Obama and Twitter: Why he took control of his own account

The White House announced this weekend that President Obama would make it clear which tweets were by him and which were by staffers. It's a nod to the coming campaign, as well the fallout from the Rep. Anthony Weiner scandal.

Alex Brandon/AP/File
This March 20, 2008, shows then-Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Barack Obama, looking at his wireless device as he waits to speak at a town hall meeting in Beckley, W.Va.

Republicans seeking President Obama's job have announced the beginning of the 2012 campaign season in many different ways. This weekend, Mr. Obama tried one of his own: a personal tweet.

“Being a father is sometimes my hardest but always my most rewarding job. Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there. –BO.”

With Rep. Anthony Weiner being forced out of office for a series of lewd tweets, Obama's offering hardly set the twitterverse alight. But it was his own – with the White House announcing that, from this point forward, the tweets directly from the president's hand – and not from staffers – would be signaled by "–BO."

The announcement coincided with a general revving up of the campaign season, both for the GOP and Obama, as well as a sense that new social-media realities are emerging for politicians after Congressman Weiner's scandal.

“Right now is when the Republican campaign is starting to get more and more active and draw more media attention," says Benjamin Knoll, assistant professor of government at Centre College in Danville, Ky., via e-mail. "Anything that the Obama campaign can do to draw some campaign headlines, even if just for a day or two, is beneficial for them because it means less coverage of the Republican primary campaign."

Obama and social media

Obama is no stranger to social media. Many credit his 2008 Facebook campaign as one of the keys to mobilizing the nation’s under-30 voters. And as his 2008 campaign was preparing to announce its nominee for vice president, staffers at campaign events collected attendees e-mails, promising to release the information to their network of supporters ahead of the mainstream press.

Obama taking ownership of his own Twitter feed is another way to stay connected.

“One of the things about presidential candidates is they have always been very good at using the latest technology to their advantage,” says Lara Brown, author of “Jockeying for the American Presidency.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt took the unprecedented step of hopping on a plane to attend the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1930, she adds. “No candidate had ever done that before, and it was very dramatic.”

Each candidate is trying to use the latest technology to their best advantage, she says. “President Obama is no different.”

Lessons learned from Weiner scandal

But the move also reflects lessons learned from Congressman Weiner's scandal. Politicians are under pressure to reassure followers about who is actually behind social media messages, and followers are getting more adept at sniffing out when a public figure is using social media consultants to post and tweet on his or her behalf, says Jonathan Askin, a media professor at Brooklyn Law School.

Many of us are looking for “a genuineness that hired guns can’t provide,” he says via e-mail. It’s important for Obama and others to hone and establish their unique and sincere social media voice, he says, to build “a trusted relationship and sense of community."

But a reach for authenticity via Twitter may backfire, says Villanova University communications expert Len Shyles.

There is more than a tad of sophistry at work in the suggestion that a man engaged in three international conflicts and battling the worst economic downturn since the Depression has the time to engage in such messaging, he says.

“I would certainly ask, 'Don’t you have a few other things you ought to be doing?' ” Mr. Shyles says with a laugh. “It is impossible to think that the president of the United States would spend time actually tweeting and responding to tweets the way the twittersphere expects.”

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