Former President Barack Obama today announced a new way to stay in touch . . . his phone number.
“All right, let’s try something new. Send me a text at 773-365-9687—I want to hear how you’re doing, what’s on your mind, and how you’re planning on voting this year,” Obama posted to his social media channels. “I’ll be in touch from time to time to share what’s on my mind, too.”
The former president has joined Community, the text-based platform that has attracted celebrities and artists such as Ashton Kutcher, the Jonas Brothers, Marshmello, and Megan Thee Stallion. Since its launch in July of last year, the platform—headed by CEO Matthew Peltier and star music manager Guy Oseary—has amassed nearly 20 million members.
When it comes to “the most important election in our lifetime,” campaigns are working feverishly to figure out an answer to the newfangled question, How do you campaign in a pandemic? A source familiar with Obama’s plans says that Democrats want to leave nothing on the field. If they find a tool that seems to have a lot of value and can potentially attract voters and support for their candidates, they want to move quickly to pressure test and make the most of it.
“President Obama has said this is an all-hands-on-deck moment, so we are going to use every tactic we can find to mobilize voters,” says Eric Schultz, a senior adviser to the former president. “We’ve always been driven by a strategy of finding audiences where they are at, so of course, in this particular moment, we are going to now reach people in the palms of their hands.”
This is the first time a major politician has joined Community. The platform has consciously been trepidatious here, given the pitfalls of political discourse across every other social media platform. But Obama straddles the line between celebrity and politics, and just as he is experimenting with Community, it, too, is using this as an opportunity to test the political waters further.
It’s a move that makes sense for both sides. Obama has been active across every platform with an audience, with recent efforts hitting Snapchat, Twitch, and YouTube. Last week, his public service announcement on Snapchat encouraging voting got 43 million impressions and resulted in more than 13,000 new voter registrations. He also produced an early-voting PSA with the digital media company Attn: that has attracted 12 million views—and more than 6,000 new voter registrations.
Community offers its leaders (what it calls the notable folks providing a phone number) a walled garden of their own, with a line of communication that bypasses media and trolls, and connects them directly to fans and supporters. It also allows these users to cater their messages by geography and demographic. That’s nice for a musician, but absolutely crucial to a politician.
Community has also been praised for how simply direct it can be. As Kerry Washington told me in January, “I’m not reliant on advertisers or algorithms. Nobody’s navigating this communication or filtering it. That feels really important. That transparency is what’s so attractive.”