Stopping The Viral Spread: Obama’s Reputation Management Strategy

Face it- you think politics, you think spin. You think maneuvering. You think manipulation — not to mention rumour and innuendo. Don’t you?

That may be about to change due to a new PR tactic that the already Internet innovative BarackObama campaign has put into play: Emphasizing the truth.

How utterly strange.

Just a few days ago Senator Obama’s campaign announced the launch of a new website called www.fightthesmears.com.

The Purpose of the Site

The purpose of the website is to debunk the nasty whispered untruths that have been seeping out of the American right-wing media and spreading like wildfire across the Internet.

And, as Time magazine noted, Obama’s method for combating those ugly insinuations is through a form of community building with this website as a hub.

“Obama is enlisting his millions of supporters to help him hunt down and quash these stories, just as those supporters helped him turn his insurgent campaign into a history-making juggernaut. Says Obama adviser Anita Dunn: ‘We will not allow Michelle — or, for that matter, Barack — to be defined by rumors.'”

It is a clever idea and a canny use of technology. And it will be fascinating to see if it works.

The Site(In Brief)

www.fightthesmears.com is well-conceived, laying out the false allegation made about the candidate and counteracting it right below, often with supportive scans of documents or video clips.

It’s fairly well done and it’s already had a lot to tackle in terms of reputation management. The New York Times gave a brief run down of the rumours that the site is currently addressing, even though the candidate has already addressed them himself in other media countless times:

Fight the Smears’ is designed to systematically dismantle Internet rumors by letting users see both ‘the smear’ and, the campaign’s response. The site already features sections fact-checking rumors that Mr. Obama refuses to say the pledge of allegiance, or has written racially incendiary remarks into his books or that he is a Muslim.”

Will it Work?

If anybody can make this kind of approach effective, Senator Obama can. His campaign’s use of the Internet and social media has been tremendously savvy from day one. In their last edition focusing on the current crop of candidates for the President of the United States, The Economist mentioned Senator Obama’s ability to connect with his supporters via the Internet:

His website was thus a vast social networking site….a mechanism not just for translating enthusiasm into cash but also for building a community of fired-up supporters.”

The question now is will he be able to sway those who do not yet (or just plain don’t) support him? Will this be an effective form of reputation management? Will this work? And is this method one that will be used again by PR practitioners in other political campaigns? What do you think?

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11 comments so far

  1. Obama Mama on

    The site probably will work in terms of providing ammunition for people who don’t wish to see Obama smeared. However — and how do I say this delicately — bigots don’t tend to be readers or lovers of truth. In any event, it’s a great idea, and it is well presented.

  2. Ironic on

    This, in itself, will be spin.

    For every commentor that says, “That’s false,” there will be a commentor who says, “Nuh-uh.”

    Think Powerline or any of the others.

    There was also a great article (I’ll see if I can find it) about bloggers quiting due to stupid comments.

  3. abbymartin on

    Ironic

    Thanks for the article. Painfully pertinent. Some people just never outgrew the schoolyard bully thing and the net lets them do it from a distance.

    Looking forward to your next post!

    AM

  4. abbymartin on

    Obama Mama

    Welcome to the site- and thanks for the comment!

    I agree that those who are mired in ignorance aren’t going to move an inch. But maybe, just maybe, those who are sitting on the fence will hop off on his side. That would be enough.

    It will be fascinating to see how it plays out. And it is preferable to the old-fashioned tradition of “ignore the rumour and hope it goes away.”

    AM

  5. mim on

    AM —

    I like the site a lot. Direct. Clear. Coming clean, directly, in the face of surprisingly prevalent poppycock and insolence (as Denis Lee would say) that really does (did?) have the power to undermine his support.

    Notable to me that the Obama camp doesn’t include a link to their campaign site, or an ‘ask’ for money on this site. Surprising (unless I’m missing these). Why do you suppose this is that they don’t link?

    On a tangential note, it’s interesting to me, as a Canadian, that the site is all what I, from the political world north of the 49th parallel, see as ‘conservative’ blue. I’m probably not the first Canadian to note this, but it is striking.

  6. mim on

    p.s. – I wouldn’t have seen or heard about this if it weren’t for you. Thanks!

  7. abbymartin on

    Hey Mim!

    Thanks for the thoughtful, well-written comment!

    Nice to see you here.

    This site doesn’t have fund raising info because of its purpose but if you go to the main Obama site, it has quite a few links and opportunities for you to donate. (Many of them in pops of red against the predominantly soothing blue of the site so they stand out.)

    In the States the division is “blue states” (left-leaning or “liberal” ) and “red states” (right-leaning or “conservative.” ) Obama gave a great speech awhile back about blending and how nothing is one shade and how we are all “purple.”
    I loved it. (I’m biased. I am a mama for Obama)

    AM

  8. christophena on

    I don’t think this site will necessarily work to sway those who have yet to support Obama. More likely it will work to win back those supporters he did have that questioned his methods and believed the rumours. The Obama camp has been very “in the know” with regards to social media and has used it as a tool throughout the presidential campaign. By creating this website to combat rumours, Obama is tapping into the latest in web 2.0 and keeping up with change. Most impressive.

  9. abbymartin on

    Hey christophena. Thanks for the comment!

    You’re likely right- it won’t win him any new votes but it just might keep people who are sitting on the fence or were concerned about certain rumours.

    Think any other American candidates or any Canadian politicians will follow Obama’s example?

    Abby

  10. christophena on

    They should. But like we’ve been learning in our course, a lot of people are afraid of social media. They don’t understand it and haven’t realized what a valuable tool it has become.

    Christina


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