In one of the multiple accounts of the 2008 Obama campaign, David Plouffe, then campaign manager, wrote in his book ‘The Audacity to Win’ about the importance of the grassroots movement. This may seem obvious and indeed common to many campaign and political strategies. What was different (and remains so today) in Obamaland is the extraordinary emphasis on the transversal, the tribal, ‘people like me’ connectivity and collaboration. Put simply, the message was a persistent, ‘it’s is about you, talking to other people like you, not about Barack Obama talking to you’. Of course Obama did talk to them, and indeed with superb rhetoric. So they were not short of top-down messages. But the campaign itself de-emphasised that at the expense of the ‘you and between you’.
The 2012 Democrat campaign outnumbered that of the Republicans by several factors of magnitude in ‘local clusters’ and their ‘local organisers’. The ‘total numbers’ were less relevant than the clustering and the sense of belonging. It was about ‘them’: those local communities, local offices, local groups and the communication and connectivity between them. Then, technology comes in, of course, to facilitate things, and indeed it did.
We, in organizations, tend to dismiss this tribal (‘it’s all about you’) element, perhaps in favour of ‘it’s all about the objectives, or the strategy, or the guidelines form the top or even the vision’. Obama and Co also had objectives, strategy, guidelines and vision but they seemed to say, ‘don’t get distracted, focus on that vision, but it is really, really, really about you: how you discuss it, what it means for you, what you can do, how you can involve others’.
This resonated with our Viral Change™ programmes where we focus 75% of our time on the grassroots, bottom up, ‘people like you’ and ‘it’s all about you’ engine of change, and 25% on the top down messaging. Messaging is very important indeed but it is very easy to kid yourself and steal air time with messaging, forgeting everything else. Messaging is the ‘push’. Viral Change™ orchestrates the ‘pull’. The more protagonists the grassroots are, the greater the scale up of behaviours.
A good learning from the political strategists of Obamaland was that no matter how much top-down communication they could provide (and of course, Mr Obama did!) what really mattered was that transversal, local clustering, ‘it’s really about you’, grassroots penetration. The Obama campaign was extremely successful because it was not a campaign but a social movement. Viral Change™ orchestrates these social movements within the organization and in the macro societal world.
Viral Change™ was published in 2006. Oh well, Obama did not call us, but the – maybe somebody could call the White House!