A few years ago, I was giving a social media training with my colleague and friend Beth Becker at the 2011 Netroots Nation conference. It was a packed room, with people standing out the door in the hallway (as most of the trainings Beth and I give at Netroots are). So when Beth called out President Obama for doing a poor job on social media, word got around. Since that day, we have seen some interesting and impressive improvements in how the White House engages with social media.
Beth's primary criticism of the Obama White House's use of social media was its lack of interaction with other people, its lack of being social. Later that day, Beth and I were walking through the convention center's halls when we bumped into a member of the White House digital and social media outreach team. Since he and I had known each other for a couple years, I introduced him to Beth. He immediately took out his phone, punched a few key and showed us a tweet quoting Beth's criticism of Obama.
"Is this you?" he asked.
"Yes," said Beth.
"B-but he's the president," he protested.
Beth proceeded, with my help (of course), to rattle off several ways the White House and the president could be more social. Our suggestions included:
- He could retweet and interact with members of his Cabinet
- He could retweet and interact with other heads of state
- He could respond to common questions from constituents without necessary directly replying to anyone in particular
Our suggestions were all about creating a true, but appropriate to the office, sense of interaction between the president and the twitterverse (as well as other social media audiences). We got that tweeting from the White House is not the same as tweeting from the campaign trail. We understood that the president was busy and that he needed to maintain his stature as the leader of the free world. So we were not suggesting that he tweet like a Bieber fan.
Since that day, the White House's use of social media has become far more social. And while we do not claim responsibility for the improvement, we often applaud it.
Within a couple weeks of that Netroots conference, the White House announced that President Obama would occasionally tweet himself over the @WhiteHouse account, marked by his initials "-BO" (we strongly encouraged that he use -BHO, instead of -BO, for obvious reasons, but our influence only goes so far). About a month later, the @WhiteHouse "Rickrolled" a citizen who complained via Twitter about a press briefing on economic policy.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Rickrolling, it is when someone shares a link about a relevant topic that actually links to a YouTube video of Rick Astley singing "Never Gonna Give You Up." As a result, Astley's video has been viewed more than 115 million times.
And this brings us to the @WhiteHouse's latest foray into a more engaging use of Twitter. This past week, the White House's social media team reinvented the twitterbomb with a tweet slyly directed at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu.
By repurposing Netanyahu's now famous bomb infographic used for Bibi's 2012 speech at the United Nations, the Obama Administration simultaneously promoted its recent framework agreement with Iran over its nuclear program, created some highly "snackable" social media content and (indirectly) engaged Netanyahu via Twitter.
Way to use social media, President Obama!