Barack Obama’s administration is no stranger to social media. Even before elected, Obama was rarely without his trusted Blackberry, and he can claim the distinction of being the first president to use Twitter in office. His personal Twitter profile has over 9 million followers, and he follows over 600,000, which is an equally vital statistic. Obama recently held a “Twitter town meeting” live from the East Room, in which he spent an hour holding a “conversation” with millions of Twitter users. This brings social media into a position of prominence regarding the coverage and facilitation of events that was once entrusted only to traditional news organizations.
White House communications director, Dan Pfeiffer, says, “We’ve entered a different information age, where people get news and information in a different way than they did in the past. If you’re going to communicate with the broad public, it is no longer sufficient to simply do it through traditional mainstream media.”
Increasingly, news consumers are not content to sit and passively accept information filtered through reporters. A forum like Twitter, or Facebook (on which President Obama also held a town meeting-style conversation) may be a better indicator of what people want to know than a traditional press conference. “AskObama” was moderated by 10 Twitter users, chosen by Twitter, to avoid the image that the Obama administration was hand-picking questions or managing the news.
Michael D. Shear writes in the New York Times, “The social media companies are now firmly established as an alternative means of getting a president to respond to the big – or maybe not so big – questions of the day. Rather than being up to a journalist or blogger, the direction of questioning will be largely guided by the broader interests of the Twitter community.”
And the community was all for it: sites from Mashable and MTV to GOP Financial Services had suggestions for questions. But, as CNN points out, is Twitter “really the best way to talk to a President?” TwitSprout estimates that about 40,000 questions were posted by people hoping to get an answer from the President. Of these, 18 were actually asked. Twitter may not have taken over from traditional news organizations in terms of presidential coverage – but it is making waves.