Barrack Obama: The Social Media President

Yesterday, the 44th U.S. President was sworn in. As I was watching the celebration with some friends, we agreed that Mr. Obama is truly a 21st Century President: we are a global society and he is a global man. He has familial ties to Kenya, Indonesia, and China. Here at home, he has personal ties to Hawaiian culture, African-American culture, the Harvard-elite, urban Chicago and rural Kansas landscapes. If it is indeed a small world after all, no one embodies that better than Barrack Obama.

We’ve talked a bit about President Obama’s use of social media during the campaign. And, yesterday, as my friends debated over the security of his Blackberry, we discussed whether or not he would make good on his promise for a transparent government that employed Blogs and RSS feeds and wikis and streaming vids and forums. Less than an hour after that conversation, my good friend Patrick called to tell me that the President’s new media director published his first blog post.

Because Obama was so plugged in as a candidate, the expectation is incredibly high for his uses of social media as the President. In his first YouTube video as President-elect, he received some criticism for having initially disabled the comments section. Of course, Evan Ratliff of Wired Magazine pointed out why the President’s crew may have opted for no comments: Obama’s transition team had good reasons for disabling responses. For starters, YouTube comments are typically the intellectual equivalent of truck-stop graffiti. (When the team belatedly allowed comments a couple of weeks later, the site was flooded with insights like “USA susks.”)

But, as Ratliff also pointed out, Dan Froomkin of the Niemen Watchdog Journalism Project and The Washington Post summed up expectations in a blog post calling for Obama to embrace “wiki culture” in which “major policy proposals have public collaborative workspaces.”

It will be interesting to see how this administration continues to employ social media tools to connect with American and global citizens. I wonder if we’ll see more “push” interactions than “pull” now that he’s taken office. I know President Obama has said he wants to hear everyone’s ideas; everyone’s concerns. I was watching a biography on FDR last night and in it, they talked about how Eleanor Roosevelt made it her job to get out among American citizens and hear their stories. She sent memos back to to her husband with the stories she felt he needed to hear. The memos were placed in a basket next to his bed the staff called the Eleanor Basket. It quickly piled up to the point where President Roosevelt struck a deal with his wife: three memos a day. “Keep it to three, Eleanor, and I promise I will read every one of them and will act upon them by morning” was his quote.

When I engage in social media campaigns for my clients, I generally limit core target audiences to just three in order to set measurable goals. I cannot begin to imagine the daunting task of engaging an entire nation – indeed the world – in a meaningful two-way political conversation today, even with all of our SM tools. Not to mention the challenge in creating a single unified voice of government to spread the right messages in the right way.

Just to give you a little perspective, consider these statistics (courtesy of Wired):

550,000 responses came in from supporters after Obama adviser David Plouffe requested feedback about the campaign.

1 million people viewed the President-elect Obama’s first YouTube address in four hours.

150,000+ subscribers follow Obama’s Twitter feed. (No tweets have been posted by Obama staffers since the election.)

500+ PDFs submitted by third parties for viewing and public comment are available on

3,701 comments on health care were submitted online to secretary of health and human services designate Tom Daschle.

20.3 million people have visited President Obama’s YouTube channel since its September 2006 launch.

24,000 individual Web sites are operated by the US government — and none with a single voice or purpose.

In his first Blog post since the President’s inauguration, the administration’s Director of New Media, Macon Phillips once again repeated President Obama’s dedication to leading a transparent government dependent upon the participation of and communication with all American citizens. Certainly, it seems to be that if anyone can create this kind of two-way conversation, President Obama can. In the meantime, it will be fascinating to watch how this administration uses social media. And, consider in your next SM new business pitch, if all else fails, you can tell the prospective client “if social media is good enough for the President…”

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