Social media changes political conversation

In age of social networking, politicians cannot control conversation taking place in media, says Obama advisor.

Obama advisor on social media (photo credit: Courtesy Oren Shilo)
Obama advisor on social media
(photo credit: Courtesy Oren Shilo)
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 own peril.”
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 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 works.”
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.”
He said 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.
Phillips 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.