Breakdown of the First Twitter Town Hall from the White House

Tweetchats, tweetups and all the such have seemed to be the latest buzz these days. I know my team has been talking about them, and have been pondering about them. We are in the midst of deciding if we too should start our own meet up of sorts on Twitter – Is it worth it, especially with all the work and logistics that goes behind it?

The very nature of Tweetchats comes from a very organic place, as most social media does.  A group of people want to talk about something and decide to get together. Then they invite their friends, and it grows. But for all of us, as representatives of a company, it will come from the top down, which presents a few issues. Would enough people be interested in attending? Will only employees participate? How do we manage incoming questions? Will there be enough questions? How will users follow along? How do we promote it? How do we “organize” an “authentic” conversation? #catch22

Yesterday the White House hosted its first Town Hall meeting powered by social media, namely Twitter. Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey actually moderated the session. With all the issues our team has been grappling with I was very interested to see how the White House would deal with those same details. While the #townhall was not a traditional Tweetchat, interacting only via tweets, it does provide a great model in providing a social experience to the greater online audience.

This is what I observed from the first Town Hall from the White House:

Internet friendly. While Twitter was the official sponsor of the event and the primary mode of promotion, they provided a broadcast that was more internet friendly, not just Twitter friendly. There was a videostream of President Obama and Jack Dorsey answering the questions, so anyone with an internet connection could watch. There was also a box with tabs to provide a view of the official twitter channel stream from @whitehouse and @townhall and another tab of everyone who used the official hashtag #askobama. Above this stream was the featured tweet question that President Obama was answering at that time. On the bottom of the viewing page it clearly states which accounts to follow and which hashtags to use – dummy proof. (screenshot below of the layout.)

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Breakdown of the First Twitter Town Hall from the White House image President Obama Holds First Town Hall Using Twitter
President Obama Holds First Town Hall Using Twitter

Geared to thought leaders on Twitter. It did still leave the power to the tweeters–the true thought leaders of the internet. While anyone can view, questions can only be submitted via Twitter.

Collect questions and buzz pre-event. The official channels asked for questions ahead of time, this also helped build buzz and anticipation about the event.

Create a team of curators. Jack Dorsey explained that there were 12 curators, who are comfortable with Twitter and it’s formatting, to help select questions. My guess is that each curator was given a topic to follow under the official hashtag and was responsible to sift through and collect eligible questions. My guess is that these questions are then submitted to the next level for approvals and selection.

Track percentage of conversations around topics. There was a tracking system to see which topics were discussed the most (taxes, immigration, education, etc). By outlining and following how much conversation happens around each topic, it helps in deciding how many questions on each topic should be addressed and acts as a great snapshot on what is on everyone’s mind. This aritcle explains that they used Radian6 to track conversations.

Allow the “magic” of social media to shine. They did a good job of letting the immediacy and connectivness that social media allows us, to be the star of the show. Every twitter handle, name, profile pictures and location of all those who had their questions read was featured from your every day Joe from Alabama to high profile reporters. They made an emphasis on the timeliness of the questions,”This question was submitted 5 minutes ago”. Even though not every comment and question could be addressed, the option to see the tweet stream gave everyone a voice. Also several questions that were highly RT were read off for that very reason, high engagement and interest shown on a single topic. In the beginning of the event, Jack Dorsey explains that neither him nor President Obama knew of the questions pre-event. This gives the event more of an authentic conversation feeling. 

As I sat and watched this I felt within reach of the highest order of governing power in my country, it made me feel like a participant, not just an observer. Even though I didn’t actually submit a question, I could have, easily, and that is pretty empowering.

As soon as I saw this I couldn’t help but wonder how awesome it would be to duplicate that same experience at the next big event or during the next big announcement. Allow a new savvier, techy avenue for customers and partners to feel within reach of your organization, at the highest level.

If the White House can pull it off, I suppose “yes,we can” too.

You can watch a replay here.

Do you consider this an effective attempt at creating an authentic conversational experience?   What were your takeaways from this model?

Author: Sylvia Santelli is a Community Marketing Manager for the SAP Community Network. You can follow Sylvia on Twitter at @SylviaSant.

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