President No Longer Leads The Pack On Social Media The Obama social media operation was a juggernaut during the 2008 campaign. But two years later, Republicans have caught up. Now the White House has renewed its social media push with outreach on Twitter and YouTube following the State of the Union address.
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Obama No Longer Leads The Pack On Social Media

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Obama No Longer Leads The Pack On Social Media

Obama No Longer Leads The Pack On Social Media

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

The State of the Union isn't just a speech anymore. It's a social media event, with the White House spreading the president's new message on Twitter, YouTube and more. Of course, the Obama social media operation was a juggernaut during the 2008 campaign.

But as NPR's White House correspondent Ari Shapiro reports, Democrats are no longer in a league of their own.

ARI SHAPIRO: When the Obama campaign was in high gear, the social media operation seemed unstoppable. On Facebook and Twitter, in text messages and on YouTube, there was no comparison between Republicans and Democrats.

So the reality just two years later is striking: In social media, Republicans and their constituents have caught up.

That's the conclusion of a report being released tomorrow by the Pew Research Center. Lee Rainie directs Pew's Internet & American Life Project.

Mr. LEE RAINIE (Director, Internet & American Life Project, Pew Research Center): Lots more people, including Republicans, independents, supporters of the Tea Party, are just as active in this space as Democrats used to be. So the Democratic advantage, in some sense, is being washed away by the mainstreaming of the populations who are using these tools.

SHAPIRO: Being on the inside also makes it tougher for the Obama team to stay ahead of the pack, says Republican digital media consultant Patrick Ruffini.

Mr. PATRICK RUFFINI (Republican Digital Media Consultant): The Internet is a medium for challengers. It's a medium to disrupt the existing power structure. Inherently speaking, a decentralized online movement is going to be frustrating to people who have the power, and, you know, the White House is the very definition of power.

SHAPIRO: There's also a difference between the goals of governing and those of campaigning. A campaign is a black-and-white, us-versus-them fight with a specific endpoint. A presidency is a constant litany of deliberations and compromises.

That can bore, and even alienate, the online base, Ruffini said at a recent example.

Mr. RUFFINI: The DNC sending out emails to, you know, what I would imagine is a fairly liberal base, asking them to support extension of the Bush tax cuts, and I think the people on the receiving end of that must have been wondering, gee, this is not what I signed up for.

SHAPIRO: But even some Democrats think the Obama White House has missed an opportunity to fully capitalize on new media's potential over the last two years.

One social media consultant who worked on the Obama campaign complained that no one in the Democratic Party understands how to use social media, quote, "How sad is it that two years in, all the White House can muster is a postgame Q&A and a policy wonk pop-up video?"

White House officials say their social media strategy is no longer focused just on rallying the base.

Ms. JEN PSAKI (Deputy Communications Director, White House): Many social media tools offer an opportunity to better explain or better provide details of what the president is talking about.

SHAPIRO: White House deputy communications director Jen Psaki says, if Republicans have caught up with Democrats in their use of social media, that's not a bad thing.

Ms. PSAKI: We think it's a great thing for Democrats and Republicans both to use new media and social media tools to better communicate. Washington sometimes seems like an insular place, and this is a way to open up this world.

SHAPIRO: There may also be another reason the Obama team has lost its new media advantage. In 2008, technologies like Facebook and Twitter were relatively new and the Obama campaign adopted them early. Now, everybody's on board.

And Lee Rainie of Pew says in the last two years, there have not been many new technologies for the early adopters to snap up.

Mr. RAINIE: It's not entirely clear - and particularly the newest applications, like location-based applications or even iPad and telephone apps - what the voter tolerance for use of them will be and what the impact on voters might be.

SHAPIRO: Only 5 percent of American adults own iPads. So developing a stellar iPad app may not be the best use of the White House's time.

But in a 2012 presidential campaign, honing the iPad app could just be one more task for the army of volunteers.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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