The State of the Union is Social
Last week, President Obama delivered his yearly State of the Union address. If you’re like me, you watch the State of the Union both to see how much the Vice President and Speaker of the House fidget and for the commentary and political jousting that follow.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen this jousting expand from a one-dimensional post-game press conference to live, line-by-line commentary thanks to social media. Twitter – and other social networks, to a lesser extent – have provided a democratized arena for reporters, talking heads, comedians, and anyone with a handle to launch their best 140-character commentary into the Twittersphere.
This is nothing new; social media and politics are no longer strange bedfellows. The Obama Administration’s use of social media to push out messages and information about events and broadcasts isn’t new either; we expect it. But this year, the White House integrated social media into the State of the Union in several new ways, reaching a small but crucial audience. Live-tweets, an enhanced online video feed, and extensive online follow-up turned the State of the Union into a week-long digital event.
Instead of the online video feed that has become standard, the White House provided an enhanced live feed of the speech on its website, which included a sidebar of stats, charts, and personal stories. At the risk of wonkiness, these features helped explain policy decisions and cut deeper into issue areas than is normally possible in the address itself.
In addition, the White House hosted a marathon of online office hours throughout last week on Twitter focusing on topics from disability issues, to agriculture and foreign policy. President Obama also hosted a Google+ hangout on January 30th, answering questions that participants submitted via YouTube. Questions were submitted from moms and their kids, an Occupy protester, and a homeless veteran, among others.
It’s obvious that most of these features are not going to reach a wide swath of Americans. Most people don’t have Twitter accounts; few people know how to use a Google hangout, let alone what it is. The majority still watches the State of the Union on television and there are plenty who don’t watch it at all.
But these features did help bring President Obama’s message to and reaffirm his social savvy with one key group: youth voters. The same youth who check Facebook on their smart phones before they get out of bed in the morning, who get their news from blogs and Twitterfeeds, who turned out in droves to help deliver Obama a landslide victory in 2008. These are the same voters who stayed at home in 2010, who feel political change has come at a glacial pace, and who may or may not mobilize in 2012. These super social features are far, far away from reaching every American, but they likely caught the attention of the ones who matter right now.
Image via White House State of the Union live feed.