White House uses social media to amplify Obama's big speech

President pushes State of the Union messages out on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram

The White House updated its social media efforts in an effort to control the messages coming out of the president's State of the Union address last night.

By pulling key points from President Barack Obama's speech and highlighting them with supporting graphics and charts, videos and animated GIFs, the administration focused on tweeting, posting updates on Facebook and uploading photos on Instagram.

With all of the tweets and retweets from the administration and people watching the State of the Union at home, as well as from political allies and opponents, it was a big night for Twitter.

The social networking site reported that, from beginning to end of the annual speech, Twitter saw 2.6 million tweets about the address. That's a 52.9% increase from last year when Twitter logged in 1.7 million tweets about Obama's 2014 address.

"I think last night went well for the White House and social media," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. "The administration got their talking points across in their own words. This was particularly true in their positions on the middle class discussion. It was worth the time they put into it. The alternative is for the detractors to gain the upper hand through their own social media efforts."

The White House said earlier this week in a blog post that it was intensifying its social media efforts to better get its message out regarding the goals the president would lay out during his speech Tuesday night.

"We're constantly on the lookout for new ways to use digital channels to better engage with the public and give people a way to participate and interact with President Obama," Nathaniel Lubin, acting director for the White House Office of Digital Strategy, wrote in a blog post. "You'll generally get the kind of real-time experience usually reserved for sports events and technology company product demos."

Along with the tweets and Facebook posts, the administration posted state-by-state and demographic data points in real-time on WH.gov/SOTU. On the site, users were able to answer questions, share feedback, find related material and share social media content.

The site was designed to work equally well on the desktop and mobile devices.

Obama and his team have been on the top of the social media game since his first presidential run, connecting with younger voters through sites like Facebook and Twitter. Now years later, he is kicking up his social efforts.

Brad Shimmin, an analyst with Current Analysis, said the administration is smart to do so.

"Social media cuts out those who speak on behalf of, interpret and reinterpret the president's original message," he said. "The White House's use of social media can, in a way, short circuit many of our familiar avenues of information dissemination, namely the television networks, bringing citizens one step closer to the administration and allowing them the room to better make their own decisions, rather than rely upon the opinions of others."

On the other side of the aisle, the GOP had its own social networking efforts during and after the address.

GOP on Twitter Twitter

The GOP also used social media, in this case Twitter, to put out its own message.

Republican politicians, along with the Republican National Committee posted comments and tweets with their responses to what the president was saying.

"Social media is definitely playing an increasingly important role in politics -- if not necessarily a positive role," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. "It's hard to clearly communicate anything substantial in 140 characters or less, particularly when the subject matter is complex."

All of the analysts agree that there is always a risk associated with blasting out tweets and other social media posts on the fly during such a big event.

"The first risk is that someone will say the wrong thing and find themselves at the center of a firestorm of outrage," said Olds. "There is too much room for misinterpretation and sometimes willful misinterpretation, which not only negates the message, but can also cause huge blowback. These days, political social media seems to focus on fomenting and feeding outrage, which is then used as fuel to vilify some opponent or position."

Jeff Kagan, an independent industry analyst, noted that companies can learn from what the politicians are doing with social media.

"This is the same for businesses. You must be thinking clearly and using social media responsibly so you don't get burned by it," he explained. "These are still the early days when it's OK to experiment, play around and figure out what works, what doesn't and why.... There are risks in using social media and there are risks in not using social media. Choose your risk."

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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