Book review: “Yes We Did” – Obama’s social media strategy

Given how obsessed everyone was with how social media helped elect Barack Obama, I’m surprised that I haven’t read more reviews of this book: “Yes We Did – An Inside Look at How Social Media Built the Obama Brand” by Rahaf Harfoush, which gives an excellent overview over how the Obama campaign used social media to mobilize people to donate time and  money.

Harfoush (@rahafharfoush) was a volunteer with Obama’s new media team. She describes the different tools that the campaign used along a rough chronological narrative, which works surprisingly well. In addition to her own observations, most chapters also contain at least one short interview with a team member who had been working on that particular aspect of the campaign. Each chapter also has a short summary with “social media lessons”.




Yes We Did  - An Inside Look at How Social Media Built the Obama Brand

Yes We Did – An Inside Look at How Social Media Built the Obama Brand

Good balance

The thing I really like about this short (185 pages) book is that Harfoush managed to keep exactly the right balance between strategy and operational details. Too many books about social media still explain step by step how to set up a YouTube account or explain what a Facebook page is. Harfoush doesn’t do this. She assumes that her readers know the tools. She focuses on how they were used in this particular context and what the thoughts were behind this.

Know what you want to say

It is exactly the explanation of these thought processes which I find one of the most valuable things about the book. Because it shows clearly how crucial two elements are that are missing from most social media initiatives – certainly in the non-profit sector: an actual social media strategy and a clear message.

Harfoush shows beautifully how the different tools were used in concert to:

  • Tailor messages for each micro-constituency while keeping  the overall message intact.
  • Escalate involvement strategies on an individual basis.
  • Give people a feeling that this was their campaign.
  • Ask for small actions offline (thus creating an instant satisfaction feedback loop) to help the long-term goal.

Resources, resource, resources

The second thing I find really valuable about the book is that it gives you an idea of the resources that the campaign had at their disposal. Harfoush doesn’t give an exact number in her book, but by my count the new media team consisted of  at least 35 people.

Where most NGOs have (maybe) one web-person who is expected to be a jack of all trades, the campaign had their own email team, design team, online organizing team and even analytics team – you name it, they had a team. And from the sounds of it these guys and girls were busy seven days a week and working long hours. No non-profit or international organization has those resources. This makes this book an excellent instrument to counter questions along the lines of “Why can’t you do what the Obama campaign did?”.

To summarize: “Yes We Did – An Inside Look at How Social Media Built the Obama Brand” is an easy to read, interesting and really useful book. It is not a set of step-by-step instructions how to duplicate the Obama campaign. But if you are working with social media on a strategic level, I highly recommend you getting it.


  1. Melinda Lewis November 12, 2009
  2. Rahaf Harfoush November 24, 2009

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