Obama's State Of The Union Speech Must Use Social Media Because The 21st Century Has Changed Everything
We are the generation of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. We obtain our news not by reading papers or even by listening to the radio, but rather by browsing newsfeeds and checking tweets. And as the nation makes technological advancements, so too does our head of state — as President Obama gears up for his State of the Union, social media and other Internet outlets are being utilized by the White House team like never before in order to stay relevant, and more importantly, to be heard. As viewership for the annual speech declines, Obama's team is searching for ways to keep the American populace interested and informed, and that means YouTube stars, Facebook videos, and live tweeting.
While the State of the Union is a 100-year-old practice, our trendiest and most virulent forms of communication are much newer. The Obama campaign was revolutionary in 2008 in its strategic use of social media and other more modern forms of connecting, and the administration has established itself as the most technologically savvy to date. Indeed, keeping up with the times has been a key component to Obama's success, with the notable exception of the very botched roll-out of the healthcare.gov website. And now, as the president gears up for his penultimate State of the Union address, the White House is resorting to increasingly creative tactics to ensure that the president and his speech is heard by as many Americans as possible.
This is no easy task — ratings and viewership for the State of the Union has been on a steady decline for the last 10 years, hitting its low point last year with only 32 million viewers tuning in to watch on their television screens. Of course, this doesn't mean that Americans are not consuming the information in other forms — with several media outlets live-tweeting and posting about the speech in real time, audiences were not simply relegated to those sitting in front of their TV screens. Moreover, this isn't a problem only plaguing presidential speeches — television viewership on the whole is only a shadow of what it once was, with the Super Bowl the only event that has maintained its popularity with viewers across the country.
As such, the White House has decided to bring the State of the Union to you, making it all but impossible to avoid President Obama's upcoming message on Tuesday. The White House team will be hyperactive on Twitter, Facebook, and email, constantly updating Americans as to what their president is saying, regardless of whether or not they're interested. For those who manage to avoid all forms of communication the evening of the address, the administration plans to send out a summary email following the speech, so you can look forward to waking up to a Skimm-esque email from Obama's team highlighting the key points of his address.
In our all-consuming media universe, we've had to Buzzfeed the State of the Union address. Perhaps the best way to get people to watch, listen, or generally be aware of the upcoming speech will be to create a quiz — "Which Of These National Issues Is Most Like Your Love Life?" Already, Obama's team has taken a proactive approach in the weeks leading up to the speech, posting Facebook videos that announced his free community college initiative, among others. Dan Pfeiffer, Obama's senior adviser, told the Associated Press, "The environment is so cluttered that if you don't spread out your initiatives and unveil them in channels where people already are, like Facebook or Upworthy, then they're just going to get lost in the discussion." Even though the importance of the speech remains the same, "the nature of the experience is different."
Pandering to various modes of communication is no new phenomenon, and is, to some extent, something of a chicken-and-the-egg problem. FDR's fireside chats, for example, were so successful due to the ubiquity of the radio, but by the same token, made the radio all the more important. Similarly, John F. Kennedy's ability to work the cameras made him a particularly successful candidate against Richard Nixon, making television appearances all the more important for political figures. And now, Obama's challenge will be to capitalize on the overwhelming plethora of potential media outlets through which his speech might be seen or heard. And as our attention spans dwindle, becoming more used to listicles and bulleted points rather than eloquent speeches and loquaciousness, Obama will not only have to deal with how to broadcast his speech, but how to give it as well.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, told the AP:
Eloquence requires an audience capable of sitting still and thinking and appreciating. In the current environment, we don't have any time to think about the significance of the speech or to meditate on it. There's no reflective time.
Whereas presidential interviewers were once reserved for standout broadcast journalists and famous television anchors, Obama is instead attempting to make himself more accessible, and will be interviewed not by the likes of Barbara Walters or Katie Couric, but rather by YouTube sensations Bethany Mota, whose specialty lies in fashion; Hank Green, known for VlogBrothers; and Glozell Green, a comedian and song parodist. Between the three of them, they have accrued some 15 million followers, nearly half the entire viewership of last year's State of the Union address. So while they may not have the interviewing chops of say, Dan Rather, they've got the viewership base to make up for it.
Of course, all things considered, numerous Gallup polls have shown that the annual speech has little effect on the public's opinion of the president, so despite Obama's attempts at garnering attention, it will likely have a negligible impact on his public perception. Be that as it may, it is of paramount importance that the American public remain aware of current events and the national well-being, and seeing as the White House is making it effectively impossible for you to not watch (in some way) the address, there's really no excuse for not knowing what's going on Tuesday evening.
So turn on your televisions, log onto Facebook or Twitter, or watch your favorite YouTube star. Wherever you turn, Obama will be there — welcome to politics in the 21st century.
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