POTUS and the Twitter town hall – Why it matters
Posted on July 6, 2011
In 1933 at the dawn of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt sat before a microphone in the White House and delivered the first of his fireside chats. During that 20 minute session, Roosevelt sought to assure the American people that the government had taken the appropriate steps to deal with the current economic crisis. Roosevelt accomplished several things with this inaugural chat: 1) he spoke directly to the people in their homes and circumvented the national press; 2) he promoted the medium through which he communicated; and 3) the national media not only covered what Roosevelt said but also the medium he used to say it.
Nearly 80 years later, at a time when the world finds itself in a seemingly constant state of economic peril and our leaders engage in a ongoing game of brinksmanship, President Obama’s Twitter town hall will accomplish the same goals achieved by Roosevelt so many years ago. The stakes are high as Americans remain rightfully concerned about their financial well being and the future of the country. Obama’s fate rests on his ability to deliver the message that he is doing the best job of handing our current economic crisis. He’ll use the town hall today to test some of those messages and to re-engage his tech savvy base.
At least once every generation, there is a paradigm shift that defines how we communicate with each other going forward. And just as efficiencies in technology drive products to become smaller, evolutions in communications generally migrate from the group to the individual and allow for more narrowcast opportunities for specific interests.
Radio evolved to include programming based on music, “theater” entertainment and news/talk. Television evolved to more than a thousand channels through cable television. The Internet has given us countless ways to access the information that matters most to us.
Now with the whiplash development of social media, the game is set to change again, but in a way that is even more impactful than we saw in 2008.
Messages can now be designed for the individual and delivered to handles, inboxes and feeds. Politicians and candidates will be able to offer up-to-the-minute and immediately accessible messages specific to a person’s interest. The revolution also transitions us from a broadcast posture, in which we only receive messages from politicians, to a conversation, in which feedback can be readily provided in real time. This is the spirit of today’s town hall as Obama demonstrates he is willing and able to directly engage the American people.
During a recent Obama trip to Texas to discuss immigration policy, senior advisor David Plouffe remained in Washington and monitored reactions to the speech in real time through Twitter. With access to this type of real world feedback, politicians will be able to adjust their messages on the fly for specific audiences.
Obama ’08 forever revolutionized the way politicians engage the public because the Obama team understood the changes on the horizon and how the new communications tools could be used to drive the agenda – direct engagement at all levels to get Obama elected. Roosevelt clearly understood the importance of direct engagement as well, broadcasting to nearly 12 million homes with radio sets in 1933. By the time of his re-election campaign in 1936, that number had increased by more than 45 percent. This, in part, is why Roosevelt successfully won three additional terms in office despite the economic tragedy that gripped the country.
Way back in the dark ages of 2007, Twitter caught its stride at SXSW, increasing from 20,000 to 60,000 tweets per day. Twitter now fires about 20 million tweets a day from more than 200 million users. The number of users is exploding by about 300,000 every day. Just as with the growth of radio, it will be interesting to gauge how impactful presidential engagement will be for the Twitterverse.
The candidate who can develop the right message and deliver it most effectively using the latest and greatest technology usually wins the race. Despite the constant economic challenges he’s facing, President Obama’s Twitter town hall today is a sign that he appreciates what it takes to communicate and motivate people towards action. However, should the president slip, the campaign team that masters the social media space will win in 2012.