I can't imagine anyone, regardless of political creed, who wasn't moved by the inauguration of President Obama last week. It was hopefully, a transformational moment for America, though, of course, results will tell us whether that's true or not.
If you listened to the Twitter chatter, read the blogs, tracked the mainstream news media, you heard throughout the day, on occasion, discussions around what approaches that President Obama was going to take to use his online political movement presence to remain "in touch" with it -- because as one pundit put it (heavily paraphrased), it was the first organized grassroots movement to ever enter the White House with the President.But it's a lot more than that, and the subject of how this is going to happen is not one of software and technology. The fundamental purpose of his grassroots machine during the campaign was, to put it business terms, marketing. In other words, "what can you do for the Obama campaign?" The "Donate" button was part of every email, every Facebook update, every location on the brilliantly conceived Mybarackobama.com, aka MyBO.com. That approach was so overwhelmingly aimed at the "help us" message that it led to the one mistake that the Campaign Obama new media staff made with their digital strategy.
That came when they stopped providing points to the online volunteer force. Each individual was awarded points for their varying volunteer or donor services. Although they received no material reward, the highest points clearly had the highest reputations. However, what happened was that the points system was replaced with a 0-10 "level." So someone with 5000 points was a 10, and as was someone with 3951 points.
Think about this for a minute. If you were a volunteer -- the #1 volunteer -- and you had those reputation-enhancing bragging rights ("I'm Barack Obama's #1 volunteer"), would you want a muddled "level" replacing that? Of course not.
The volunteers response was telling: "They can't take away the points. They're mine!"
That is the crux of the transition that has to go on with President Obama. How does he take this online movement -- asking supporters to do something for him -- and turn it into the mandate of President Obama, where he, aka the Administration, has to do something for them? He has all the power of a brilliant movement and an incredibly well-designed use of social tools and communities to back him up. But his model needs to change from marketing to constituent services. "What can you do for me" has to become "what can I do for you."
One lesson learned always is that customers or constituents do things out of self-interest. Something they're willing to do for you is done because it accomplishes something for themselves. President Obama is in a unique position to be the most transparent and engaged President in history with a readymade movement. But to actually get there, he will have to understand that the core experience a citizen has with his country is through the administration of government -- and that the government of the people, by the people, and for the people is more than just soaring rhetoric. It is the real premise of constituent services. If he gets that, he can restore confidence in the institutions of the U.S. government themselves.
And that is a helluva return on customer.
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Paul Greenberg is the author of CRM at the Speed of Light and president of The 56 Group