Obama goes to Tumblr

Screenshot of Barack Obama's 2012 campaign Tumblr.

You've heard of blogging, you've heard of Facebook, you've heard of Twitter. One could argue that Tumblr is what happens when you throw all three of those things into a blender, whip 'em up, and then pour the contents into a web site. Tumblr is a kind of hypersocial blog system that encourages users to share content from blog to blog.

Marcus Messner teaches mass communications at Virginia Commonwealth University and says Tumblr "has a community that makes it very easy to spread ideas and spread content. It's very easy to make something go viral, they just click on a button and it's shared."

But isn't that what you do on other social networking sites? Messner says, "Facebook and Twitter are social media platforms, so whatever we post there, it's always generally very brief. Tumblr is blogging platform, so you think about strategy and a campaign around a certain topic, you use Tumblr as your base and then build a viral campaign around that base."

In the interest of full disclosure, Messner's wife is a consultant to Tumblr.

And so into this system steps Team Obama, which can publish items that are easy to send around with the help of a growing community of the type of young, web-savvy users with whom Tumblr is popular.

The material generated by this system is going to look and act differently than what we're used to seeing from campaign advertising, according to Micah Sifry, editor of Tech President. "In a time where we are all over-saturated with marketing messages and ads, the one kind of message that still gets through is personal recommendation, we all pay attention to word of mouth," he says.

Obama's campaign wants to reach voters, of course. It also wants to get those voters to reach other voters (and so on and so on). Sifry says that's not unusual, "every campaign is trying to do this by being a presence on social network sites. But where Obama goes further is in hiring data mining scientists and predictive modelers who are going to help them sift through this raw data and figure out what messages and which people can carry those messages best to the folks they want to reach."

If the 2004 campaign defined blogs as a political player and the 2008 campaign established Facebook, what is 2012 about? "I think '12 is about data," he says, "It isn't really about about a single tool. Not Twitter, not YouTube, but in the integration of all of this information. Obama's team starts out with huge advantage, they are already spending millions of dollars developing the internal knowledge, for them this is going to be about mining social intelligence, not just having big presences on social media."

Also on today's program, Google has issued its latest Google Transparency Report. Requests for data from the U.S. government are way up. Read the report here.

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.

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