Real-time Conversation lessons from the White House


This Tuesday, President Obama will deliver “The State of the Union” address to an international TV audience but the Administration’s strategy will encourage and extend the conversation far beyond the televised speech.

Social Media has forever changed the communal viewing experience. From sports to politics, the way we watch and discuss these happenings are no longer restricted to chatting the next day at the office or waiting for the newspaper summaries – we have these discussions as they are happening.

The White House is smartly organizing and extending this real-time conversation and their approach is a model lesson to any business or event looking to provide a voice or context to an event.

Get out in front

It’s critical to have your plan and information in front of the public days before the actual event. Without solid preparation and a “conversation hub” you’ll be playing catch up and your message will be lost in the noise.

The @WhiteHouse launched their State of the Union Page a few days before the event that clearly outlines the crucial elements of any real-time conversation structure

  • Participation – Clearly explain how people can get involved and provide multiple ways in to the conversation
  • Expectations – Let everyone know “We are Here” and here’s what we are going to do

No matter the size or complexity of your event or the conversation you are seeking to encourage set these ground rules are crucial for success.

Extend the Conversation

I’m reminded me of the presentation maxim,

“Tell them what you are going to say, Say It, then tell them what you said.”

The White House isn’t joining the online conversation just because it’s going to happen (People will be talking about the State of the Union regardless) but to reinforce the message you’ll be hearing from the President during the speech. Look at the line up

  • White House Panel Discussion Immediately Following the State of the Union
  • The following day the White House Press Secretary, @PressSec, will take questions from Twitter
  • Thu Jan 27 President Obama will take questions via a live youtube interview
  • Then on Thu White House Policy Experts will host an online discussion on the issues

It’s brilliant.

From the moment the speech ends the White House puts a 48 hour plan in motion to invite discussion, answer questions, and help reiterate the policies and initiatives the President will likely lay out during the address.

It all revolves around making a clear case and getting the public on board.

Details, Details, Details

The strategy is clear but its all the little things that will lead to effective communication. Obviously, there has been plenty of planning prior to the launch of the initiative and it reflects in their attention to detail.

  • The SoTU site is beautiful and the top fold imagery and info is simply perfect. It inspires awe yet makes you feel as if you are being invited to the podium. Whoever designed that deserves an attaboy/girl
  • Defined the hashtags for each conversation (#SOTU for the actual address)
  • Defined the accounts and people in advance
  • Multiple inroads, People can join via Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, iPhone app, or online form
  • A repeated call to get plugged in to the White House presence on Facebook, Twitter, and email list.
  • One more detail – look at the beauty of this short URL

Key Lessons for your Organization

Your organization doesn’t have the pulpit of the American Presidency or likely the digital presence team but the lessons are universal

  • Tell people how to converse and connect days before the event – If you’re working on a conference these details should be in registration and orientation packets from day one to drive the conversation even prior to the event.
  • Define the expectations through clear communication of who, what, where, when, & how
  • Convert the Conversation – For long term strategies the overall goal should not just to be effective during the event but getting people plugged into to your social pages, email lists, and iPhone app so you can continue to engage, respond, and inform.


Do you see those 2 words at the bottom of this image? (found on the WhiteHouse Facebook Page). Watch * Engage – That pretty much sums it up.

In the end it boils down to – “Tell them what you are going say, Say it, then tell them what they said… and invite them to join the conversation”

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