President Barack Obama is turning to his 2008 playbook by leaning on social media to help push his agenda through a politically divided Congress and gear up for next year’s re-election campaign.
Obama and his aides are following up the president’s State of the Union address by mixing traditional set-piece events -- remarks at a Wisconsin factory yesterday -- with a flurry of public outreach via Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc. and Google Inc.’s YouTube. Today the president is to take questions from the public live on YouTube at 2:30 p.m. Washington time.
“It will be a model of things to come,” said Dan Pfeiffer, White House communications director. “What you saw with the State of the Union is a warm-up act.”
As a candidate in 2008, Obama and his team pioneered the extensive use of e-mail and social media to raise money and organize supporters. The playing field has been leveled since then. Lawmakers from both parties take to Twitter and YouTube to connect with voters. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, a potential Obama opponent in 2012, regularly communicates through Facebook.
The latest administration dive into digital media coincides with a shuffling of Obama’s top advisers. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs is leaving next month and will eventually join the president’s re-election campaign, as is David Axelrod, Obama’s chief political adviser. Joining the White House is David Plouffe, Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, who on Jan. 10 became a senior adviser to the president.
Around the Filters
“Plouffe mastered talking to the American people around, over and through the national media filter,” said Michael Meehan, who worked on Senator John Kerry’s presidential 2004 campaign.
The administration took to the Internet before Obama’s Jan. 25 State of the Union address, with an online video for supporters laying out his themes.
On the day of the speech, the administration supplemented live coverage by major broadcast and cable news networks with a live stream on the White House website. That was followed by an interactive online discussion with administration officials, just as reporters and analysts were doing the same on television programs.
Yesterday, Pfeiffer took questions on Twitter. Today administration officials answer questions about the economy, education and foreign policy on the administration’s Facebook page.
Vice President Joseph Biden will be answering questions submitted through Yahoo! Inc. this week. As Obama answers questions on YouTube today, top advisers such as Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Austan Goolsbee and Education Secretary Arne Duncan take part in online roundtable discussions on a variety of websites.
“We obviously used social networking and the Internet to great effect during the campaign,” Pfeiffer said. “It’s much harder to do while governing, but we’re constantly exploring new ways to do it.”
Those efforts haven’t completely eclipsed more traditional methods of getting the president’s message out.
Before the speech, Obama dined with network news anchors, and aides sat for newspaper and television interviews. Yesterday the president traveled to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, to tour energy technology companies and deliver a speech aimed at reinforcing his theme of promoting U.S. economic competitiveness.
The official White House website, www.whitehouse.gov, was set up in 1994, and three years later President Bill Clinton gave the first State of the Union that was also carried on the Internet.
Obama, whose campaign collected e-mail addresses to raise record amounts of money in the 2008 presidential race and used text messaging to get out the vote, has combined the official website with commercial online outlets to communicate.
Gibbs regularly posts YouTube video responses to questions solicited via Twitter. Last year Obama held a YouTube town hall on health-care and introduced an application for Apple Inc.’s iPhone to provide content from the official White House blog and links to pictures and news. The number of White House Facebook fans has doubled since last year to more than 800,000.
White House photographers upload candid shots of the president and official guests to the Flickr photo-sharing site and the administration is creating a weekly YouTube video detailing the president’s activities.
Those outlets help the administration connect with voters and “make you feel a part of it,” said Karen Finney, a former spokeswoman for the Democratic Party and a potential candidate to replace Gibbs. “People love all that behind-the-scenes stuff.”
Each presidential cycle establishes new standards for candidates to harness technology to interact with supporters. Mike DuHaime, a Republican consultant who most recently worked on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s election, said Republicans will challenge Obama’s lead on digital platforms.
“The bar will be set high for the president in terms of how well he can interact online, in particular with fundraising,” he said. “Republican candidates will copycat some of the best ideas and come up with their own.”
Finney, who has been involved in presidential politics and campaigns since the Clinton administration, said the 2004 campaign was notable because it featured the dawning of influence for Internet bloggers. In 2008, it was the growth of Twitter.
The new element for 2012 hasn’t yet emerged, she said. “The pressure’s on to figure out what that’s going to be and how to use that creatively.”