Jenna Brayton, an Associate Director in the White House Office of Digital Strategy, came to speak with students in the Annenberg School of Communications at University of Pennsylvania last Monday, and discussed the role of social media in the presidency. During her talk, she discussed many of the things that the team had learned about using social media in presidential politics. Here are three things that I took away from the presentation.
Takeaway #1: Social media is a great way for influencers to engage a diverse audience including those outside the normal communications reach.
One element of the social media strategy used by the Obama administration is to place the President’s message in places that will be viewed by people who normally don’t follow politics closely. One example of this was when the President went on a YouTube show called, Between Two Ferns. The interview, itself, was horrible. At one point, for example, the President was asked, “What is it like to be the last black president?” However, the interview, which has received over 13 million views, gave the President a chance to plug healthcare.gov and the Affordable Care Act. Brayton indicated that this plug ultimately led to more signups for ObamaCare.
Takeaway #2: Common people can influence people they never thought possible.
On January 15, 2015, the White House invited three widely viewed YouTube creators into the White House to interview the President. Once again, this gave the President a wider audience, and interviewers the freedom to ask whatever they wanted to. This freedom allowed the President a close view of what people are actually feeling and thinking than he is normally confronted with. When asked about the influence social media has on the President, Brayton did state that the President factors the information into his decision-making.
Takeaway #3: The same strategy doesn’t always work twice.
In 2011, the White House was up against an expiring tax credit that they did not want to go away. For the average American that credit was about $40, and so they took to social media and asked Americans, “What does $40 mean to you?” The post trended for two days globally with 2000 responses an hour at peak. The President took the responses to Congress, and showed them that $40 was a lot to people, which was a factor in the passing of the bill. In 2015 they used the same strategy again for another bill, but it failed to produce the desired engagement. This is proof that the same strategy doesn’t always work. same strategy isn’t always going to work.
Social media is a powerful tool, and the strategies are so new that people are consistently learning. It was a pleasure to hear the White House say that it’s learning too.