Obama's Social Media Guru On Marketing, Media, Music

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Scott Goodstein was in charge of then-Sen. Barack Obama's social networking strategy during the presidential campaign. This week, he's a panelist at the Future of Music Coalition Policy Summit in Washington, D.C. He speaks to guest host Jacki Lyden about the future of marketing, media and music in the Internet age.

JACKI LYDEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

Music has long been a vehicle for social change, and with the increased use of digital technology, music and activism are interacting in new ways. Scott Goodstein has been at the forefront of this emerging landscape. He developed the winning social networking strategy for then-Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign. He now runs Revolution Messaging, a company that develops mobile and social media marketing plans for nonprofit groups.

He's in Washington speaking at the Future of Music Coalition's Policy Summit. It's an annual gathering focused on technology, copyright issues and music. And Scott Goodstein joins us now in our studios. Thanks for coming in.

Mr. SCOTT GOODSTEIN (Revolution Messaging): Great. Thanks for having me.

LYDEN: Busy man.

Mr. GOODSTEIN: Yeah. It's been fun.

LYDEN: At the beginning of your career, you worked in both music promoting and political organizing. What did you learn from the world of music that you translated into political action?

Mr. GOODSTEIN: I realized that when doing lifestyle marketing for musicians that it was a deeper connection because folks that were coming out to shows or hanging out and talking in a bar or a tattoo parlor or a skate shop about their music really felt connected to one another as a neighborhood or as a community. And I felt that powerful connection mostly out of the D.C. punk rock scene and realized that there was something very powerful in community organizing within that structure and realized that that was what it was missing in the campaigns that I had been managing.

LYDEN: You wanted to translate the connection people felt into something that politicians could use. What do you think politicians have learned from that?

Mr. GOODSTEIN: Well, originally, in 2004, I partnered up with a gentleman named Fat Mike from NOFX to create something called Punk Voter. And the politicians were afraid of us. And the politicians didn't know what to make of folks trying to organize in different communities or feared, you know, these kids with different hair colors, didn't realize that these kids were fearing the same things that they were talking about. And while they look different - maybe a different hair color or were hanging out in different places - they were still dealing with credit card debt, worrying about the economy.

And so we sort of organized outside the campaign. It was an honor this time around to actually bring some of those organizing tactics inside the campaign versus trying to organize all this at your local skate shops and nightclubs outside the campaign and with no connection.

LYDEN: I'm going to talk about Barack Obama in a moment. But you mentioned that you hooked up with this guy Fat Mike. What did that teach you about the message? What message did you come up with?

Mr. GOODSTEIN: A lot of these musicians understood politics and messaging in a smarter, more sophisticated way than people in D.C. who, you know, claimed to have studied politics in media and messaging…

LYDEN: Is that because of writing song lyrics, for example?

Mr. GOODSTEIN: I think both writing song lyrics and also just talking to average voters every single day. Most of the musicians that were involved with Punk Voter were small business organizations. They run their band, they run their record label, they're touring, they have to understand how to sell merchandise and are amazing promoters and performers.

So, to explain to them how to craft a message in 30 seconds, they understood that. And so I learned to listen to these musicians and realized that they had their own take and their own reflection of society. I guess it shouldn't shock anyone because essentially that's what they're doing with their music -reflecting on society in their own unique way.

LYDEN: You consult with creative people. I'm just curious, do they ever say, listen, I love what Twitter can do for me, but if I do it too much I won't be creative?

Mr. GOODSTEIN: You know, it's such a tool that's still, I think, in its infancy that there's all sorts of interesting experiments. Some politicians are doing extreme personal stories. Senator Claire McCaskill from Missouri has been writing about when her kids are coming home and when she has to work out. And then she's also writing about the fight for getting government money into her district. And so, I'm not from Missouri, I don't know much about Missouri, but I think it's definitely brought me a closer connection to her.

LYDEN: In helping to create Barack Obama's highly successful social messaging campaign, which really had never been used in quite that way before with a presidential candidate, do you think that there's any downside to that, Scott Goodstein? Do you think that in any way, because we are so used to having the president's words be accessible, that they're, in any sense, easier to ignore?

Mr. GOODSTEIN: Now that everybody's on Twitter, how much is too much and what should be real is an interesting thought in a sense that it comes down to two points: transparency and authenticity. And as long as the president's message stays truly authentic and transparent, I think it's going to be fine.

LYDEN: Do you think the administration is listening to what people are saying online so that it works both ways?

Mr. GOODSTEIN: I can't speak for the administration. I know that on the campaign, the part that I worked on, we were very quick to listen to what was happening and then the messages that we were getting back from constituents on MySpace and Facebook and YouTube. And I think that politicians in general should be knowing that communication had changed drastically from one way of sending out a press release and putting up a TV spot and just assuming that you can just broadcast a message unilaterally to having to have a two-way conversation. I think in general that's good for democracy.

LYDEN: Well, you are going to be at this conference this week. What do you think will be the next big thing?

Mr. GOODSTEIN: I don't know. I'm hoping to learn from the conference of what the next big thing is. I think that musicians have always been very creative in figuring out MySpace and figuring out how to build an email list and channels of distribution, because starving artists are very smart and clever in making sure that they can promote their music enough to survive.

I'm going to be looking forward to learning more about being able to sell music and put out music on your own label and through your own Web site and what lessons can politicians learn from being able to share more content freely.

LYDEN: Scott Goodstein is the founder of Revolution Messaging. He spoke with us here in our Washington, D.C. studios. Scott, it was a pleasure. Thank you.

Mr. GOODSTEIN: Great. Thank you.

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