Obama’s MySpace handling – How to control a voter-generated campaign

Many of you should by now be familiar with the problems Barack Obama has experienced in regards to his MySpace profile. If not, here's the short version - The full version can be read over at TechPresident, Mydd, or MTV, or you can watch Anthony speak about the incident in person via phone here:

In November 2004, Joe Anthony started an unofficial fan page for the then newly elected Senator Barack Obama on MySpace holding the valuable URL of myspace.com/barackobama. When Obama launched his campaign in January the site had already attracted more that 30,000 friends. The site has continued to attract friends as the camapign has commenced, generating plenty of headlines about Obama winning the “MySpace Primary”. April 30, the site counted 160,000 friends. Over the night that changed. The site has now only about 25,000 friends. The reason: As attention to MySpace grew over the campaign the Obama team wanted control over the URL and forced Joe Anthony to give up the control of the profile. -Not the best move fromTeam Obama...

In regards to the incident TechPresident’s Micha Sifry asks:

Is it true that once a voter-generated site gets major traction, the campaign affected has to control it? Can a front-running presidential campaign–even one as devoted to empowering supporters to take their own initiatives and connect to each other through social network tools as the Obama campaign–afford a major site run by a campaign volunteer outside their control? Is such control even possible?

The Bivings Report’s Todd Zeigler answers the question:

To me this is a really simple issue. The Obama campaign has to have ultimate control over www.myspace.com/barackobama. Period.

Having ventured into the MySpace wilderness looking for candidate profiles, it is almost impossible to tell the real profiles from the fakes ones. Users can be easily mislead into friending the wrong person. By owning the most common profile name and maintaining an official presence, the campaign provides clarity to users, most of whom are looking for the endorsed version of the profile. I’m all for supporters creating their own groups and conducting their own activities, I just see value in having an official presence in addition to the voter-generated ones.

I agree with Zeigler.

However, reading a post by Zephyr Teachout, former Director of Internet Organizing for Howard Dean's presidential campaign, comparing the dilemma faced by Obama over his MySpace profile to the many dilemmas Teachout and her team experienced during the 2004 Dean campaign I realized just how complicated this question is.

I would encourage anyone that plans to work on or with an internet related campaign to read Teachout’s piece discussing the strategies related to the degree of control a campaign should have over grassroots generated campaigns. I personally learned a lot from the piece.

Here’s Teachout’s conclusion and solution to the issue, for those of you that don’t have time to read the whole piece:

In relation to grassroots relationships campaigns should:

…for each relationship, choose whether it is one of absolute control, or no control. In those with no control, you can still communicate, but don't command. In the long run, clear roles won't confuse the press and the thousands of people writing in--at first, perhaps, and on the margins, but they will learn. When in doubt, no control is better, just as it is in friendships--your friends will do everything they can to represent you well and be your supporter, until you start telling them what to say about you.

When you have read Teachout's piece you should further pay Mydd a visit and read what Jerome Armstrong has to say about Team Obama's handling of the incident.

Then you should off course go to Obama's official blog and read how the official campaign experienced the incident.

...And then... when you have read every link in this piece you can go to The Bivings Report's unofficial poll and cast a vote: Should candidates maintain official profiles on MySpace? - Just for fun...

You'll probably not have time to do all the serious stuff you were supposed to do today if you do take my advise, but what the .... You'll always have time for that later.


Joe Anthony's response to the Obama team's handling of the incident can be found here.

- Espen