues like slavery.  History has branded her a lunatic for her troubles.  Jackie Kennedy might have been a fashion trend setter, but she didn’t threaten anyone, nor did Pat Nixon.  Poor Rosalynn Carter tried to make no waves, but then Jimmy made the mistake of pointing out that he listened to her counsel and invited her to attend cabinet meetings, prompting plenty of hand wringing over her — gasp — influence over the president.  (Using contemporary marketing vernacular, today we would say Jimmy was a social influencer of Rosalynn’s personal brand, for the worse.)  Now, there’s something about Michelle’s bare arms that scares her detractors.  You know what they’re thinking: do her bare arms hint at a certain recklessness and boldness in the political and social realm?  Even worse, will she insist her husband start wearing jogging suits when going toe to toe someday with Putin?

I hope Mr. and Mrs. Obama get even more bold and reckless.  All brands need to be refreshed now and then.  And the presidential brand is long overdue.