By Maxime Fischer-Zernin.
Wherever you watched Tuesday night’s State of the Union Address, chances are you were also following along with social media. Whether it was the 750 tweets sent out by members of Congress, WhiteHouse.gov’s “enhanced” SOTU coverage, Politico’s Live Q&A on Facebook, or following @DukeDPR and me (@SwissFisch) on Twitter, most young Americans treated the Address as an exercise in multi-tasking. This trend in interactive viewing has not gone unnoticed by the Obama Administration, which this year has been on an all out social media assault before, during, and since the speech.
In what has been marketed as an homage to President Jackson’s 1837 “Big Block of Cheese Day,”—when Jackson invited everyday Americans into the White House for cheese and interactions with cabinet officials—the White House has made transparency and direct communication a pillar of their State of the Union strategy. WhiteHouse.gov/SOTU was home base for the operation, a.k.a. the State of the Union “splash base,” with media from Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Tumblr, and the “enhanced” SOTU.
In the week leading up to the speech the White House Instagram account has been giving people an inside look at what it called the “exciting and hectic week” of preparations for “#SOTU.” With X-Pro II as the obvious filter of choice, the White House posted photos of senior presidential adviser Valierie Jarrett sitting with the Obamas, of chief speechwriter Cody Keenan’s draft speech, and of course a few of the Presidential dogs Bo and Sunny.
And of course Obama’s Twitter feed, with its 41 million followers, heated up in the days and hours before the speech as he leaked some talking points and major topics of the speech.
On YouTube, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough explained that the State of the Union “is an important moment when the policy that influences the fabric of the American experiment is shaped.”
The West Wing character Josh Lyman made an appearance in a second video alongside Press Secretary Jay Carney hyping the 2014 virtual Big Block of Cheese Day, during which White House staffers and administration officials will on social media interacting with citizens through the end of the week.
The hype continued to build up until 9 p.m. Tuesday evening, when the House sergeant at arms addressed the Capitol Building: “Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States of America.” And then the entire political social media sphere went into overdrive.
According to a Wall Street Journal report Americans sent 2.1 million SOTU tweets during the speech, with traffic varying throughout the night.
After the President’s “Mad Men” joke about equal pay for women, Twitter reported 3,555 tweets per minute, and extraordinarily, when Obama called to increase the minimum wage to $10.10—ok, admittedly not as catchy as Cain’s 9,9,9 plan—traffic increased to 29,859 tweets per minute.
Many of the tweeters were no doubt also watching the President online. For the 3rd year in the row, the White House website showed an “enhanced” State of the Union, with supporting charts, illustrations and data on screen—all of it shareable. The White House was able to attract 1.3 million online viewers, a 30% increase from last year.
The “enhanced” #SOTU content was shared more than 9,000 times and the White House received more than 72,000 new email signups Tuesday night alone. Throughout the week the White House also collected immense email and phone number data by offering exclusive sneak peaks to those who subscribed to #SOTU updates.
And with virtual Big Block of Cheese Day, the Administration is trying to give Americans direct access to their government through direct conversation with staffers and officials across all social media platforms. Kori Schulman, Director of Online Engagement in the White House office of Digital Strategy told Reuters: “When [staff and officials] come here, we invite and encourage them to share their experience, and they do so freely.”
More than ever before, the White House is using social media to get their message directly to the American people without the filter of the press. And as this week has shown, it works.
In what has been called unprecedented transparency matched with innovative opaqueness, the Obama Administration has increasingly been delivering precisely tailored messaging through social media while limiting press access. For example, despite pictures posted many times daily on Instagram, the White House has limited the access of press photographers.
The Obama communications staff’s mission statement is clear: bring our message directly to the people. As the President said, “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone.” Well he’s also got Instagram and Twitter accounts, and he isn’t afraid to use them.
So what does this all mean? It’s never been easier to keep track of what’s going on in the White House and participate. If you’re passionate about an issue, tweet and Facebook it, if you think a politician isn’t being honest, tweet it with #factcheckthis and PolitiFact will look into it. Most importantly, use this information to stay informed.