OPINION1 February 2009

Getting in on the act


?The following headline once ran in an accountancy trade magazine: ‘Bomb Explodes at Canary Wharf: No Accountants Involved’.

A perfect illustration of an attempt to align your industry with a national story, only to discover that your industry is not quite as central to events as you might have thought.

Representatives and commentators from the world of social media have been swift to sidle up to one of the biggest news stories of our time, the election and inauguration of President Obama. And most would concede that blogs, online fundraising and word of mouth marketing were a significant contributing factor to his campaign’s success. So the headline ‘President Elected: Social Media World Involved’ would seem fair enough. But that community is in danger of overstating its importance. The millions of words’ worth of comment and analysis devoted to the pivotal role of social media in Obama’s victory are starting to sound a little shrill. One can forgive the social media community for celebrating a high-profile success, but to claim that ‘It Was Us What Won It’ may overstate the case.

The research business is also getting in on the act. The focus group champions are already staking their claim to a sizeable slice of the glory. After all, the grass-roots focus groups, which so marked New Labour’s tactics before the 1997 victory, are now commonly agreed to be a necessary weapon in any political strategist’s armoury. And the Obama camp was well tooled up in this discipline.

There’s a fine line between celebrating the outcome of research and crowing a little too fervently over one industry’s role in the facilitation of that outcome.

And that’s a fine line that must be negotiated every time a new product or service is launched. Overinflate your role and you end up sounding self-important. Clients may bridle at the spotlight being swung too far away from their stage space.

As Obama was being sworn in, Jason Oke, head of strategic planning at Juniper Park and sometime contributor to Research ‘tweeted’ the following message to his followers, “So, now can we call an end to all the posts/articles about ‘How Obama did it: (email, social media, design, WOM, etc)’. That’s getting tired.”

I still believe there are valuable social media lessons to be learnt from the Obama victory.

But there will come a time, in the not too distant future, where the social media world should pat itself on the back and then move on. Equally we should, of course, fully acknowledge the part research has played, but let’s not overplay that hand.