During his State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama called for innovation. Obama’s communications directors apparently took his advice.
Beginning with a YouTube video teaser and culminating with a live YouTube question-and-answer session, Obama and his staff brought his internet outreach full circle. Social media enabled Obama to build support for his 2008 campaign. And he’s continuing that trend in office.
From iPhone apps to live Facebook feeds, Tuesday’s speech tapped into the digital world to get viewers engaged.
Following the model of the Sunlight Foundation’s coverage of other political speeches, The WhiteHouse.gov site hosted what it called an “Enhanced” State of the Union. The site featured a live feed of the president’s address paired with “charts, graphs and other content,” according to the site. A “making of the State of the Union” video, an interactive first lady’s guest box and State of the Union fact reel populated the site before the speech began.
White Houses’ Facebook page answered questions using a live-streaming software. A comment box rolled next to the video, so users could submit questions for the president and his staff to answer during some of the post-speech online events.
Responses to the speech by Republicans, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who provided the official GOP rebuttal, and Rep. Michele Bachmann’s “Tea Party Rebuttal” were also streamed online. Bachmann’s speech, aired on CNN and TeaPartyExpress.org — for a little too long, unfortunately. Post-speech, the live feed continued to roll as Bachmann fixed her hair.
A live, connected conversation
A group of 14 reporters gathered at the Sunlight Foundation, all centrally connected by one crucial link — a heavy-duty extension cord — as they typed through dinner to provide interactive coverage of the address to nearly 2,000 viewers.
The foundation’s coverage was very different from the White House’s “Enhanced” page, which worked more like a PowerPoint presentation, inserting main talking points and simple graphics to the right of the president’s live feed.
In contrast, visitors to the Sunlight Foundation’s site engaged in online conversation. One said: “This is perfect. Like sitting in the room, watching with a bunch of smart, informed people.” Reporters from other news agencies also guest-blogged their responses to questions asked by guests.
CQ Roll Call, The Huffington Post, National Journal and The Center for Public Integrity provided expertise and embedded the Sunlight coverage within their own sites, bringing heavier traffic than one organization might have gotten alone.
At 8:30 p.m. the blog begin with a message from Joshua Hatch, the Online Content Manager of Sunlight Live. Reporters typed away, answering questions from posters.
By 10:15 p.m., Tim Ball, the site’s system administrator, ran in. “We just dropped 200! What happened?,” he yelled. The reporters turned to him and responded in unison: “The speech is over.”
Reporters stuck around to cover the GOP and Tea Party responses. By 11 p.m., everyone wrapped up and headed home.
The hashtag #SOTU saw a lot of action during the address, with tweets coming from viewers, congressmen and even the president himself. Well, his account anyway. Main lines of his speech from his Twitter account — @BarackObama —were posted periodically during the address, presumably by White House staffers.
Throughout the address, Reps. Paul Broun, R-Ga., John Dingell, D-Mich., and Keith Ellison, D-Minn., among others, tweeted from the floor of the House (Sunlight collects congressional tweets on StreamCongress.com). Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., even posted a Twitpic at the end of the speech.
A panel of senior White House officials also answered questions submitted on the White House Twitter and Facebook feeds after the speech.
On Wednesday, a special guest will substitute for White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs to answer questions sent into the @PressSec Twitter account. And at 2:30 p.m. (EST) on Thursday, the president himself will answer questions on a live YouTube interview from the White House. People are posting questions now.