Penn: Behind Obama’s Online Successes, a Traditional-Media Echo Chamber

If you ask Mark Penn, the whole Barack Obama-as-online-phenomenon storyline has been considerably overstated.

In fact, Obama’s victory in the presidential primary was fueled more by “traditional media” than “social media,” Penn, a former top Hillary Clinton strategist, said last night.

Penn was speaking at a 92 Street Y panel discussion about public relations when the moderator, journalist Matt Bishop of the Economist, turned to Obama, and sad, “The myth is social media won him the election. Is that, or certainly won him the primary election. Do you think that’s right?”

Penn said Obama’s “big media events,” actually “drove people, I think, to an online operation there. It’s like having a million operators waiting. And I think that this is the one-two punch. And I think people very much forget the one part of the one-two punch, which is why traditional media actually played such a big role in these social media successes.”

Here’s Penn’s full quote:

“It’s interesting because he obviously had a great, what do they call it, online media operations. Some of it social media, some of it just standard techniques. The tremendous benefit particularly early on was through fund-raising. But it’s very interesting, if you think about it, every one of his major social media successes was proceeded with a major television or media event. His announcement, how it was covered, his 60 Minutes interview, his speeches. And it typically, those big media events, then as I said before, drove people, I think, to an online operation there. It’s like having a million operators waiting. And I think that this is the one-two punch. And I think people very much forget the one part of the one-two punch, which is why traditional media actually played such a big role in these social media success. And then you know when you hear 500,000 people did something, then the traditional media says ‘hey, 500,000 people did this.’ Then everybody says ‘well, 500,000 people did it, I ought to get in on it.’ The kind of network effect of this echo chamber, and I think he had a very successful online operation but don’t forget how tied to traditional media that I think those successes were.”

Penn: Behind Obama’s Online Successes, a Traditional-Media Echo Chamber