How the White House made this year’s SOTU a social media affair

The number of television viewers of the State of the Union address has shrinking, but online, there’s a growing interest. How is the Obama administration tapping into social media to keep the American public engaged? Judy Woodruff speaks with the Kori Schulman, director of online engagement at the White House, about reaching new audiences and the political benefits of speaking with YouTube stars.

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    We have all heard the adage all politics is local. But, more and more, it's becoming digital, case in point, this week's efforts by the White House to promote the president's State of the Union agenda on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

    As part of that push, Mr. Obama was interviewed today by YouTube stars, people with large followings on the video-sharing site.

    And he made had some news in this exchange with GloZell Green:

  • GLOZELL GREEN, YouTube Host:

    Do you think that same-sex marriage will be legalized in all of the United States during the time that you're in office?


    The Supreme Court now is going to be taking on a case. My hope is, is that they go ahead and recognize what I think the majority of people in America now recognize, which is two people who love each other and are treating each other with respect and aren't bothering anybody else, why would the law treat them differently?

    I'm hopeful the Supreme Court comes to the right decision.


    GloZell Green has about three million YouTube subscribers.

    One of the issues facing anybody trying to get a message out is how to do so effectively in this rapidly changing media landscape. The president's State of the Union address was the least watched in 15 years; 32 million people tuned in to broadcast and cable outlets. That's down from a high of 67 million in 1993.

    But, online, it was a different story. Far fewer people watched than on television, but the audience is growing. In all, 1.2 million people watched the speech on the White House's Web site; 2.6 million tweeted about it, and another 5.7 million liked, shared, or posted about it on Facebook.

    A short time ago, I sat down with one of the architects of the president's social media strategy. She's Kori Schulman, the director of online engagement for the Office of Digital Strategy at the White House.

    Welcome, Kori Schulman.

    So, tell us, what is this White House doing differently when it comes to social media?

    KORI SCHULMAN, White House Director of Online Engagement: Well, this White House is doing a lot differently when it comes to social media.

    The sheer fact that there is a digital office in the White House that's dedicated to figuring out how to engage and communicate with the public online is totally new territory. So, I think the State of the Union this week is a great example of how we're looking to engage on all platforms.

    Not only could you read the president's remarks in advance on the self-publishing platform medium. You could consume the speech in real time on with enhanced graphics and polls and tailored information to your particular city and town, and really get a personalized and unique experience.

    On top of that, everything was shareable. So, as people were engaging in the speech and watching the speech, they could share videos, photos, their favorite lines across their social channels, not to mention the fact that you could watch live GIFs of the speech if you were on Tumblr.


    So, whom do you reach that you don't reach by traditional media, and what is it that you're trying to get them to do? I mean, the president is not up for reelection. Are you trying to get them to contact their member of Congress?


    I think that we generally just aim to make this administration as open and as participatory as we can.

    We love for people to provide their feedback and for us to have a conversation with them. Ahead of the State of the Union, we asked people, what are the issues that they care the most about? Those results from that poll went to the president's desk. And then, after that, he wrote them a handwritten thank-you note.


    You know, some people are asking, is it really a good use of the president's time to be talking with, as he is today, YouTube stars, who do spend their time talking about some occasionally serious things, but some time doing some pretty silly things as well?

    What do you — how do you answer that?



    Well, what I would say is, the people that are going to be sitting down with the president today have really risen through the ranks of YouTube. They have huge online followings. We're talking about multiple millions of people. And a lot of those people are young people that might not otherwise be watching the president's State of the Union or consuming content on


    Does that translate into something that helps the White House?



    I think that it helps the White House because the president can speak directly to the American public on the issues that he talked about in his State of the Union and address their questions head on. That's a really rare opportunity and moment, I think, for a president to hop on to, you know, different people's YouTube channels and connect with their audiences in a way that we couldn't do without them.


    Kori Schulman, director of the Office of Online Engagement at the White House, we thank you.


    Thank you very much.

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