The White House applies a coat of transparency with a Web 2.0 brush

Web 2.0 at the White house

Web 2.0 at the White House

From a media standpoint we all knew this Presidency was going to be different given the amount of attention focused last year on the President-elect’s Blackberry habit. Even then, it has been striking to see the extent to which the White House has adopted a Web 2.0 mentality while simultaneously strengthening Brand Obama.

I recently began following the White House on Twitter in an effort to add a little fiber to my recently cultivated Twitter diet and was first struck by the speed and efficiency of White House tweets as they addressed public concerns about Swine Flu, updated followers about policy decisions and addressed the pending Supreme Court vacancy. Talk about getting the word out. One of the tweets led me to a video at whitehouse.gov featuring a remarkably funny 15-minute video of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Funny to the point that it almost felt too real, too authentic for a sitting president. Aren’t these guys supposed to be somber old geezers?

A few days later one of our art directors (@tenere) sent me a link to the White House’s Flickr account. Peeling off another layer of weather-beaten white paint from the house, I found a wide range of photos spanning from family shots leading up to the inauguration to the President shooting hoops to cabinet meetings. It actually felt like a personal photo album (Oval Office photos notwithstanding) with the full range of emotion you’d associate with an individual as opposed to an administration. These types of presidential images are usually reserved for curated photo essays in mainstream news sites, coffee table books and memoirs – not for a current administration in motion.

The White House content on Facebook, MySpace, Vimeo and YouTube repeat the theme. The White House has the channel, the President is the hero and citizens are involved. There is an overriding sense that this president commands respect, not because of the Office but because of the sheer amount of effort demonstrated through a variety of well orchestrated digital experiences. Clearly this unprecedented level of transparency is working for the President, you’ll find that the feedback on these sites isn’t just coming from citizens, voters or Democrats. It’s coming from fans.

The lesson for marketers and brand stewards? If the government can adopt a Web 2.0 mentality and extend their brand consistently across multiple digital touchpoints so can you. It does require a commitment of time, energy and organizational fortitude (just ask the Skittles brand manager about the first couple of hours after their new interweb experience launched), but there is no better way to connect with your customers. Don’t let fear of the unknown, aka unvarnished consumer feedback, stand in the way of engaging your customers in a conversation. You just need to hone those active listening skills and be prepared to keep up your end of the discussion.

Tim Irvine
tirvine@acquitygroup.com
@timirvine

3 comments

  1. not to be outdone by the White House, ladies and gentlemen I present… the Pope!
    http://www.youtube.com/vatican

  2. Judy Lilly

    Sir,

    I understand that the tenor of your article is one of the President utilizing Web 2.0 techniques to project his “brand” to the public. While I agree that he has been most successful with this publicity campaign, to say that this method equates to “transparency” is highly dubious.

    While it’s all well and good that Mr. Obama releases pictures of himself playing basketball, or issuing public service announcements regarding the H1N1 virus through Facebook, Twitter, brand technique du jour, and that we see the inner workings of his life (as controlled by the White House Press Office) this is more an example of exemplary marketing rather than transparency.

    Apart from this singular umbrage with which I take issue, I find the rest of your release to be quite credible.

    Mayhap, you should consider altering “Clearly this unprecedented level of transparency is working for the President …” to “Clearly this unprecedented level of Web 2.0 Marketing is working for the president.”

    As such, it would play much better to the strengths of your company as a leader in Interactive Marketing and Digital Brand Strategy. It would more clearly highlight exactly how such methods can increase the popularity of a President when less then 1 year ago more than 50 million people voted against his regime.

    Respectfully Submitted,
    Judy Lilly
    05/22/2009

  3. Judy, you make a fair point. No doubt President Obama’s people have carefully curated all of these examples – I seriously doubt we’ll be seeing any photos of him being dunked on any time soon! Whether we’re talking about true transparency or a carefully edited version of it I still find it refreshing to see our nation’s chief executive being made available to citizens in a wide array of formats and channels.

    Thanks for the feedback.

    Tim

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