THE PLANK FEBRUARY 22, 2009
Last week, Valleywag broke down Obama's team of web gurus, trying to ascertain what slice of the big win each is responsible for. From Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes to Jascha Franklin-Hodge, co-founder and CTO of Blue State Digital, it seems a lot of new media heavyweights played a big part in putting Obama in the White House.
But Valleywag seems to have forgotten Rahaf Harfoush--author, journalist, blogger, poet, lecturer, and "new media evangelist" at large. Who is Rahaf Harfoush, you ask? Exactly. Some of her "colleagues" have been asking the same thing.
According to The Lavin Agency, the lecture agency that represents Rahaf exclusively, she is a "new media expert" and "member of Obama's social media team" who, in her lectures, "provides an insider's look at Barack Obama's all-encompassing--and, yes, historic--social media campaign." But according to former members of Obama new media team, Rahaf's role as an "expert" for the Obama campaign has been just a teeny bit inflated.
For the last three months of the campaign, "The Foush" was an unpaid volunteer at the Obama headquarters in Chicago, where her regular duties essentially involved approving mybarackobama.com comments and groups. There were two to three dozen people doing similar work, but she was somewhat unique in that she had a background in social media. (She was the research coordinator for Don Tapscott's book, Wikinomics.)
But more than anything, it seems what set her apart from her fellow campaign grunts is her shameless ambition and self-promotion. In just a few short months, in addition to the gig with the Lavin Agency, the intern-turned-mastermind has managed to score a book deal, has been featured in an article by CBC (she's from Canada), has spoken at places such as Bowdoin College and the University of Toronto, and attended the World Economic Forum in Davos. On Amazon, her book, Yes We Did! An inside look at how social media built the Obama brand, is described as such:
The Obama campaign is widely credited for its innovative use of new media technologies for everything from fundraising to volunteer coordination. In this book, Rahaf Harfoush, a member of the New Media Team, provides the ultimate case study on how it was all done. The book is filled with examples on the technologies that were used, such as online ads, text messages, and the MyBo website, and also explains the rationale behind each social networking strategy.
The Amazon author bio goes even further and calls her a "key member of Barack Obama's New Media Team." And Bowdoin's website promoting her lecture is equally as bombastic: "As a social media strategist for Barack Obama during his presidential bid, she helped develop the most innovative, comprehensive and high-stakes social media campaign ever conceived."
According to a high-ranking member of Obama's new media team, a lot of people from the campaign are a little incredulous. Not only is she the first person from the team to come out with a book, but she's also become the sort-of spokesperson for the Obama new-media strategy. In addition to being disproportionate to her work, this reputation seems out of line with the Obama campaign culture of humility.
To give her the benefit of the doubt, maybe this inflated profile has been a case of broken telephone, like she claims on her blog. When I spoke to her last week on the phone, she claimed that the lecture promos and media stories written with her collaboration were all correct in the description of role on the campaign, but "somewhere along the way, small words started changing." She said that because of a busy travel schedule, she didn't realize that her description for places like Amazon and Bowdoin was so inflated.
And as for how the book came about:
I was at a party in Chicago with a friend of mine and he introduced me to this person from Peach Pitt Press who I spent some time talking to. I was telling him--I get really excited when I talk about the campaign because I thought it was so cool--so I was just talking to him about volunteering and how much fun I was having and he said, ‘You know, your story could be a really interesting thing.' ... and I said, ‘Really, me? My story? I don't know, maybe!'
She claims that the title of the book, Yes We Did! (also the title of her lecture) is not intended to imply "yes we did," we as in the media team, but we as in the public. I'll leave it up to you to judge if the publishers, agents, and journalists did all this exaggerating on their own.