Broken Telephone – I’m THE Obama Strategist

You have to love the internet. I know I do, but sometimes information has a way of taking little baby steps away from the truth until suddenly you’re single handedly responsible for electing the first Internet President of the United States.

How does something like this happen, you ask? Well let me tell you about my experience with the digital broken telephone and what I and others can learn from this situation.

The Story:

Last August while doing the research for Grown Up Digital, I met Chris Hughes the Director of Online Organizing for the Obama Campaign. Not only had I been researching the campaign for months, but I had also been inspired by the “Yes We Can” video and wanted desperately to be a part of this movement. With Chris’ help, I  packed my bags and joined the Obama New Media team as a full-time volunteer for three months.

As a New Media Strategist by trade, being at Chicago HQ was like Disney Land, your birthday and the release of the iPhone all rolled up into one. I was in geek heaven and took everything in. Being a volunteer is something I am incredibly proud of and getting a chance to work with incredible people like Chris Hughes and Scott Thomas gave me the added bonus of new friendships.

Upon my return I was asked by my friend Alex Manu to give a presentation synthesizing my thoughts on the strategic learning from the campaign that corporations could apply to their brands, which I did. I also presented my insights about community building at OCAD.

So when I got an email from a journalist who was interested in doing a story on me and the Obama campaign, I thought to myself “Wait, a minute. Me? Hmm. Maybe I should do a Google Audit.” I had gotten a lot of press from Canadian media, but an American outlet wanting to talk to me?  And so I started Egosurfing.

At first glance, all seemed well:

Then came the little semantic changes:

  • Malle Valik described me as a “New Media Strategist on Barack Obama’s Campaign.” While I’m a New Media Strategist AND I worked on the Obama campaign, I did so as a full time volunteer.  Did I need to correct this?
  • IT and a few others called me a “key” member of the Obama team. Another said I was a “staffer.”


  • Chatterbox PR listed Blue State Digital, Rahaf Harfoush & Chris Hughes as the Social Media Strategy team. They were the only names on the list. They may want to include Joe Rospars (Director of New Media). ;)
  • Brand Eye called me THE strategist for the Obama Campaign.

The Issue Now:

I love New Media. I love talking about New Media and how technology can help people. Deconstructing this campaign is something that I enjoy doing, and judging by the slew of other people (both on the campaign and not) who are talking about it, I’m clearly not alone!

As an active member of the tech community I have been speaking a lot about this topic, partly because I’m doing a lot of research for my upcoming book and partly because I still get chills when I remember being in Grant Park on election night celebrating the historic win.

What I don’t want is inaccurate information to get passed around about my involvement in the campaign or to take credit for work that I didn’t do. One of the main reasons I went down to Chicago was for the chance to learn from the best in the field.

What I Did:

I’m usually on top of this stuff but a hectic travel schedule delayed my routine Google Audit. Audits are a really thorough way to keep track of your brand online and to spot potential issues before they become a PR nightmare. It’s also important to note that you need to manage ALL the information that is being written about your brand, whether it is good, bad or just inaccurate. A flattering post with a few semantic twists can cause as much trouble as someone slamming your product.

1) Google Audit: Seek and Destroy all inaccuracies. I googled for any topics relating to my experience with Obama. It’s better to know what’s out there!

2) Make Contact: Once I had my search results I started systematically going through them, contacting the appropriate person and letting them know about the inaccuracies. I followed up an email with a comment on the actual blog post so that if others came across the post before it was corrected they would see my comment.

3) Be Open and Transparent: These things happen, and hiding them or hoping it will go away on it’s own is a guarantee that things will blow up in your face. Letting people know what’s going on, and how you’re handling it is a pretty good idea.

4) Laugh: At the end of the day, it’s just the internet. The errors were made by well-meaning people without any type of malicious intent.  So it’s ok to not take it too seriously and to understand that these things happen.

5) Follow Up: It’s important to do regular audits to make sure that changes have been made and that no new issues need to be dealt with.

As a blogger, I know this experience has also highlighted the importance of being as accurate as possible when I blog an event. I always try to contact the person who I’ve blogged about in case they have any changes or corrections.

So the lesson here is Google yourself. Frequently.

I’ll let you all know if I’ve suddenly become the go-to person for all of these stimulus packages, because after electing a President all by my lonesome, fixing the economy should be a piece of cake.

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