Obama Online: White House Channels Social Media

Obama Online: White House Channels Social Media

Emily Wolfrum, Editor-in-Chief

This year’s State of the Union address sought a new demographic of tech-savvy social media users to participate in the event both in person and online.

Through White House Social, active White House followers were given the opportunity to attend the address in Washington D.C. and participate in a question panel following President Obama’s speech.

For those not so active or unable to make the trek to the nation’s capital, an enhanced live stream provided online viewers with supplementary graphs, statistics, and graphics to the president’s speech.

Online viewers were encouraged to post responses and reactions with the tags “#WHChat” and “#SOTU.” These questions were answered throughout the week by White House staff members in an online segment entitled “Open for Questions.”

Other online interactive features included Citizens Response, which allowed viewers to hone in on a specific quote from the speech and provide feedback, and an updated take on President Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats.

President Obama’s “Fireside Hangout” took place on Thursday night. Through Google+, US citizens of various political and ideological backgrounds were able to video chat with the president and ask him questions regarding the State of the Union address.

An abundant amount of time was spent covering gun issues, a topic touched on by President Obama at the end of his speech.

This topic was also immensely popular in terms of its Twitter mentions with over 23 thousand tweets per minute the night of the address.

According to PolicyMic.com, Twitter saw a record-breaking number of tweets during this year’s State of the Union address with 1.36 million in comparison to last year’s 767 thousand.

Twitter Government recorded that President Obama’s mention of “middle class opportunities and minimum wage” was the most tweeted about subject at approximately 24 thousand tweets per minute, while Marco Rubio’s sip of water topped the GOP response tweets at roughly 9,200 tweets per minute.

In fact, the water sipping slip up received so much social media attention (and its own gif, for that matter) that Rubio reported on Twitter that his number of followers had increased drastically: “Picked up over 13 thousand new followers on [Twitter] since last night! [I’m] going to start drinking [water] in the middle of all my speeches!” he posted.

He additionally advertised a Marco Rubio water bottle with the caption, “Quench your thirst for conservative leadership.”

Such a response from a political figure, in addition to the overwhelming efforts made by the Obama Administration to digitalize this year’s State of the Union Address, shows an evident relationship between politics and social media.

“From the election that happened eight years ago to the one that just passed, social media plays a bigger role in politics,” freshman political science major Pavan Naidu said. “Facebook and Twitter were just starting up then, now it’s the mass outlet to get information and is a venue for change.”

The GOP provided similar online features during the address, presenting up-to-speed fact checking and Republican alternatives.

Despite these efforts to reach a wider, and perhaps younger audience, The Washington Post recorded the 2013 State of the Union Address to have the lowest viewership of an address in the past three administrations.

“I decided not to watch the State of the Union with social stream, because it had people from both sides of the spectrum [offering insight]. With these sides, facts may overlap and create an unclear message,” said freshman finance major Aaron Berube. “I like to form my own opinion on the subject matter, rather than have social media trying to form an opinion for me.”

Though more objective use of technology may prove helpful to the future of online political experimentation, social media use will only grow. And, with more opportunity to post and comment online, a greater need for credible political information is arising.

“Social media is becoming an essential part of our lives,” said freshman communications major Tyrek Roberts. “It’s not a bad thing, but if used the wrong way it could become that way.”