Commentary: YouTube and Obama | KERA News

Commentary: YouTube and Obama

Dallas, TX –

I'm feeling old. Old because I listen to radio and read newspapers. Old because when I pick up my cell phone, it's because I'm going to call someone. Don't look now, but the world has changed and our political world has changed ever faster. It doesn't matter where you are on the political spectrum, Senator Obama is this season's master of the YouTube culture - and all of us better seek to understand it. The YouTube generation thinks and communicates very differently.

One of the opportunities it presents is that a candidate can talk person-to-person - albeit through a camera - to the listener. The flip side of that is that the listener expects to hear and to hear frequently.

And they want to participate, not just listen. As the controversy over Senator Obama's former pastor, the Reverend Wright, heated up, Senator Obama posted a short video on his website and YouTube. He also e-mailed supporters and contributors to alert them to the video and - here's the part I find most interesting - he asked them to look at it and send it to others.

The word being used - and overused - is authentic, talking direct to camera, not being scripted, sounding conversational. This style is going to be the standard of the future.

The first example I saw was in February of 2007, when the killer snowstorm swept the east coast and JetBlue had to cancel 1100 flights. Their CEO, David Neeleman, used YouTube to talk to customers and employees. It was very effective. Most of the senior executives I deal with are very cautious, even nervous, about talking to an audience in an unscripted video posted for all to see. Take heart. Last Christmas, even Queen Elizabeth used the channel. She looked right into the camera, in a very simple setting, and like Mr. Neeleman, it was very impressive.

It's hard to realize that YouTube only started up in 2005. And it's changing behavior in astonishing ways. And I don't just mean people posting all sorts of short videos. It's people expecting to be captured on video. Here's a quiz: a Dunkin Donuts worker beat a thief away from the cash register. What inspired him? He thought the store's security video would find its way onto the internet and if he didn't stand up to the thief, he would look like a coward. He's probably right.

Communication in the future is fast, flexible and frequent. The old - like 2004 - idea of having a few ads or a single well produced video is, well, old. It doesn't have to be fancy. Still think this phenomenon just affects politics? Think again. The presidential campaigns are indeed changing what people expect and that has significant implications for the way corporations communicate to their employees, their customers, their communities and other key audiences.

Actually, now that I think about it. Although my children describe me as so "last century," the best preparation for the new communication - simple, direct, person to person - is what I've always done - on the radio!

Merrie Spaeth is a communications consultant based in Dallas.

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