It's been almost a year ago since the Los Angeles Times included a quote from my Barack 2.0 blog post after the presidential election.  I stated how I thought Obama and his social media team had just pulled out the most successful Internet marketing campaign ever.  Hyperbole aside, I still believe this to be true.  And while the Times article talked about the social networking success of the campaign, the subject of the article was more on how Obama’s social network operation had “vanished,” because there had been no tweets, no blogs, and no diggs since election night.

The theme of the story was that some people who were used to engaging with Obama via social networks felt like they had been cut off to a certain extent.  I thought about this because recently I’ve been asked quite a few times if I thought President Obama’s continued frequent use of social media had actually drowned out the importance of his message.   Interesting thoughts and perspectives on both ends, which I think provides some new lessons about social media that are every bit as important as the ones we analyzed over at the Barack 2.0 site.

This is a great business lesson for us all -- the more we establish ourselves online we have to be ready for all kinds of reactions to what we do.  We’ll have to fight to get our message across, and also be prepared to address competition that is looking to build relationships with those we’d like to keep doing business with.

Social media success breads competition

One thing that’s hard to dispute is that Obama’s victory last November set off a tidal wave of interest in how he used social media.  All you have to do is look at Twitter to understand this.  When we started the Barack 2.0 weekly updates last summer, Obama was the third most-followed person with about 35,000 followers.  By August, he had taken over the top spot with about 59,000.  By election night, he was up to about 150,000 followers, and by Inauguration Day, his follower count was around 300,000 --  and way ahead of everybody else.  But these numbers are dwarfed by the 3.4 million followers that actor Ashton Kutcher -- the Twitterer with the most followers -- now has.

So more people are on social networks because of his success.  More people have also studied the campaign’s use of social media not just to try to replicate its success, but also to compete with it. This should come as no surprise, because this happens in the real world every day.  When you reach the top -- a place many of us want to go -- you might as well put on the old target right on your back.  And because anybody can tweet, put up Facebook pages, and shoot YouTube videos, people have learned that success comes from using an organized, strategic approach to using these tools.  So instead of having limited social media competition to get messaging across, now other political groups are much more effective in asserting their competing positions.  The parallels are all around you in the business world. Once you start a blog, your competitors will start a blog. Once you start using viral video, so will competitors. And so on.

Different situations call for different tactics

Thinking back to the Times article, one thing I keep going back to are the words of those feeling “left behind” and disconnected after the election.  The Obama campaign had just pulled off something historic, and now had to switch gears and concentrate more on transition than on Twitter.  And while a majority of his followers probably understood the new focus and direction, there were those who expected the same level of social media engagement, or close to it.

During the campaign there was a call to action that many people heeded. A myriad of social tools were used to organize people and activities, which created a certain rhythm and style that people became comfortable with on the way to Nov. 5.  And even though the President and his administration still utilize social media in a number of ways, there may have been a disruption in the rhythm they initially created during the campaign that started the day after the election. That was when the competitors took the first steps in finding their social media rhythm to engage people to organize and take action.

Recently it appears that the administration is trying to find their social media rhythm to re-connect and engage with the folks that felt “left behind.”  But for us in the business world, the lesson here is once you’ve made that connection using social media, it’s important to try and stay connected -- even when our circumstances change.  And more critically, it’s important to keep a rhythm that is comfortable for all involved.  Situations may be altered on either side, and the tempo may change, but it’s the comfort level created by that rhythm which gives us a chance to work through these changes. 

While there were many social media lessons to take away from the “most successful internet marketing campaign ever,” sometimes it’s the tough lessons that give us our best opportunities to learn.  We can’t afford to let a more competitive environment, or possibly our own missteps, permanently disrupt a good communication flow.  Success, even in the realm of social media, comes with bumps and bruises.  And these bumps can come quickly, spread further and last longer if we lose the rhythm of engagement that helped us successfully meaningfully connect with people -- be it politically, personally or professionally. Another great business lesson in the age of social media.

Brent Leary is a small-business technology analyst, adviser, and award-winning blogger. He is the co-author of Barack 2.0: Social Media Lessons for Small Business. His blog can be found at http://brentleary.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/brentleary.