Like a lot of geeky people, I spent much of Inauguration Day (and night) online, riveted to the live streaming feed on CNN and also following the commentary of friends and strangers on Facebook. It was well noted that the transition of whitehouse.gov to reflect the Obama administration occured at noon, before Barack Obama even finished taking the oath of office.
Of course we should have expected nothing less from our online-savvy President’s communication team. Social media was such a core part of the success of his presidential campaign and continues to be a key element of his communications strategy. Check out this first post on the Whitehouse.gov blog from Macon Phillips, the White House Director of New Media (lucky guy):
Millions of Americans have powered President Obama’s journey to the White House, many taking advantage of the internet to play a role in shaping our country’s future. WhiteHouse.gov is just the beginning of the new administration’s efforts to expand and deepen this online engagement.
And it seems off to a good start, with this seamless transition of the web site and the launch of the new blog. According to Phillips, the new Whitehouse.gov plans to focus its communication strategy around three priorities: communication, transparancy and engagement, which should be the three crucial priorities for any organization’s social media initiatives.
I’m interested to see how all of this will pan out in the next four years, when the Obama presidency will surely face new and underheard of challenges. Social media can be a boon as well as a burden to an organization’s communications when it comes to crisis management and damage control. We’re in the exciting honeymoon phase of the Obama presidency now; how the White House’s new media team handles its first major crisis will be the truest test of the strength of this new approach to government online communications.
Also, I just have to note that thus far, the Whitehouse.gov blog is still looking pretty Web 1.0 in its approach; it’s essentially just a glorified press release archive, and I’m not seeing much opportunity for authentic dialogue. Even so, this statement from the first blog post is encouraging:
Like the transition website and the campaign’s before that, this online community will continue to be a work in progress as we develop new features and content for you. So thanks in advance for your patience and for your feedback.
A work in progress. That’s what most online communities are, even the bottom-up communities that emerge organically by necessity and/or mutual enthusiasm (say for example, most online fan communities.)
But for top-down online communities, organizations looking to create and engage an online community built on two-way communication, it’s an uphill battle, particularly if the organization has a history of ignoring or supressing public dialogue. You don’t get more traditional top-down communications than the White House; there’s a lot of communication strategy that may need to be unlearned here.
But it’s what most organizations who are experimenting with social media are attempting to reconcile in their own strategies, and whitehouse.gov is wise to acknowledge the potential roadbumps early, and in a very public way.