In contrast, in next week's Twitter "townhall," the White House's hope is produce an engagement where the president and denizens of the social media world are interacting in near real time. A Twitter PR rep noted in a tweet earlier today that Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey will lead the questioning. (Note to word lovers: while the White House Facebook event was billed as a "town hall," the space between the words has been dropped for the Twitter event. Hey, when you've only got 140 characters with which to work...)
For Twitter Inc., the appeal is obvious. And for a White House still eager to mirror the online success of the 2008 Obama campaign, there are a number of attractive things about using Twitter to make the president of the United States accessible to the American public. For one thing, Twitter has a certain cachet, including in political circles. The company's in-house Flickr feed is a veritable who's who of politicos who have dropped into the company's San Francisco headquarters to say "Hey." Look, it's Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, next to photos of Snoop Dogg and Dwight from "The Office." Then there's the fact that doing a Twitter-enriched press event doesn't require the sort of senior White House staff buy-in required by more paradigm-shifting forms of online engagement, like letting citizens tweak public policy or helping them self-organize to challenge Congress. Convincing the president and senior staff to do yet one more town hall, and one run by friendly faces, isn't necessarily the toughest of sells. As savvy a technologist and business thinker as Dorsey may be, tech entrepreneurs aren't necessarily the toughest of interlocutors. (Zuckerberg prefaced his question to Obama on education with a comment on just how awesome the Department of Education's Race to the Top program is.)
On a more nuts and bolts level, Twitter Inc. has a creator's understanding of the proprietary platform it built and maintains. The company knows how to navigate the tweet stream, and White House new media director Macon Phillips tweeted that the Twitter staff will be "surfacing" the questions to be put to the president. What's more, Twitter, a company of a few hundred people, has the technological capacity the White House's new media team just doesn't. Look for some creative visualizations of the event, powered by Twitter. Beyond all that, having Twitter Inc. invested in the promotion and success of a White House event doesn't look like a bad thing when you're sitting in the Executive Office of the President.
April's strange Facebook event aside, the White House has had success in coming up with new ways to use the popular tech tools of the day to change how citizens interact with their administration. In mid-May, for example, the White House put together an intriguing Twitter-enabled session on Mideast policy where NPR's Andy Carvin and George Washington University professor Marc Lynch used Twitter to surface questions for White House foreign policy advisor Ben Rhodes. Carvin and Lynch were tough questioners, and the global tweet stream seemed to serve as a collection of smart and interested commentators, observers, and stakeholders whispering in their ears, "Ask him this next."