We see social media being used in several ways, the most visible being the recent protests in Iran. That was a grassroots awareness campaign. Social media have also been used long before that by very structured, established grassroots organizations to get the word out to their members about legislative developments, as well as to recruit and organize.
Where I’m seeing them being used most successfully is to provide information to an organization’s members in real time and to recruit people for their grassroots network. I don’t think that social media do that much persuading; I think they’re used a lot for preaching to the converted.
In addition, a lot of this was being done before the Obama campaign, it’s just that they really maximized them and used them on a very large scale. The Obama campaign is a very successful example, however, if I’ve learned one thing about grassroots organizing and grassroots influence, there’s never one thing that is responsible for grassroots success. I believe the media have focused too much on the social networking tools used by Obama supporters when that was one small piece of his success. David Plouffe of the Obama campaign admitted that, “Without the right candidate and strategy, you can have all the tools and tactics and they won’t make a difference.”