The Chief Digital Officer Jason Goldman for the Obama administration published to his Medium account “[the] American people will see a multi-platform streaming and social broadcast of the State of the Union that reflects the ways people experience live events in 2016. We’ll be reaching people where they are — and making it possible for them to engage, respond, and share the President’s speech themselves in new and different ways.”
He briefly outlines how the SOTU has evolved with advancing mediums and with an ever more discerning American public:
Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution tells us this: The President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union.”
You’ll notice that exactly how the President is supposed to share the State of the Union (SOTU) is left unspecified. In 1801, Thomas Jefferson decided that speeches were too “inconvenient” and redolent of the monarchy, so he started sending reports instead. It was Woodrow Wilson in 1913 who once again directly addressed Congress in person. And ten years later, Calvin Coolidge’s voice reverberated through living rooms across the country as the address was broadcast on radio for the first time. Looking at other SOTU firsts, we see the evolution of media in the 20th Century:
First TV broadcast took place when President Harry Truman was in office in 1947
First president to deliver the speech in primetime was Lyndon Johnson in 1965
First live webcast on the Internet happened in the President George W. Bush administration in 2002
First high definition television broadcast of the address also took place under George W. Bush in 2004
First enhanced State of the Union live stream: President Obama, 2011
Another first, this year SOTU will be available to stream on-demand on Amazon Video, in addition to it being broadcast on wh.gov/sotu and the WH YouTube channel. And then beginning Wednesday through the end of the week, Amazon will make the speech available across all devices for Americans to watch the State of the Union in the same way we’re used to consuming video content in 2016. Amazon Genius is also active allowing people to review the past SOTUs and to actively link to the items that matter in an integrated capacity with live imaging, background, hyperlinks, etc. Allowing even the most passive viewer of Democracy to be up to speed in no time.
So, for those who’ve cut the cord from cable and network TV, there are a variety of ways for you to watch the President’s speech as it happens and on-demand. And as in past years, you can watch video excerpts released in real-time on Facebook and Twitter, view live GIFs on Tumblr, and for those that have a shorter attention span, you can view videos on Vine and photos on Instagram. These efforts build on previous White House efforts to connect with users across a range of social media sites and make the experience of the speech appropriate to each platform. No small feat.
The President himself will change the way he delivers the address this year. Instead of the usual, laying out a laundry list of policy proposals for 2016, his office says “He’ll look beyond the next election and instead talk about some of the most important issues that will shape our country for generations to come” (whitehouse.gov).
From the Chief Digital Officer Jason Goldman, “You’ll often hear discussion about how to “break through the clutter” online — the premise being that the conversation online gets necessarily dumbed down. Now, there’s a lot of valid criticism about all the noise in online media, and the risks — but there are countless examples of people embracing the clutter and using the Internet to come together to make positive change. We believe that by “broadcasting” the State of the Union across social media and streaming video platforms we are helping American citizens connect to the government that serves them” (Medium.com/@Goldman44).
In a preview video about the State of the Union, President Obama said: “I don’t think I’ve ever been more optimistic about a year ahead.” He also said, “This address will be for you.” We’ve taken both of these messages to heart, in an effort to meet people where they are.
The “first social media President” invited all Americans to take to FB and make plans to watch the speech, watch the trailer to get prepared, then tonight, to “get cozy with your favorite internet-connected device. And finally, keep engaging with the White House: We’re listening” (Goldman).
Creating opportunities for engagement after the State of the Union
And finally, for those who want to virtually “join the conversation,” on Wednesday the White House will host the third annual Big Block of Cheese Day. Not a West Wing fan? Don’t know what a 1,400 pound brick of cheese means to American political history? That’s okay, you can get some context here. Throughout the day, more than 50 administration officials will answer public questions on Twitter — including the First Lady, the Vice President, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Acting Secretary of Education John King and the interweb’s favorite man next door Twitter user, Cory Booker (social justice). Check out the full schedule and join the conversation with #BigBlockOfCheeseDay.
Why “meeting people where they are” matters:
1) We are generally a passive voting audience, if you meet us where we are, in theory we are more likely to participate – right?
2) In a Democracy the idea of participation is among the most important of ideals. Taking it to the people, “meeting people where they are” expands this notion of accessibility.
3) Transparency in government and the idea of RADICAL transparency is demanded by the American people despite being relatively apathetic toward government relations in general until it impacts them personally. This is a sad truth.
4) To pull in younger generations and to keep older generations informed we must cater to “now” tactics in order to engage voters in the democratic process. Social media is a bridge of sorts.
5) If voters don’t feel like they can be heard, apathy will continue. We’re at a pretty critical point right now in American politics. Multiple channels allow people to close that feedback loop (COM101 s/o) in real time to elected or ballot officials and actually address needs regardless of proximity to the actual White House or Washington. Social media in general as allowed access to those sharing in the power distribution.
6) If you have dropped in to the White House SOTU page recently a countdown has begun, complete with clips from the administration, rolling factoids, video entertainment, a true multimedia experience leading up to the President’s address. For geeks like me it’s sorta like the pre-game of the Super Bowl, except I actually care about this, unlike the NFL. I mean, as I type this the “warm up” act is happening, Biden is on stage warming up the Internet. Forget Coldplay and Queen Bey at the halftime show, Biden is our opening act. Look out world.
7) Meeting people where they are is not just a metaphor for social media but I think an extension of how the Obama administration has attempted to operate a particular type of constituent outreach. Right from the start of his campaign cycle up to his end, social media will have played a key part in his role as leader and figurehead. He has been dubbed the first Presidential “social media ninja” for his varying presences and the amazing content machine that his Chief Digital Officer oversees. I’m not sure anyone in digital can argue with the genius that is Goldman’s work on these projects. Like social media or hate it, the world has never had this type of opportunity to interact with the most powerful administration or man in the world on this level.
8) Social media allows the message to be personalized from POTUS to the individual in his or her home on his or her device. One of the most intimate pieces of property we currently own. Intimacy matters in a day where we are maybe less interpersonally in touch than we have ever been as a result of technology which ironically was developed to keep us “more connected.”
Take a look at previous #SOTU (2009 – present) observations from Pew Center for Research. Do you feel more connected to the democratic process engaging in social media platforms? Why or why not? Sound off below.