On June 17th, an Obama 2012 campaign staffer made a post explaining that Obama’s Twitter and Facebook presence would be handled differently going forward. As fellow Cyborgology editor Nathan Jurgenson recently discussed, Obama’s posts and updates have, up until now, been ghostwritten—leading Jurgenson to conclude that “Obama-as-president has thus far been a Web 1.0 leader” and, thus, to ask “when will we see a Web 2.0, social media president?” Obama’s use of social media has been in sharp contrast to other nationally-recognized politicians, including former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, whose tweets appear to be individually-authored, spontaneous, and personal, making them appear more authentic and more consistent with the norms of other Twitter users (spelling errors and all). The president is now getting into the game by authoring his own tweets.
The campaign update, titled, “A New Approach to Facebook and Twitter,” states:
Obama for America staff will now be managing both accounts, posting daily updates from the campaign trail, from Washington, and everywhere in between. You’ll be hearing from President Obama regularly, too; on Twitter, tweets from the President will be signed “-BO.”
The official @BarackObama Twitter account also posted a tweet that read:
This strategy of using a signature to distinguish the origin of tweets (i.e., those from staffers and those from the president himself) demonstrates a compromise between the need for consistent messaging and the burgeoning need for authenticity in communication. Yesterday’s announcement acknowledges that effective use of social media (i.e., user-generated content), unsurprisingly, requires generation of content by the user. That is to say, a significant aspect of social media’s appeal (compared to conventional top-down media) is that it offers (at least the perception of) more direct connection to the thoughts and activities of public figures and, even, the potential for some degree of interaction. Social media users delight in the raw tidbits that are generally edited out of more polished news sources. For politicians, social media has the potential to improve a candidate’s populist cred by helping to diminish the sense of social distant—the perception that “we, the enlightened leaders, haven’t the time for you, the little people.”
I believe we are now seeing an answer to Jurgenson’s question emerge: We will see a social media president when the current, first-term president is required to occupy the dual roles of president and candidate. It is becoming clear that the president will increasingly come to accept the inconvenience, the possible embarrassment, and the potential de-legitimizing effects of social media with respect to executive authority in order to harness social media as an effective campaign tool. A campaign fought in the silicon trenches will require a transformation (or “augmentation“) of the presidency itself.