Barack Obama Looking for Answers on LinkedIn

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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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  1. If what Kay says is true, it would have been wise of them to have the first featured question be someone non-political.

    Even if it isn’t true, it would have been more prudent.

    How would people have reacted to this if the first featured question had been from Scott Allen?

  2. I concur with Chris’ comments. This might have ruffled fewer feathers if this first salvo wasn’t linked to politics. Kicking it off with someone well-known and respected within the LI community might have been a smart move.

    Still, while I do understand the concerns and objections, this is a genius move. More and more, we see candidates using technology to reach out and connect directly, without the media in the middle to filter messages in both directions. I expect a line will quickly form of folks who want to leverage the chance to have this level of visibility with such an educated and engaged audience.

  3. “…it would have been wise of them to have the first featured question be someone non-political.

    “Kicking it off with someone well-known and respected within the LI community might have been a smart move.”

    My, my, this seems to be a very parochial reaction.

  4. I love LinkedIn Q&A. How would I feel if the featured question were Scott Allens? Delighted!!

    I am quite interested in how the question got featured. During the election 2004 I was very involved in the social networking and elections, because of the jobs situation in my community. I was happy to give bipartisan attention to candidates who really wanted to solve the problems! Like to see the quality of the question get as much content as the “asker” of the question!

  5. “…this is a genius move.” Really? 600 random messages from LIONs that want to get a best answer from Obama’s intern. This is the hat trick of America’s “You flack my pr, I’ll flack yours.” – LinkedIn, LIONs and a political campaign. Corporate America is political enough without injecting the OTHER politics into my networking.

  6. This makes me really angry. Obama is my Senator – supposedly – and I’d like to see him do the work the people of Illinois sent him to DC to do.

    I’d like this question a whole lot more if it was “Should I be honorable and resign my Senate seat since I’m just using it to position myself for a grandiose run at the White House while leaving myself a fallback gig?”

    I wish Illiinois had a recall option for our disappointing elected officials like Obama.

  7. I find this development very troubling.

    LinkedIn is a media outlet; a platform for opinions. Like Newspapers and TV networks that came before it, LinkedIn should be more careful about it’s place in political debate.

    They are featuring a candidate on their front page. with a headshot picture! Yet are claiming an impartial stance…

    This is a media precedent for LinkedIn. The decision to feature mr. Obama on the splashpage of LinkedIn had to involve all of the LinkedIn decision makers. What were they thinking? It cannot be impartial.

    What bothers me most about this is that Kay Luo, Corporate Communications Officer at LinkedIn. has endorsed Obama, and at the same time states that it is a personal endorsement, not a corporate endorsement. She should know better.
    She is a Corporate Officer.

    This move to feature candidates is very interesting, and has great promise, but the execution of this first salvo is very troubling.

  8. Are we sure this was the first featured question? Or just the first one that we all paid attention to? I don’t know the answer to that yet.

    I agree that featuring Obama’s question first certainly raises a lot of suspicions. Ideally, it would have been better to have a question from, say, Ron Paul (whose campaign is also making great use of social media) at the same time to avoid the appearance of partiality.

    But Obama is who approached them first. Should they have waited until they had another candidate? More specifically, a Republican candidate? Should they have sought them out?

    As a practical matter, it’s certainly FAR easier to just go ahead and do it, let it generate some buzz, and say, “Hey – this is open to all candidates.” Riskier, but easier.

    So only time will tell. For the moment, Obama’s question is still up on the front page.

  9. Definitely brilliant. When Rudy showed up as a new contact of one of my contacts, I poked around and found that Obama was also on LinkedIn, but Clinton, Romney and McCain appeared not to be. Posing questions there takes a good thing to a whole new level.

  10. Frankly, I am surprised that people are angry about this issue of Obama’s question. Whether he paid for it, or not, I think it is out of the box thinking for his campaign. I also think it is a fresh way of connecting with a “community of people”, professional people. And for LinkedIn, it was certainly an opportunity for their organization to ride on the coat tails of a person who is in the news everyday. It wouldn’t hurt LinkedIn if CNN or MSNBC or FOX News mentioned that Obama was on LinkedIn. There are still millions of people who have no idea LinkedIn exist. So, in the end who does it hurt. It wasn’t unethical. It was mean spirited, it was a question that generated at 1300 or more people to respond and that is not a bad thing in my opinion!

  11. I think it’s fine. The goal is to measure the pulse of the Linkedin community, hopefully in a sincere attempt to icreate meaningful change.

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