Yesterday a post from Barack Obama appeared on my Facebook feed. It was about the Open for Questions system on Whitehouse.gov. The Open for Questions application allows anybody to register and vote up or down on questions related to the economy, health care, security and other topics of interest. You can also ask your own questions. On Thursday (tomorrow), President Obama will answer some of the most popular questions in a town hall setting.
It cannot be overstated how innovative and powerful this concept is. The established model is that you communicate your wishes and concerns to your elected representatives in Congress, and they’re supposed to advocate for their voters. Of course, nobody trusts these (mostly) guys to listen or to do anything other than what’s in their own interests – which are often not in alignment with the voters who elected them. Plus – to get your voice heard you need to get to three members of Congress who may or may not have a great and responsive staff.
Obama just bypasses Congress to gather the Will of the People on a national level, and uses highly viral social media to do it (bypassing old media as well). He can then look at the results – and with the support of hundreds of thousands or even millions of votes and voters he can steer the discussion with far more legitimacy. By letting us in, he’s binding himself to the people. By giving us voice, he’s removing the filters and communication blockages that occur with any leader. Obama describes the presidency as a “bubble.” When you’re in the bubble, you can’t know that people are thinking or feeling.
Open for Questions is a powerful way to burst the bubble and get close to the voters — his customers. Sure, this makes for good policy – but this is mostly about marketing. His supporters love him even more for his openness and proof that he “gets” the social graph and why that matters. Even his detractors have to stop and admire the openness and leveraging of new media, and some of them will – perhaps grudgingly – grow closer to Obama’s view of the world.
What are you doing to listen to your customers? Are you using social media to bypass the filters from sales, marketing and customer service that make it difficult to know what your customers are really thinking?