President Obama's first tweet over the White House's Twitter account during Wednesday's Twitter session is much more than a 96-character message. It's the beginning of the president's renewed embrace of social media.
Obama's 2008 campaign revolutionized the role of the Internet in the presidential election, and was lauded and envied by both sides of the aisle for its digital strategy. The campaign used Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube before campaign presences on those social networking sites were ubiquitous in politics. He used text messaging to reach millions of supporters to organize rallies and to raise money. The campaign even built its own social network that allowed people to join up with other like-minded Obama supporters.
But Republicans have caught up since. All of the major GOP contenders maintain very active presences on all the social networks. Newt Gingrich is even on Google+, which was only released last week and is still not open to the general public.
Obama will need to try much harder this time around. Wednesday's event only scratched the surface of the potential political uses of Twitter.
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The stakes in 2012 will be higher. Battles will be fought over who can engage the best on social networks. If Obama wants to be competitive, he will need to do more than Wednesday's event. How about a Twitter chat that the president guest hosts, or even a Twitter debate with Obama's to-be-determined general election challenger? The possibilities are endless.
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Yes, this was an official White House event—hosted by the White House using the East Room—but there were plenty of political undertones.
Among the eight "curators" Twitter selected to help find questions to ask the president, one was from Iowa and one was from New Hampshire.
(RELATED: Quotes from Obama's Town Hall)
Obama took a moment to poke fun at House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, when a tweet of his did not display correctly on the screen.
"John obviously needs to work on his typing skills," Obama said, prompting laughter from the audience.
The point of Wednesday's event, White House officials said, was to give people in all corners of the country a chance to ask the president a question. But with 169,395 tweets that included the #AskObama hashtag, you were more likely to have your questions answered if you went to one of Obama's town halls in person and raised your hand for a chance with the microphone.
Yes, the event was "cool." When was the last time you could tweet a president, with the (slim) potential for him to answer your questions?
But there was a problem with the Twitter aspect of the town hall -- it went in one direction, which goes against the point of Twitter. Not only did the President not type in his answers, they were much longer than the 140 characters Twitterers use to communicate.
People enjoy the direct contact they get from others on Twitter -- including celebrities from Lady Gaga to Ashton Kutcher -- and average Joes often reply to tweets from perfect strangers. Twitter "chats" with guest hosts are popular ways to chat with notable people in an informal environment.
It'll be a challenge for the president, who also has a country to run while he campaigns. That creates an opening for the GOP contenders, who with some exceptions are campaigning full-time.
At the end of the day, Obama's Twitter town hall was similar to previous town halls he hosted via Facebook and YouTube. The White House is using these technologies, but not to their full potential.
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