Barack Obama’s campaign trail was paved with technology and innovation. During his two-year campaign for change, Obama and his staff utilized social media networks like Facebook and Twitter and technology like text messaging to connect and to establish reciprocal relationships with voters. Change was not only apparent in the promise for healthcare reform and economic growth, but also in the way information was communicated. These forms of communication created strong, grassroots support and allowed voters to shape the campaign.
On January 21, as President Obama took his oath of office, change was occurring at the White House. Not only were movers unloading boxes at the President’s new home, but the new White House Web site was being unveiled. During the transition from the campaign trail to the White House, the administration’s new staff worked to seamlessly shift the brand of Obama the candidate to Obama the president.
Director of New Media Macon Phillips introduced the site through the White House blog. It uses Web 2.0 elements to complete the administration’s mission to bring communication, transparency and participation to the White House. The site includes a briefing room, blog and e-mail updates to communicate better with the public. To aid in transparency, all bills and legislation will be posted, and whitehouse.gov readers will then be able to participate by commenting on the new legislation. Weekly video addresses can be watched on the Web site and on the White House’s You Tube channel.
In a NY Times article, Jim Rutenberg and Adam Nagourney said, “One of the many obstacles the White House faces…is transforming the YouTubing-Facebooking-texting-Twittering grass-roots organization that put Mr. Obama in the White House into an instrument of government.”
While Obama had a large and passionate following during his campaign, he must now focus on reaching those who did not vote for him. Supporters are tired from a long campaign and he must reach new supporters to increase his approval rating.
“Along with the new Web site, his aides — including his campaign manager — have created a group, Organizing for America, to redirect the campaign machinery in the service of broad changes in healthcare and environmental and fiscal policy,” said Rutenburg and Nagourney. “They envision an army of supporters talking, sending e-mails and texting to friends and neighbors as they try to mold public opinion.”
It is evident that the Obama administration understands the importance of a strong public relations campaign that utilizes many different communication outlets. They must continue their innovation, but also remember the ultimate goal is to build relationships.
Mark Penn, CEO of Burson-Marsteller, who was recently interviewed by The Firm Voice on the administration’s communication efforts, successes and challenges said, “I think the question will be whether they can speak directly to a fervent group of supporters and get them behind their legislative proposals in the same way they were behind the candidate before. We can anticipate that the president for the first time will not just do a website, but will communicate actively via e-mail, social media and the Internet in general.”
All eyes are on the new White House. The administration not only will be held accountable for their communication, transparency and public participation, but on the relationship they create with its key public – us.
“Innovations aside, I think the televised presidential addresses—as led off by the inauguration and the State of the Union speech—will be his most important communications ahead,” said Penn. “They are the Super Bowls of political communications.”
Mary Allison Milford