Thursday, October 30, 2008

memes gone viral

The other night, I overheard a really good question. After listening to an Obama campaign volunteer fervently discuss his recent mission and experience, the question was: "What are you going to do with all your Obama energy when the election is over?"

I liked the question because the energy in the political rhetoric right now is so tangible and in need of an outlet beyond next Tuesday. I started to think about where he could channel his energy, but also where all that energy came from.

As marketers have noted, the virality of Obama's campaign is admirable. They've captured a tough and large crowd in a conversation bigger than the election. Marketers praise the campaign for their mastery of the tools of engagement, for creating a transmedia conversation. 

Naturally, marketers are interested in that method-- in fact, they've virtually spawned a new genre of blogs devoted to "top 5-10" learnings from the Obama campaign. But the method is conversation, really. It's not simply the technical tools Obama has used as a vehicle for any particular message.

Biz Stone said in his press release on "Current Diggs the Election."
"Current is helping Twitter amplify the opinions, news, and trends that matter right now. Together, we're influencing more than media--we're evolving conversation."
The tools are evolving a conversation that's bigger than media.

I think the success of the Obama conversation is part tools, and part guidance as to what to do with the information, how to make sense of it, how to participate in the conversation. With just tools, I don't think his memes would be nearly as viral. 


Bob said...

one twist on your great obama energy post

I think the Obama phenom is bacterial, rather than viral.

Bacteria are single-celled "living" microorganisms that reproduce by dividing. Taking a look at the pass along, the self-organizing that defines the Obama phenom. Most bacteria can grow on nonliving surfaces, such as countertops and doorknobs. The Obama phenom has hived all over non-living things - the interwebs, a dead political system, even an American electorate that was at an ebb of energy.

There are a bunch of bacterial phenoms that share some aspects of this phenom - the DIY thread, the local food/slow food posses, even aspects of the anti-WTO & anti-globalization mobs.

Unlike bacteria, viruses are not "living" organisms but capsules of genetic material. They require living hosts — such as people, plants or animals — to multiply. Otherwise, they can't survive.

The Clinton & Bush political campaigns were both viral - ultimately, not a living entity but a foreign substance that we've managedc to sweat out of our system.

kate said...

Really interesting build, Bob- thanks. I like this because the point I was trying to make is that marketers can't emulate the phenomenon simply by replicating the media or technology used. if it were "viral," perhaps this would be more possible? Would you agree?

As witnessed in the other examples you cite, it takes for a 'click' with the societal zeitgeist or something along those lines-- usually the convergence of several macroforces for something to be what you would call "bacterial."

What would you say are some predictive features of (non micro-organism) phenomena that are viral vs. bacterial?

Bob said...

This may sound way too simple, Kate, but it is all in the hands. Scientists at the University of Colorado found 4,700 different species of bacteria in a sample of 102 human hands. Things get going thru touch, thru connection, thru hand shakes (real & virtual).