One of the hallmarks of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign was the use of social media. The Obama team put together a comprehensive digital campaigning strategy that changed the way political campaigns will be run going forward. In addition to emails and text messages, the Obama campaign utilized YouTube, MySpace (when people actually had MySpace pages), Facebook, and, before it was the go to social media app, Twitter.
They were constant communication with the electorate even when they couldn’t physically reach them, updating supporters about campaign progress, calling for donations, and allowing people to feel a part of the overall effort to get Obama elected.
In part, it was this revolutionary strategy that helped deliver to Obama the youth vote. He became the “cool” candidate when young people could log on to Facebook and see The Fugees and Jay-Z listed under his favorite musicians. Social media served to humanize him.
But then candidate and now president Obama has never been in charge of updating his own social media. It has always been a “twenty-something staffer” logging in and reaching out to the constituents under his name. Now, with the 2012 campaign season getting underway, Obama is taking a new approach: he’s tweeting for himself.
He sent his first personalized tweet this past Sunday, Father’s Day, to say “Being a father is sometimes my hardest but always my most rewarding job. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there,” and signing it with his initials to ensure it was indeed typed with his own fingers.
As political strategy, this makes sense. To win re-election, Obama will need to show himself to be in touch with the needs and concerns of the “everyday” American and to do that will need to interact with those folks. He can’t be everywhere all the time, so extending a hand through a 140 character tweet at least reflects effort. He’ll need to rally his base, and if they feel like he’s speaking to them directly and personally, it could go a long way toward solidifying his support in key demographics. Obama is incredibly politically savvy and understands all of this well.
However, this could turn out to be an epic fail, to borrow the parlance of the of Twitter community. By tweeting on his own, Obama opens himself up to a whole new world of criticism scrutiny.
Undoubtedly, everything Obama tweets will become fodder for the 24 hour news cycle, and talking heads from across the political spectrum will be called in to analyze his every message. He will be graded on content, grammar, sentence structure, and whether or not he used all 140 characters available to him. And God help him if he ever tweets Justin Bieber.
I’m being facetious, but Obama is the first president of the YouTube/Facebook/Twitter era where information is readily available and spreads to become blogs and newspaper headlines in a matter of minutes. Any misstep, any awkwardly worded tweet could become cause for controversy and potential attack ad material.
He also needs to know that tweeting for himself and checking his own messages would expose him to, not just supporters, but critics coming from all different political stripes. It won’t just be angry Tea Partiers hurling insults and calling him a communist, but those disappointed in his environmental, economic and foreign policies, folks in the LGBTQ movement that feel he has moved to slow on gay rights issues, and the people who have heavily criticized his perceived lack of a black agenda. I can see him and Cornel West getting into a heated Twitter battle right now.
Of course, there are even worse things that could come of this foray into social media. Look no further than the cautionary tale of now ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner and his infamous sex scandal (minus the actual sex). Obama is smart enough (we all hope) to not send nude pictures of himself to any women he may encounter through Twitter, but the potential for scandal is ever present.
But whatever you think of his style of governing, Obama is an expert campaigner. There were likely lengthy discussions had before the decision was made to allow him to tweet on his own and his team will be carefully monitoring his activity around the clock. He makes very few mistakes on the campaign trail, and those that he does are handled deftly and the damage is minimal. It shouldn’t be too much of a problem for him to tweet.
It shouldn’t be.