From Social Media to Social Production in 2012 Elections

Picture: Gaming Revolution design by Sean Mort on Threadless (vote to bring it back).  

In his 2008 election campaign, President Obama showed what can be achieved with Social Media. As if commanded by Joe Jaffe, he joined the conversation from initiating to responding, from simple status updates to slick videos. The influence on Social Media Marketing has been so profound that the Obama Campaign might be a leading cause of Wind Tunnel Marketing in Social Media Marketing – – strikingly similar tactics used across to boost conversation and “fan count”, the new metric to stand alongside the “website hits” of yesterweb.

Looking a little closer at 2008, there were signs this wasn’t only about Social Media, but Social Production. In particular, within the race for the Democratic nomination in Texas, Obama hinted at what happens when you get beyond conversation and build a new type of “Outside Organization”.

Yes, Obama was using Facebook, Twitter and e-mail to build awareness and recruit volunteers, but he was using tools like his MyBO website to co-ordinate volunteers and enable them to co-operate.  As Technology Review described “In Texas, MyBO also gave the Obama team the instant capacity to wage fully networked campaign warfare.” As the head of the Clinton campaign conceded when they understood what was being organized on MyBO:

“I remember saying, ‘Game, match–it’s over.”

Social Production lessons for the 2012 Election
On June 1 2011, Techcrunch reported that the CTO of Threadless would be joining the 2012 Obama campaign. We believe this represents a shift to Social Production – building the tools and organization necessary to enable large groups of people to work with and on behalf of the Obama campaign, in the same way that Threadless has learned to work with their community to create, market and sell happiness-making t-shirts.

Threadless is no Social Media slouch with over 1.6 million Twitter followers or 300,000 Facebook fans. However much of the value creation is being done by a only a few thousand people (based on our estimates from the 6% of “addicts” according to Quantcast) using a custom platform, not Facebook or Twitter.

How do you build an organization that can depend on people that are not fulltime employees to generate a big chunk of the value that your organization creates? Threadless knows and they are joined by a small number of organizations who have figured this out.

From getting fans to creating value with fans
In a recent report, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) described the shifting focus from conversation to generating value across the organization – Re-envisioning customer value – Opening the floodgates of new potential. They highlight a number of successes across different functional business areas:

+ New Products: Today P&G get 50% of innovation from outside the organization

+ Product Development: Intuit works with 25,000 to get ongoing feedback

+ Service and Support: British mobile phone company, GiffGaff has its customers responding to 50% 99% of the support questions – more on that below.

At Mutopo we’ve been calling this the “lumpy donut” – the changing roles of people outside the organization through the product lifecycle. Paid employees remain at the core, but increasingly people outside the organization expend effort to create value and change the economics of value creation.

Building new organizations using Social Production
GiffGaff provides an important example of what happens as organizations shift focus from Social Media to Social Production. The Giffgaff tag line:

“the mobile network run by you”.
Building on the EIU report, the The Realtime Report says:
“The company’s customer support community has over 200,000 100,000 users and delivers three million 5.5 million page views per month as of June 2011. At least 50 99% of queries are answered by other customers and 95% are answered in less than one hour.  The average response time on the companies Help boards is less than a minute and a half. “
Good luck getting that type of support from any company, let alone most mobile operators. But Giffgaff doesn’t stop there. Like P&G, Intuit and Threadless they are getting ideas from their “outside organization”. And they are revisiting the affiliate model enabling people to be paid when the resell Giffgaff services, so they are changing the economics of distribution and sales, too.
In short Giffgaff is changing how value is created and therefore the economics of mobile services. 

How might Obama use Social Production in 2012?
Creating  conversation is one thing – designing organizations is something else altogether, but as the EIU examples show, Obama has many options to change how campaigns are organized and operated. From collecting better intelligence to focusing volunteers on critical geographies, we expect to see his campaign build on the experience in Texas in 2008.

In a likely close election campaign where votes in specific geographies really matter, changing the economics of these essential efforts will shift the game, enabling Obama to use resources more efficiently, with more agility than his opponents. While we cant predict the outcome of the election, we expect this to cause some WTFness among traditional campaign organizers.

Unfortunately we will have to wait a while to see how the Obama campaign will use Social Production. At a minimum the t-shirts will be awesome and in the meanwhile we can look forward to some masterful Social Media as Obama begins tweeting again from @barackobama.


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