President Obama’s Twitter town hall Wednesday was the latest in a series of events aimed at conversing with users of social media and at sharing the president’s goals and initiatives using online technology.
Prior to and during the event, White House and Twitter staffers solicited questions for President Obama from Twitter users by using the hashtag #askobama. Those questions were then posed to the president by Twitter co-creator Jack Dorsey.
Thirty Twitter users from around the country with a variety of professions — including students, teachers, digital entrepreneurs and political wonks — were invited to the White House to participate in the event. The group was selected at random by White House Deputy Director of Digital Content Kori Schulman, who took into account each individual’s use of the social network and engagement with others.
This tweetup was indicative of a larger effort by the White House and its staff to make greater use of social media for both internal and external purposes. Many administration staffers — including White House CTO Aneesh Chopra, whose personal Twitter handle “@aneeshchopra” debuted Wednesday — are tweeting using their own names.
“It’s an expectation that the public has and one we’re trying to follow through on,” said White House Director of Digital Strategy Macon Phillips.
The White House partnered with Mass Relevance, a social media consulting company, to analyze the incoming tweets, including the keyword-based subject matter of the tweets and the location from which they were sent. A small team worked behind the scenes in the White House’s Green Room to feed tweets to Dorsey and Obama.
In a private conversation with the Twitter users in attendance, Dorsey noted that the concept of a “tweetup” and other now-common Twitter features such as replies and retweets were initially created by users. The company’s main challenge, he said, is to respond to the needs of its users.
“Our greatest challenge is to bubble up information in real-time,” Dorsey said. “One of our core philosophies is to build applications for communication and to allow people to build on top of that.”
The White House’s plan, according to Phillips, is to take the data that emerged from the Twitter town hall and identify which topics (e.g. jobs, economy) are most important in particular areas of the country. The data and resulting visualizations that the White House received before and during the tweetup will be available publicly. The president’s digital team also hopes to respond to questions that weren’t addressed during the event.
“We get a lot of questions for the president to answer, and we’ll use events like this to kick the wheel on conversations happening by Americans,” Phillips said. “The hope is that today’s event will become a part of a larger conversation we’re having.”