President Barack Obama’s White House has already made a significant social media push in preparation for Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

The effort is aimed at people who might ordinarily skip the annual policy speech.

The president first announced his proposal to offer two years of free community college in this Facebook video which has accumulated more than eight million views, besting any other Facebook post by the White House in history.

On the other side of the aisle, Speaker of the House John Boehner responded to this plan through a series of Taylor Swift gifs.

Additionally, the president previewed his broadband internet plans in this Upworthy video last week.

Clearly, national leaders want to identify with and appeal to a younger audience, but how effectively are they doing so? Last year’s State of the Union viewership, at 33.3 million, was the second lowest total since Nielsen began tracking ratings in 1993. Only President Bill Clinton’s 2000 speech, with 31.5 million views, ranked lower. In contrast, Obama had 52 million viewers at his first State of the Union address in 2009. What is contributing to this drastic decline in broadcast viewing numbers?

“Social media is killing the State of the Union,” presidential historian Allan Lichtman told the Los Angeles Times, “and the White House is doing everything it can to use social media to keep it alive.”

On Tuesday evening, the White House will offer enhanced viewing of the speech on its website, with a split screen between the live stream, and graphs and notes to further viewers’ understanding. The White House is actually encouraging the nation to skip traditional broadcasts and turn to, as evidenced by Vice President Joe Biden’s email on Friday.


Beyond Biden’s email, this banner is now the first thing White House website visitors see.

By clicking the “I’m In” button, visitors can RSVP to “Watch the speech,” and are then asked to supply their email address and zip code. Upon doing so, they are invited to “take a deep dive into the president’s plan for 2015 on Twitter and Facebook.”

The State of the Union website also features a “Behind the Scenes” YouTube video with the president. “The Road to the State of the Union” section outlines Obama’s policy interests and links to all #SOTU social media platforms. Most advertised is the page’s “Ways to Engage” section, including this video preview of the president’s upcoming interviews with prominent YouTube creators Bethany Mota, Hank Green and GloZell Green.

GloZell Green told her followers she’s prepared because she “watched every episode of [HBO Series] ‘Veep.'” These interviews are scheduled to happen on Thursday, and the public can propose questions using #YouTubeAsksObama.

The White House will also be posting constant updates via Twitter and Facebook during the speech, and email a post-speech summary to those on the email list. The goal here is to make the State of the Union accessible to every American on as many platforms as possible.

The fact is, people don’t watch TV in the traditional sense nearly as much as they used to. The Super Bowl is the only remaining television program that consistently attracts millions of viewers annually, and near 100 million at that. According to White House senior advisor Dan Pfieffer, 1.4 million people watched the State of the Union address on last year, and roughly 30 percent did so from a mobile device.

This social media boom and self-programming isn’t a new tactic for the White House, but announcing the president’s key talking points is. One of the most trending hashtags on Twitter right now is #StateOfTheUnionIn3Words, which asks people to sum up their expectations and opinions in three words.



In the end, it’s not just about viewership anymore. It’s about knowing who is watching, and what they think.