President Obama and Communication Experimentation

OK. What’s the latest. The lastest is the “online town hall” today – another first. Q&A of the people, by the people, and for the people. How many people? White House estimates indicated some 67,000 watching online towards the end. How many questions? More than 100,000, with over 3.6 million “votes” in cyberspace to help rank the questions of most interest. CNN.com characterized the event as a kind of virtual meeting and a new twist on President Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats. In an earlier post I wrote about the need to re-invent the fireside chat (see sidebar tag).  http://edition.cnn.com/2009/TECH/03/26/online.obama/index.html#cnnSTCText

The comments I looked at to try and assess John Q. Public’s reaction fell into two categories: opinions about the content of the event, and opinions about the nature of the event. Because this is a blog dedicated to matters relating to communicators and communications I’ll reserve judgment on the content and stick with issues related to format.

Typically, either commenters felt the “online town hall” was a kind of staged event, or they considered that representing the event as a real face to face was inaccurate at best.

If we look at this “communication experiment” from a strictly numbers standpoint, to give this some basis for comparison, there were 131.2 million voters in the 2008 presidential election compared with 3.6 million voters for favored questions to ask during the online forum; by my calculation that’s 2.7% online votes relative to election votes. I’m using “election votes” for comparison purposes because this reflects the voting population, actively engaged enough to cast a ballot in 2008, and therefore this is the “universe” one might expect to pull from for an event like this. In my opinion, that’s a solid expression of general interest for a first time attempt at something never tried before. The 67,000 viewers tally seems a miniscule number granted, but remember the president himself characterized this event this way: “This is an experiment,” he said, “but it’s also an exciting opportunity for me to look at a computer and get a snapshot of what Americans across the country care about.” Remember, this is the same president who refused to be parted from his Blackberry.

What I want to emphasize as regards this “communication experiment” is the legitimacy of trying it out. One requirement for an effective communicator is to gain a sense of his or her audience. This may turn out to be a valuable way to “stay connected”, and if so, justifies the idea – from a communications strategy standpoint, given the reaction as I have gauged it, much of which is predictable and based on built in biases, as a communication vehicle it may not have much sway with the general populace, but as this blog always takes the effort to point out, it is the impact on the intended audience which really counts. The intended audience here? Those confortable in cyberspace, the very cadre enlisted by the Obama campaign team so effectively. I intend to do a separate post after more thorough assessment as to how the “online town hall” concept might be fitting into the further development of an overall communications strategy for the president, that being something I have addressed in previous posts as well.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/03/26/president-obama-and-communication-experimentation/

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