Obama's Post-Election Social Media Lapse

The Influence Project

Finally, candidates have caught the social media bug, and are ubiquitously using Twitter and Facebook to connect with voters. It's the only story that gov 2.0 news outlets seem to be covering, lauding politicos for their tech savvy. But after next week's election, pay close attention to how many elected officials end their web use. It's a trend some are noticing among politicians, who may take to the Internet during campaigns, yet once in office, tone down the tweets and Facebook posts.

For President Obama, social media has become just another platform for press releases, rather than a way for followers (and potential voters) to gain direct access. "The small-business jobs bill passed today will provide loans and cut taxes for millions of small businesses without adding to our deficit," @BarackObama tweeted recently. "Making a personnel announcement this morning. Watch live at 11:05am ET," another post read. These types of regurgitated messages lose the authenticity that might've driven voters to Obama in the first place.

"It's really unfortunate," says Mindy Finn, partner at e-strategy firm EngageDC and a top campaign official for GOP heavyweights such as Mitt Romney. "When politicians are candidates, they have this incentive to be engaging online, to be very active through social media communicating with voters to win them over. And then, when they get elected, you see that their outreach through social media becomes stilted—it reads much more like a press release. That's unfortunate, particularly when you think from our own selfish perspective that we're kind of always running for re-election, even as elected officials."

Of course, that doesn't mean Obama should be constantly tweeting from UN sessions or expecting will.i.am to bust out another "Yes We Can" viral YouTube video. But politicians should know that engaging with voters through social media is a continuous process, and can't simply be revived a few months or a year before the time of election. There are innovative ways to use social media to include the public in the process of governing—not just the process of campaigning.

"So much of social media is non-partisan—it can make government better," digital strategist Matt Lira recently told Fast Company. "The key is making sure people...are making an authentic impact on the process. We must apply these lessons to other activities in the future: incorporating audiences into bill crafting, oversight, hearings, committee meetings, floor activities—make the public's interaction real."

For now, though, just sending out the occasional tweet that doesn't read like a press release could do the trick. "It's very telling that it's happening even with the President, someone who the Internet and social media helped propel into office," Finn explains. "I'm hoping that it changes."

[Photo by Stephen Cummings]

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  • Aly-Khan Satchu

    I have to admit to being plain dumbfounded as to why The President should have sought to automate and hand over this Important Intersection Point to a Robot. President Obama's ability to connect in a very c21st Way with the Voters was one of his strongest Suites. Why he has chosen to consign that valuable Political Capital to the Dustbin is just perverse, actually.

    Aly-Khan Satchu

  • Peter Davis

    I think this article is vastly missing the point. Sure, it would be wonderful if politicians engaged the public more, but given that almost every word that comes out of their mouths is complete B.S., perhaps we should be focusing far more on what they're saying than on how they're saying it.

    And I'm not being a cynic. I'm being completely realistic. I don't mean to sound harsh, but if anyone reading this actually believes that Obama - or almost anyone else in D.C. - has the slightest interest in helping the American public, then you need to take a serious, serious look in the mirror. (I voted for him, and I freely admit it: I drank the Kool-Aid.)

    Almost all of the public discussion surrounding politics, our country's policies and the economy is so far off the mark that it truly makes me sad. What we have are political leaders bought and sold by massive corporate and special interests in this country. And I say this even though I am a 100% free market capitalist, straight out of the Austrian school of economics. We're talking about how politicians no longer engage the public after they get elected? Of course not! Why the hell would they? They could care less about the public.

    It is far past time to get beyond their rhetoric. Using Obama, in particular, as an example, his rhetoric is one of helping the working man. Yet he has populated his administration with ex-Goldman Sachs executives, presided over a Federal Reserve that has handed out trillions in bailouts to banks who have not only committed fraud on an historic level, but who still continue to cook their books. And even as the Fed has been ordered by 3 different federal courts to disclose to whom this money has gone, they still refuse, and the president who campaigned on change, has uttered nary a peep. So much for change, hope and transparency.

    Maybe we should be tweeting about that. There is so much talk in this magazine about the wonders of social media. And it truly is an incredible thing. But, please, can we stop talking about the technology and start talking about some real issues? Can we stop repeating the P.R. spin and start expressing our own opinions, opinions based on fact, observation and not starry-eyed worship?

    This country is in dire straits, my friends. Don't believe me? Start studying up on some history. Social media allows for the decentralization of information. No longer can governments and major media outlets control the message. So why is it, with this incredible revolution, that our discourse has not only not changed, but has actually devolved?

    I'm a designer, yet it absolutely appalls me how little critical thinking the design community, at large, is really engaging in. Aside from those who are tackling real social, political and other global issues, I hear and read far, far too much on how great Apple, Google, Twitter, etc. are. They are tools. Designers are unique in that we are blessed with the ability to look at a problem from different angles, and in different ways. Maybe it's time we stepped out of our traditional comfort zones and started applying our thinking to what's actually going on around us. The Apples and Twitter's of the world are great. But it's time to stop parroting and time to start real change. And to do so, we must first acknowledge the reality of the world we live in. Design activism is great - all activism is great. But let's not base it on false hope. And more importantly, let's not base it on the P.R. spin that is seen over and over again. Want real change? Start looking under the hood and really changing the status quo. And yes, that does mean calling out the Obama's of the world for who they really are.

  • Sheena Medina

    I think it's fair to question the authenticity of elected official's use of social media. I would add that we should also consider the work load these officials once they finally make it into office. Campaigning is the easy part compared to the amount of hours necessary to be effective in office. It's understandable that social media use may drop off after an election cycle. I'm sure it happens to most people starting a new job. However, as Matt Lira points out, having an authentic impact on the process is paramount. One of the best things about social media is that this technology enables us to govern in a new way and
    participate in it. Without active participation, there isn't really much of a "social" aspect, is there?