One of the best grassroots operations in history was Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. The campaign, according to The European Business Review, had an e-mail list of 13 million people; attracted, at its peak, 8.5 million visitors a month to its website; made 5 million friends on social-networking sites; cultivated 3 million online donors; ran a text-messaging program to 3 million people; and produced 2,000 YouTube videos that generated more than 80 million viewings.So perhaps it's no wonder that when Jack Gerard took over as the head of the American Petroleum Institute in November 2008, he was keeping a close eye on the Obama campaign's innovations. Shortly after the election, he had a number of conversations with some of the folks who ran the Obama's new-media efforts, aiming to learn how they structured and ran their social-media and education campaigns. During a meeting at API's offices, one of the wunderkinds offered a particularly memorable insight."I'll never forget," Gerard said in an interview, "one of the very young players said, 'Mr. Gerard, you have to understand that we've gone back to the future.'"What he meant, Gerard explained, is that the Internet has reinvented the kind of neighbor-to-neighbor conversations that used to happen over backyard fences across America.
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