Barack Obama Looking for Answers on LinkedIn

obama_linkedin.jpgHere’s a new twist on using LinkedIn… it seems presidential candidate Barack Obama
(or at least an official representative of his campaign) is using LinkedIn as a channel for political outreach. In addition to setting up a profile and a group, he has also posed a question in the Answers section:

How can the next president better help small business and entrepreneurs thrive?

This is brilliant. Obama has done a couple of key things that any and every marketer should learn about using LinkedIn specifically and social media more generally:

  1. Join the conversation where it’s happening. Many corporations and A-list celebrities create their own conversation on a site that they control. There’s nothing wrong with that — nothing at all — but it’s only half the picture. Having your own branded community space helps tremendously with retention and engagement, but it doesn’t do much in terms of outreach. Obama wants to talk to business owners and entrepreneurs, so he went where business owners and entrepreneurs are talking about the issues important to them.
  2. Listening is sometimes more effective marketing than telling. Broadcast media doesn’t lend itself well to that, but social media does. Some people have suggested in the LinkedIn Yahoo! Groups that this question is “promotion” – a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I suppose it could be interpreted that way, but in that case so could most of the questions on LinkedIn that people ask about their own business. Obama’s question here is highly reminiscent of Jason Calacanis using LinkedIn Answers for market research, and in the process, of course, creating additional exposure for his new company.

Bottom line — it seems to be working. Just in the time it has taken me to write this post, the number of responses has jumped from just over 500 to just over 600. You can’t get that kind of input at a town meeting.

One question that this begs is how Obama’s question ended up featured on LinkedIn’s front page. Is it a paid advertisement? A not-so-subtle endorsement by LinkedIn management? Or just there because it’s cool that such a high-profile person is using LinkedIn in a creative way?

Turns out it’s not quite any of the above. I put the question to Kay Luo, LinkedIn’s Director of Corporate Communications, this morning and here’s what she said:

This is part of a Tech Entrepreneurship week on LinkedIn Answers. We will be featuring other questions from other people (not just candidates), as well. The Obama campaign didn’t pay for this and we are definitely open to other candidates. Obama was the first presidential candidate to contact us. LinkedIn is not making an endorsement of any particular candidate.

UPDATE: There’s also a post about it on LinkedIn’s blog, which states:

Please Note: This is not an endorsement. We welcome participation from candidates of all parties asking questions to LinkedIn’s professional and business community. We also appreciate your active participation through your answers, questions and comments.

Other candidates? It will be interesting to see if anyone else follows suit. A preliminary search of the major candidates only turned up Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee (with only 1 connection) and Dennis Kucinich, although I did see a lot of campaign staffers for just about everybody. If anyone spots any more, please let me know.

So what do you think? Is this smart campaigning by Obama? Do you expect to see other candidates follow suit?

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