Barack Obama is on Twitter, Here’s Why It Matters
Today, shortly after Barack Obama joined 300 million or so other humans on Twitter, Wall Street Journal Reporter Reid Epstein asked an interesting question:
This is a totally fair question. First, there is already an @BarackObama account run by Organizing for Action that has nearly 60 million followers, and his White House, his wife, his Vice President and most of his senior staff already have Twitter Accounts.
Second, the President has more ways to communicate with people than just about anyone on earth (with the possible exceptions of the Kardashians). He is on TV, radio, and in newspapers. He is on Facebook, Instagram, Medium YouTube etc.
So why go on Twitter, 6 plus years into the Presidency?
Let me begin with a little background. The idea for an @POTUS account has been bouncing around for awhile. This was the brainchild of some very smart people on the White House Digital Staff. I originally shared Reid’s skepticism: How would it be different from @WhiteHouse? Would we have the content to sustain a separate account? Will it seem phony?
Over time, due in part to tremendous persistence (and I mean tremendous, like bugging me about it every day type persistence) from the staff and the recognition last fall that the rapidly shifting media firmament had shifted faster than I realized, my opinion shifted.
Putting the President’s own voice on Twitter wasn’t only a good idea that would get some online and mainstream press attention (which is sadly the raison d’etre for most things politicians do on the Internet), it was a necessary step in a successful communications strategy for the digital age. Here’s why I think today is more important than it may seem on it’s face:
First, this is an acknowledgement that the world has changed. Twitter is now a place a President needs to be if he or she want to respond to events, make news, and talk to the public. Faking it through signed tweets and screen shots of statements is no longer enough. Obama has been involved in a lot of Presidential communication “firsts” — first late night comedy interview, first daytime talk interview, first online news interview and so on. Each of these firsts is like a mile marker shows just how far we have come in the transformation of media. This is just the latest.
Second, the key to a successful communications strategy in our new fractured media environment is “going where the conversation is happening.” And while the conversation on Twitter is often messy, contentious, and sometimes filled with profane trolls, it’s where a very important conversation particularly about politics and world events is happening. If you want to influence that very important conversation, you have to actively participate in it — for Barack Obama that starts today.
Finally, Twitter isn’t a communications platform so much as an engagement platform. People on Twitter expect it to be a conversation. President Obama broadcasting his message to the world in 140 character increments won’t work. This will require President Obama to engage with his followers periodically, answering their questions, and responding to the suggestions and complaints. This new effort will fail if it’s just President Obama broadcasting his same messages in shorter increments (Jason Goldman, Kori Shulman and others in the White House are the biggest advocates for this sort of engagement so it won’t fail) Anything that breaks down barriers and brings the public and politicans closer together is a good thing.
This isn’t going to change the world and it’s a precursor to Presidents being on Snapchat, Medium and other platforms that are still sparkles in founders’ eyes. But the way the President of United States communicates with his constituents changed forever today and that’s a big deal.