The White House Is Now on Snapchat—And Every Other Platform
If you weren’t already getting your White House fix from the @WhiteHouse Twitter account, the @POTUS Twitter account, the White House Instagram account, President Obama’s Facebook account, or the White House Tumblr account, well, then you might be a little crazy.
But you’re also in luck, because today, the Obama administration launched an official White House Snapchat account. Its first official Snapchat Story will be up tomorrow, with a behind-the-scenes look at the preparations for President Obama’s final State of the Union address.
“In light of the number of Americans who use the service to consume news and share with their friends, the White House is joining Snapchat to engage this broad cross-section of the population in new and creative ways,” wrote Joshua Miller, the White House director of product management in a blog post.
The White House is making an aggressive tech push ahead of President Obama’s last State of the Union address on Tuesday, happening at 9 p.m. ET. Over the weekend, it partnered with Genius to annotate past addresses and announced that the entire program will be streaming on Amazon Video, as well as the White House website and YouTube.
“So, for those who’ve cut the cord from cable and network TV: Whether you use a smart TV, web browser, mobile device, or tablet there’s a way for you to watch the President’s speech as it happens and on-demand,” wrote White House chief digital officer Jason Goldman in a statement.
The goal of all this, Goldman told WIRED, is to accommodate Americans’ “broad media diet” and “meet people where they are.” Of course, the unspoken benefit of the White House being on every platform at once is the impression of being utterly transparent, despite the fact that the Obama administration has often been criticized for shutting out the press.
Still, joining Snapchat is a smart move. According to the White House blog, 60 percent of Americans between 13 and 34 are now on Snapchat. The President’s State of the Union address aims to set the stage not just for this year, but for the next administration and beyond. Since young people are the ones who will inherit that new leadership—and its legacy—they’re also the ones President Obama needs to reach most.
Each year, when President Obama delivers his State of the Union address, the First Lady Michelle Obama is seated in a private box, surrounded by a hand-selected group of people, who each represent a distinct challenge the country faces. At tomorrow’s address (9 p.m. ET), among the many ordinary Americans with extraordinary stories to tell will be one familiar face from the tech world: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.
Expanding computer science education and job training for STEM fields has been a major point of focus for the Obama administration. Microsoft, which announced a $75 million computer science education initiative last year, is emblematic of that cause. The company also recently instituted an expanded paid leave program for new parents, an issue that has already become a central talking point among presidential candidates, particularly the Democrats.
As the White House has said repeatedly, this final State of the Union address from President Obama will be a different one. Its goal will not be to lay out specific policy proposals for the year, but rather to set the agenda for the 2016 election by addressing the many challenges the country will face over the next decade.
The First Lady’s guest list paints a clear picture of what, exactly, President Obama believes those challenges will be. Joining Nadella on Tuesday will be a mother whose child suffers from opioid addiction, a former inmate and criminal justice reformer, a small business owner in the solar industry, a Syrian refugee, an Affordable Care Act navigator, a Mexican immigrant and DREAMer, and an empty chair to honor victims of gun violence.
“The guests personify President Obama’s time in office,” The White House wrote in a press release, “and most importantly, they represent who we are as Americans: inclusive and compassionate, innovative and courageous.”
President Obama still has a year left in his presidency, but it seems members of his administration, past and present, already are getting a bit nostalgic.
In honor of the president’s final State of the Union address on Tuesday, the White House has asked President Obama’s former staffers to add context to past speeches using the online annotation platform Genius. The notes, on the White House’s website now, feature anecdotes such as what it was like for Jon Favreau to stare down a blank computer screen before writing the president’s first State of the Union address. While the contributions will be heavily curated, members of the public are encouraged to add annotations as well.
The goal of this unusual partnership, says White House digital director Jason Goldman, is to “meet people where they are.”
“Americans generally have a broad media diet,” Goldman says. “We thought of Genius as an ideal platform to add additional color and additional content to the State of the Union from previous years.”
Twitter Is Table Stakes
This is the first time the White House has used Genius, but it’s far from the first time the Obama administration has used digital platforms like Genius to spread its message. Regardless of how you feel about the president’s politics, there’s no doubt his campaigns and his presidency have forever changed how politicians and their teams are expected to communicate with the public.
Back in 2008, the fact that Obama campaigned on Twitter seemed revolutionary. Today, it’s table stakes. During his time in office, campaigns have adopted Obama’s digital strategy as a model. The more the public comes to expect that model, the harder his team has to work to find new and surprising outlets to share the administration’s message.
In the process, the Obama administration has radically changed the art of political spin. Obama has hosted Instagram takeovers to discuss climate change. On a Funny or Die episode of Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis, he pumped Healthcare.gov. In 2012, he hosted an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit, where he laid out his thoughts on college affordability, super-PACs, and Internet freedom. And just a few weeks ago, he rode with Jerry Seinfeld for an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, talking about, well, nothing. (It’s Seinfeld.)
Not all of these efforts to try something new work (may we remind you of the Iran Deal Twitter handle and its ill-advised attempt to co-opt a Straight Out of Compton meme). Still, whether we’re cringing or nodding along, as far as the administration is concerned, at least we’re paying attention. When these tactics are working at their best, we forget altogether we’re being spoon-fed a stump speech.
According to Goldman, this year’s State of the Union will differ from years past, because the president will not be focusing on specific policy proposals for the next year but on major issues the country will face in the future. “We thought that looking back and taking a closer look at the previous seven years’ speeches will be a great context for setting up the speech this year,” he says.
If you’re curious about what’s been going on behind the scenes of this year’s address, annotations for Tuesday’s State of the Union will be online shortly afterward.
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