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White House holding first ever Twitter town hall

at 04:15 PM ET, 06/30/2011

President Obama will host the first White House Twitter town hall next week, an event announced today on (of course) Twitter.

On July 6, the president will answer questions tweeted to #AskObama live from the White House via webcast. Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey will moderate, and Twitter will use its own curation methods to choose the questions.

Some portion of the live audience will be drawn from the 2.25 million people who follow @whitehouse — making the event not just a townhall but a ‘Tweetup.’ Those visitors won’t ask in-person questions, but White House Director of New Media Macon Phillips says officials are thinking about “other cool things they can do at the White House.”

Despite their (deserved) reputation for expert use of social media, the Obama team has actually been slow to get into Twitter. Obama only started tweeting on his own account about two weeks ago. (He said in 2009 that he was too clumsy for it.). Obama’s first press secretary, Robert Gibbs, didn’t join until about a year into his tenure. Neither did Gibbs’ then-deputy, Bill Burton. White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer didn’t become a tweeter until January of this year. Among other government agencies, for instance, NASA has been hosting Tweetups since January of 2009.

But the White House has gradually gotten more and more engaged. Both Gibbs and his successor, Jay Carney, have occasionally solicited queries through Twitter using the hashtag #1Q, meaning first question . In May, the administration created a new position — Director of Progressive Media & Online Response. On Thursday, Pfeiffer is engaged in a tweet-debate with a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

Obama held a Facebook townhall in April and aggressively used that site during his 2008 presidential campaign. One of Facebook’s founders went on to work for Obama. The White House has held numerous online town halls since Obama took office, answering questions submitted online and through YouTube.

Over the past few months, the White House conducted a “non-scientific” survey of its Facebook and Twitter users and found that 62 percent of fans reported visiting the White House Facebook page at least once a week while 93 percent of followers say they read White House tweets from at least once a week.

“It’s clear that Twitter is an increasingly useful tool for many people at the White House to do their jobs,” said new media director Phillips, “because it’s an important area where the public is having conversations about issues, and we want to be part of those conversations.”

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