President Barack Obama will give his final State of the Union address tonight, kicking off the final 12 months of his time in the Oval Office. To mark the occasion, the president and his administration have jumped on board yet another social media platform, the rapidly growing Snapchat. If anything, it's more surprising that Obama wasn't already on Snapchat: The president has a presence on basically every social network of note, and his team is skilled at using them to campaign, communicate and entertain his millions of followers. With one year to go, we've pulled together a guide of Obama's vast social presence across the internet and some of the highlights from each platform.
As the dominant social network of our time, President Obama has extensively used Facebook as a way to communicate with the public, both when campaigning for election and as president. His team launched the official White House Facebook page in May 2009, and since then it's been a consistently updated source of news, photos and behind-the-scenes details from the administration. While Obama and his team have gotten a bit looser and weirder on other platforms, he plays it pretty straight on —likely due to the fact that it's a de facto online news source for a huge swath of the population.
Obama has long had a "personal" page that is now managed by Organizing for Action, a nonprofit that advocates for the Obama's agenda. Similarly, the official "POTUS" page that launched this past November is a personal outlet for Obama, with all content coming from him. But once we have a new president, it'll be their official Facebook outlet.
The president's most notable usage of Facebook might have been as an election tool. As Time reported back in 2012, the one million followers of Obama's Facebook page gave their permission to see their friend lists. That data ended up infinitely valuable because half of the campaign's targeted swing-state voters under 29 who didn't have phone numbers listed. But 85 percent of that group was found through that Facebook friend network. From there, the Obama campaign blitzed its direct followers with content to share with their friends. As Time wrote, "more than 600,000 supporters followed through with more than 5 million contacts, asking their friends to register to vote, give money, vote or look at a video designed to change their mind."
President Obama employs a similar three-pronged approach to his Twitter presence. His personal account, also run by Organizing for Action, has been live since March 2007. It turns out that most tweets are posted by his staff, but Obama himself would occasionally drop in — you'd know because the tweet was signed "BO." This account is notable for posting what was, at the time, the most popular tweet ever: Obama's iconic reelection celebration tweet. It simply said "four more years" and included a photo of Michelle Obama hugging her husband. As of today, the tweet has more than 740,000 retweets and 290,000 likes. It's since been eclipsed by Ellen DeGeneres' celeb-filled selfie shot during the 2014 Oscars.
Four more years. pic.twitter.com/bAJE6Vom— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) November 7, 2012
Obama has similarly posted occasionally on the official White House Twitter feed, which launched in April 2009. This is the account used for Obama's first-ever Twitter "town hall" discussion, where he answered questions from Twitter with the #askObama hashtag. Despite the nature of the event, Obama didn't limit his answers to 140 characters — some were as long as 2,000.
The last and most recent account, @POTUS, crackled to life in May 2015 and features tweets directly from Obama. It'll pass on to the next president as Obama noted in a goofy exchange with former President Bill Clinton. The president has since used the account to answer more hashtag-submitted questions and to speak directly about issues like healthcare and reducing gun violence. That personal account has let Obama quickly respond to events as they happen. When police took the step of arresting 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed for bringing a homemade electronic clock to his school in Texas, the president immediately jumped in to offer support. "Cool clock, Ahmed," he tweeted. "Want to bring it to the White House?"
Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It's what makes America great.— President Obama (@POTUS) September 16, 2015
Naturally the White House also has a presence on Vine, and it shows off a different side of the administration. First Lady Michelle Obama posts frequently on the White House Vine account, doing quick Q&A sessions and generally mixing more serious posts with lighthearted and goofy videos. Her answer to a question about her favorite vegetables went viral in a big way -- the six-second "Turnip for what?" video has been looped a whopping 47 million times.
As the Obama administration reaches the end of its time in office, things have gotten a bit sillier in general; the president's account is using a lot more GIFs and generally light images while still making his point. He can still get quite serious when he has an important subject to speak on, but it's otherwise a good mix of serious and fun.
The official White House YouTube page launched the day of Obama's inauguration in January of 2009 and has posted well over 6,000 videos to date. It's the place to be if you want to tune in to tonight's State of the Union address, if you don't feel like watching on TV. (You can also watch live tonight on Amazon Instant Video, if that's more to your liking.) The YouTube channel includes press briefings and weekly addresses as well as behind-the-scenes videos and historical information about the White House.
Obama has also used YouTube (in conjunction with Google Hangouts) to do interviews a few days after the State of the Union address. Just as last year, three high-profile YouTube creators will be interviewing Obama, with the whole thing broadcast live on the White House's YouTube channel.
Google Hangouts / Google+
For a while, the Obama administration was a fan of doing video on Google Hangouts too. Shortly after the State of the Union in 2012, Obama took to Google Hangouts to answer questions in a live video chat, something that was called "the first all-virtual interview from the White House. Similar virtual interviews took place in 2013 and 2014 as well before moving over to YouTube proper last year.
There are also official White House and Barack Obama Google+ pages (with the latter being run by his Organizing for Action group), but both have started to see far less frequent updates as Google+ became more marginalized. The official White House page has had only one update in the last 12 weeks while Obama's page hasn't been touched in nearly a year.
Obama's social media savvy was clear long before the White House officially came to Tumblr, but the April 2013 announcement that the president would have a presence on the so-called micro-blogging site was met with delight from the internet. That's due in large part to the on-point announcement which reassured reader that "yes, of course there will be GIFs." It didn't hurt that a graphic accompanying the announcement made it clear that Obama believes in pronouncing GIFs with a hard G.
Instagram and Flickr
White House staff photographer Pete Souza is one of Obama's secret weapons. Few others have the access Souza has as well as the platforms to share what he documents. Since 2009, he's been posting photos to a White House Flickr account nearly every day; there are some 6,600 photos shared in the account.
Obama is currently featured on two Instagram feeds, the official White House account (which started in June 2013) and his own handle, which went live as part of the 2012 reelection campaign. Of the two, the White House feed is far more active, with a strong selection of Souza's photos and a refreshingly low amount of text or graphic posts. It's good to see the White House stick with what works best on Instagram.
Today is the day: Tune in to President Obama's final State of the Union address at 9pm ET. To count down to tonight, Chief White House Photographer @PeteSouza will be hand-picking a few photos today to take us through the years, from the President's 2009 first speech to a Joint Session of Congress, to his final moments before heading to the Capitol. Follow along with #InsideSOTU. #SOTU🇺🇸
A photo posted by The White House (@whitehouse) on Jan 12, 2016 at 8:38am PST
President Obama has only spent one day posting on Reddit, but it was a big one. A few months before election day in 2012, Obama took to Reddit for an Ask Me Anything session. He only ended up answering 10 questions and hasn't really returned to Reddit to post since then, but the AMA was the most popular Reddit had ever hosted at that time and the flood of traffic brought the site to its knees.
Yes, the White House even has a presence on Medium. It's one of the newer accounts that the Obama administration has added, launching in October 2014. Once again, the dual-pronged strategy is being employed here, with accounts for both the White House and President Obama himself.
Obama's account is updated less frequently but with longer dispatches written by the president himself on various topics including the free and open internet, immigration, the relationship between the US and Cuba, fighting cybercrime and more. The official White House feed is updated more frequently and features more behind-the-scenes content like a dispatch from White House photographer Pete Souza on photographing Alaska when the president visited last year.
It's hard yet to say what the White House's presence on Snapchat will be like — it just launched yesterday. But if the handful of videos and photos that have been posted to the White House account so far are any indication, this might be the most unfiltered, behind-the-scenes access we'll see yet. None of the content in any of the videos was earth-shattering, but to see views from the Blue Room and a fully-uniformed Marine opening the door to the West Wing in near-real time is fascinating.
It's not surprising that President Obama and his administration have embraced the variety of options for communication the internet has presented us over the last eight years. Anyone who won the White House during this period in history would need to have embraced social media or risk not reaching huge swaths of American citizens who no longer read traditional newspapers or watch TV.
What is noteworthy is how effective Obama and his team are at using the myriad platforms available to them. The content created and shared on each network feels appropriate and native to the medium By and large, Obama isn't pushing the exact same posts out across multiple networks; instead the messages are tailored to each option's strengths, be it Flickr or Snapchat or Facebook. Sure, Obama can be a little bit of a dad when posting to social media sometimes, but that's part of his charm. Whoever takes over the White House next year will want to study what the Obama administration has done — it's a master class in using social media.
[Lead image credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images]