The Social Media Tug of War: SOTU Style

The State of the Union streamed faster online than any of the networks could achieve on Television.  In the world of Twitter, conversation around the hash tag #SOTU soared, accounting for thousands upon thousands of updates on the aggregating machine. On sites like the New York Times and The Washington Times, live bloggers updated, updated, and updated. People gravitated to the pixels on computer screens and smart phones like citizen zombies, edging in a commenta critiquea joke, to see if anyone was listening.

But was anyone listening to the President?

Social media consultant, Jen Nedeau, was part of an effort with New York media consultant, Dan Gerstein, to organize a group of live bloggers and spur a substantive online discussion around the State of the Union. Her answer to the question above – was anyone actually listening? Most likely, would be a resounding yes.

“Social media allows the conversation that used to happen in the family living room, over the dinner table or within the knitting circle expand into a global dialogue. As the President gives his speech tonight, we will all be tuned in – not only to what he is saying – but to what those around us are saying.”

Nedeau, who earned her social media chops as a digital strategist in Washington, D.C. and New York City, went on to say that the online conversation in-stream with the President’s speech, “creates the unique ability for political thought to expand and explode beyond the television broadcast.”

Could she be right? In the last decade, technology has soared to new heights – at the turn of the century, words like Kindle, Android, Tablet and Geotargeting were hardly in our language. But in a short period of time, boundaries have disappeared and with it, unspeakable progress has occurred. But have all the channels for talk brought about setbacks, too?

Gerstein, founder of Gotham Ghostwriters and a columnist at Forbes, takes the question above and colors in a different point of view. With Gotham’s live blogging effort, he says, average political junkies are given an alternative to the talking heads found on network TV.

“Before these tools were available, people had to listen to talking heads yak at them.  Now they can directly engage political pros and experts in a two-way conversation, ask them questions, and quite possibly enlighten them.”

Gerstein makes a point – and with it, speaks to perhaps the biggest success the President didn’t address in the State of the Union: WhiteHouse.Gov. A web site that has made press briefings available live, visitor records downloadable, daily photos accessible, and Q&A’s with Administration officials a mouse click away. Tonight WhiteHouse.gov live streamed the address (yes, faster than the networks could), held a live video Q&A afterward, and uploaded the official remarks and two blog posts (onetwo) after.

My point – which is not to ignore the fact that I, like Nedeau and Gerstein, use social media to engage others and to tap into a larger conversation – is that we are all in this pixilated society together. But what does it mean for moving a President’s political agenda forward – any President for that matter, post-social media? Can either side build up enough strength, enough collaboration, enough bipartisanship, to tug the social media rope hard enough and bring over to the other side?

To see a Flickr feed of the social media story from the State of the Union, click here.