Obama: the social media pioneer

On June 9, President Barack Obama made an appearance on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.” He and the host slow-jammed the news together and sat down to write a sarcastic thank-you note to Congress.

More than year before, at the 2015 White House Correspondent’s Dinner, Obama brought Keegan-Michael Key on stage with him to perform the ‘anger translator’ skit that Key and his sketch comedy partner, Jordan Peele, regularly performed on their Comedy Central show.

With the explosive growth of online video and social media over the past seven years, a nearly infinite number of avenues have been created to connect with people.

One specific dynamic that has changed drastically because of this new development is the way that celebrities interact with their audience. It is now possible to send a tweet to your favorite actor, athlete or singer and get an immediate response from them.

What Obama managed to do was utilize these new tools for connecting with his audience — the citizens he serves.

It is common for most any public figure to have at least Twitter and Facebook accounts as a way to send quick messages to their supporters to keep them updated on recent events.

What Obama has done differently was use social media to examine what Americans were most interested in, and get himself on those platforms to better reach his people.

Obama has appeared on TNT’s NBA coverage show, “Good Morning America,” “Running Wild with Bear Grylls,” “The Ellen Show, “Mythbusters,” “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” and the “70th Annual Tony Awards,” just within the past year. This wide variety of programming is evidence that his many small-screen appearances were efforts to connect with different groups of people; not simply a feeble attempt to remain relevant in his later years as president.

On the other hand, many have been critical of Obama, claiming that his frequent appearances on entertainment television are proof he does not take his responsibilities as president seriously.

While it is hard to argue that being on “Mythbusters” served an important diplomatic purpose, it cannot be ignored that his willingness to put himself in the public eye much more than has been required allowed him to become more than just a politician. Even those who did not agree with him politically were able to see him as a human being, rather than a robotic politician.

Obama had lucky timing when he began his presidency alongside a historic boom in social media and his willingness to work with, rather than resist, this innovation. It allowed him to define the role social media will play in presidential politics from here on out.

Nicholas Hunter is a columnist, contact him at [email protected].