As we saw last week with the blackouts associated with the Stop Online Piracy Act protests, the Internet has given common citizens of the United States an unprecedented ability to interact with the political process. This precedent is also evident in the social media battles being waged between candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination. Tonight President Barack Obama will take that participation to a deeper level with the most connected State Of The Union Address ever.
This is the second year that the White House has done "enhanced streaming" of the biggest speech of the year. The White House has set up a Twitter hashtag for the State Of The Union (#SOTU) and the entire speech can be seen streaming at WhiteHouse.gov/SOTU at 9:00 p.m. EST on Jan. 24. The streaming version of the State Of The Union will be enhanced with charts, stats and data that "helped inform President Obama's policy decisions as he delivers the speech to the nation."
The White House is making heavy use of YouTube. Last week it released a video showing Obama's senior advisor, David Plouffe, talking about all the ways that users can engage with the White House during and after the State Of The Union.
In addition to the Twitter hashtag, there will be a question and answer session with White House officials that citizens can participate in through the White House's official Facebook, Twitter and Google+ pages. Even social question and answer site Quora is getting in on the act. It has set up a special page to stream the State Of The Union.
The White House has also released a video showing the preparations being made for the writing and delivery of the State Of The Union.
The White House will also host a Google+ Hangout on Jan. 30 where citizens can ask the administration questions and get direct answers.
The push by the White House shows the ability of the Internet to breakdown communications barriers across classes, political systems and people. The U.S. populace has not been able to have this type of interaction with its political leaders since the days of community meetings at churches and town halls during the revolutionary period. Basically, once the government moved in to its home in Washington, D.C., the ability for the average U.S. citizen to engage directly with its political leaders while in office has been hindered. Obama and other politicians have been breaking down this barrier through the use of Internet-based communications and social media for the last several years.
It is refreshing to see the White House take these steps. It shows a degree of confidence in its message, a willingness to have an honest dialogue with citizens and a sneak-peak into the inner workings of how the most powerful organization in the world operates. A lot of credit goes to Obama for putting together the type of staff that understands how these tools work and can effectively reach citizens wherever they are on the Web.
In December 2011, I wrote in the ReadWriteWeb Predictions for 2012 that the presidential candidate with the best social media campaign would be the one to win the White House in November 2012. I also said that President Obama would likely be reelected. While social media is not the be all, end all factor in determining the results of elections, pundits will argue that it has greater weight now than it ever has. Candidates pay attention to what their Twitter followers are saying. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich even announced his candidacy via Twitter and gained more than a million followers in about an hour when he did so. Gingrich rode his strong Twitter following in South Carolina to a surprising primary victory in that state last Saturday.
To a certain extent, tonight's State Of The Union will be the biggest campaign stump speech that Obama will give all year, except for maybe the Democratic National Convention. Around the State of the Union speech, the President has built a robust social media campaign to give citizens a voice. This is how government should be run. Open. Transparent. Interactive. Go to where the people are as opposed to making them come to you.
Will you be watching the State Of The Union tonight? How to plan on participating? Let us know in the comments.
Top Image: Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson