It was billed as a Town Hall event but that old-time tradition underwent a transformation on July 6. Gone were the folks sitting on folding chairs in a cramped space, raising their hands or shouting out questions. Instead, folks around the world looked at their mobile phones or computers as they keyed questions directly to the President of the United States.
As Alfian U. Sibarani tweeted in the lead-up to the Tweetup, “What press conference? It’s a tweet conference now! People get to ask the questions, not journalists.”
In all fairness, a Tweetup isn’t quite as open as a real town hall meeting: People can’t shout their questions and argue with the answers. Curators selected which questions of the many submitted actually got answered but still, it was a direct link to Obama. It was public discourse in real time. More than 70,000 tweets were sent. People could see what others were asking, what their ideas are about immigration, oil dependence, taxes and, yes, marijuana.
Now, that’s very cool and a seismic shift in the way presidents will communicate from now on.
The Tweetup was important enough for the Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, to chime in with a question, which Obama answered.
The topic of the conference was jobs and the economy; the questions were good and many of the answers were important to small business owners and to social entrepreneurs.
Here’s a sample.
- Tech and knowledge companies are thriving; why does the government talk about manufacturing jobs so much? The answer from Obama: Jobs aren’t either/or, tech or manufacturing. We need tech for innovation and manufacturing to produce those innovations.
- Several times Obama emphasized incentives for clean energy, an area in which social entrepreneurs have been toiling for years. Oil independence, he tweeted, would be good for the economy, good for security, and good for the planet.
- To the statement that immigrant entrepreneurs can build companies and create jobs for US workers, Obama replied that he is working with businesses on ways to streamline visas so “we don’t educate people then make them leave to compete against us.”
- Obama also pointed out the ways in which his administration has helped small businesses through tax cuts and incentives, and that he is now looking for ways to make capital available. He didn’t mention the Startup America Partnership, (the public/private partnership to help small businesses), which is too bad because it offers great possibilities to small businesses.
The Tweetup wasn’t a love fest, however. Obama admitted that he’d done a poor job of communicating with the public about the Great Recession and the tough steps needed to get out of it.
Maybe he learned something yesterday: Communication is a two-way street; you can get some great insights by listening. I’m betting that all the questions that didn’t make it online during the Tweetup are being thoroughly analyzed behind the scenes. Social media are just the thing to find find out what’s on people’s minds and to get your message out.
Did you participate in the tweet conference with Obama? Do you think it’s a good way for the president to communicate with the public? What would you have asked him?