By now the 24-hour newscycle has moved on, and President Barack Obama’s surprise appearance on the web comedy show Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis is slowly fading from the headlines.
The Funny or Die video to promote the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) has been viewed 15 million times in just three days. It received mixed reactions from political pundits, but seems to have served its purpose of getting the word out about the Healthcare.gov website to people both young and old. Valerie Jarrett, a White House senior adviser, says that a 40 percent spike in visits to the website occurred in the 24 hours after the video was released.
The video has been called “unpresidential” and “damaging to the dignity of the Presidency.” The critics who say or write those types of things probably still believe that print newspapers are still going strong, and wonder why the music section at Best Buy keeps shrinking. They are slightly out of touch. They do not realize that this is the new norm, that if you want to succeed in politics or business, you will need to communicate with everyone. And if you want to communicate with everyone in the 21st century, you need to understand how to reach whichever audience you want to hear your message.
When Barack Obama was elected President in 2008, Facebook and Twitter were only a few years old. In 2008, Facebook had roughly 100 million users; today that number is over one billion. Twitter registered about 100 million tweets per quarter in 2008, compared to over 400 million tweets per day in 2013. That is a lot of people sending and receiving messages, news articles and videos daily. It is a staggering amount of information being transported every minute of every day from people all over the globe to computers, tablets and mobile phones.
Obama defeated John McCain in 2008 with 52 percent of the popular vote, but 66 percent of voters under 30 voted for him. In 2012, he defeated Mitt Romney with 51 percent of the popular vote, and 60 percent of the under-30 vote. Voters under 30 were about 20 percent of all voters in both elections. The winner of the young vote does not always win the election, but with the number of younger voters growing and actually making it to the polls, they have become a very important category of voter for every candidate.
In both elections, the Obama campaign knew the importance of social media and the internet in getting their message to the masses, and they knew that creating an engaging message would excite their Facebook and Twitter followers. Their hope was that those followers would in turn excite and engage their friends, family and followers with the message of the Obama campaign, and based on the outcome of both elections, this seems to have worked.
President Obama was doing this when he sat across from Galifianakis, and traded quips about his birth certificate, Bradley Cooper and eventually the ACA. He was reaching out to younger Americans as the deadline looms for signing up for health care coverage at the end of this month. Sure, a static looking video of President Obama sitting at his desk in the Oval Office could have been filmed, but would anyone have noticed? It’s very unlikely that 15 million people would have viewed that video. It definitely would not have made the impact, or created the headlines, that his six-and-a-half minutes with the star of The Hangover garnered.
The Obama Administration has latched on to the increase in information being spread, and essentially have modified the blueprint for connecting the President with the public during the rise of social media. This blueprint is actually much older than one would think, going back to Franklin Roosevelt’s weekly radio Fireside Chats. Roosevelt used the airwaves to explain policies and inform the country of changes occurring during the Great Depression. This also meant that Roosevelt could circumvent any of his critics and speak to the public directly. The public has always wanted to be informed about what is happening in the world, and today that means hashtags, status updates and YouTube clips.
In 1992, President George H. W. Bush was on the campaign trail in Orlando, Fla. He visited the National Grocers Association convention, and appeared to be amazed by the scanner of a checkout. Checkout scanners have been in use since 1976 and Bush’s spokesperson had to reassure journalists that the President had, in fact, stepped inside a grocery store. The blunder was not the only reason Bush lost the election in 1992, but it cemented his status as a man out of touch. If YouTube was around in 1992, that video may have topped 15 million views.
In four years, we will once again return to the polls, and this time we will be electing a new President. This candidate needs to understand that to achieve victory, he or she will need to appeal to a broader and more informed society. They will need to attract voters with their message, and an ability to create messages that can easily be shared. Social media is not going away, and by 2016 it will touch a greater audience than ever before. It is very likely that the new President’s campaign will have built a following through social media, with no one along the campaign trail posting an ill-timed quote or blunder recorded on their cell phone.