In the age of social networking politicians can no longer control the
conversation taking place in the media, according to US President Barack Obama’s
head of new media.
Speaking at a conference held at the Interdisciplinary
Center in Herzliya on Monday, Obama’s New Media Affairs and Policies adviser
Macon Phillips said: “We are past the point where you can control the
conversations out there. The traditional media used to be pretty easy to keep an
eye on and see what is bubbling up. Now with social media there are so many
conversations going on unless you want it or not, and you ignore them at your
According to Phillips, who runs the official White House
website, Facebook and Twitter pages, this requires politicians to become
proactive and use the same social media platforms to get their message out as
part of the conversation.
Phillips said his job is driven by the fact
that “people aren’t getting their news from TV and newspapers, many people are
but increasing numbers are getting it elsewhere, and we want to make sure we
have a voice there.”
While he admitted that “my mother is probably the
only person who has whitehouse.gov as their homepage,” he described the
importance the administration has attached to ensuring that their message gets
out by way of their online presence, and how they can “use the online program to
create meaningful opportunities for people to be part of how their government
In his presentation, he spoke of the importance of making sure
the official White House website comes up at the top of Google when someone
searches administration policies, something that anyone who works in online
journalism can relate to.
He also spoke of how in the online world,
format can trump content.
“You can have great copy, you can have awesome
technology, but if your user interface isn’t something that’s beautiful it’s not
going to be used as widely, presentation is really important.”
the effect of social media really sunk in when he turned on CNN one day and saw
the anchors discussing the debate on a Twitter trend set up by the White House
about its “What Does $40 Mean to You” campaign, instead of covering what the
politicians were saying about the legislation in question.
admitted that aides, and not Obama himself, write the posts on the White House
Facebook and Twitter – perhaps disappointing those picturing the president
tweeting on a smart phone in the Oval Office.
Like many working in social
media, Phillips gave off an air of excitement about a field that is constantly
expanding and changing with each passing day.
“This is an incredibly
exciting time to be alive and involved in this field. We were just getting email
when I was in college, we used to have card catalogs, does anyone remember
those?” Phillips asked, as a smattering of hands went up.