December 14, 2017

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Responding to a Meme: Change will be incremental

Responding to a Meme: Change will be incremental

I’ve been tagged in an interesting, and quite substantive, meme by friend and thought-force Mark Story. He’s asked what change we can expect (vis-à-vis social media) from an Obama Administration. (Sidebar: so far, my biggest letdown from our president-elect was learning that he’s apparently a picky eater.)

The Obama campaign was masterful in its use of social media tools: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MyBarakObama.com, were all utilized as venues for outreach to voters. How can these tools be used to either support or inform the public?

There are two branches to address that question—the first, can they use the tools (specifically the ones developed by the campaign), and the second, would it be effective?

I’d have to guess that it’s unlikely that the administration could use the existing (campaign) sites for general governing communications—which is probably why we see “change.gov” emerging as a platform.

The second question, would it be effective to use the contact information/email lists, etc. to generate support for ideas or policies? I believe the answer is no. What? Millions of motivated and passionate voters and crazy Jen thinks it wouldn’t be effective to use all of that to build support for policies? I don’t, and here’s why: all of those who signed up had one goal in common—to get Barack Obama elected. It was a group pulled together with a single goal, the White House. It’s far trickier to build support for policies and legislation. Voter priorities are going to vary, dramatically, from person to person, region to region, parents to non-parents, and so on. Further, there is a necessary intermediary; Congress.

If a President Obama decides direct outreach to the population to build support for a specific policy goal is the route to take, he is doing so with the objective that this pressure will be brought to bear on members of Congress. So, he’s faced with several levels to drill through, first, get them to care, second, get them to their computers, third, direct them to their appropriate members of congress, and four, get them to act. Yes, it’s the Bully Pulpit, but it’s oddly less efficient than using mainstream media sources. It also strikes me as lobbying when it is that formalized. It is one thing to make the case directly to the people, quite another to facilitate action directed at members of congress.

The final question is, will the President even need to use new media channels for messaging? The President, by nature of his position, is covered relentlessly by all stripes of media: traditional, new, print, cable, blogger, etc. Campaigns compete against one another for coverage, Presidents are the focus. It’s just not as necessary to use all channels—nice, yes, but not necessary. When budgets are tight, necessary becomes the norm.

I think there are many hurdles, structural and legal, that may prevent an Obama administration from using social media on the scale in which it was used on the campaign. That does not mean it won’t play a role, I just feel that it will be at a far more reduced level.

And no, I do NOT want my President to tweet. “Off to 1st g-8 OMG.” No thank you.

I’d like to know what Todd Defren, Sarah Wurrey, and Kami Huyse think about how social media/governing can advance.

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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for just over 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR work, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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