President Obama will begin tweeting personally on @BarackObama, highlighting the potential for personal connection that social media can forge between high-profile individuals and their “fans.”
Obama plans to sign his tweets “OB” to distinguish them from messages sent by his campaign team. The shift seems motivated by the upcoming presidential election: as the announcement was made, the Twitter account’s icon changed to a smiling image of the President above his 2012 campaign logo.
“This change will give us new opportunities to make the most of these channels, using them not only to report what the president is doing every day but to connect to the millions of supporters who will be driving this campaign,” said a blog post on the barackobama.com.
The move is part of a greater effort to connect with “followers” before his 2012 re-election campaign. Earlier this month, Obama hired Harper Reed, a former executive of online t-shirt store Threadless, to head his digital efforts.
Social media provides an unprecedented way for the famous to interact with the public, providing a direct, theoretically-two-way channel rather than the strictly one-to-many format of the broadcast and print models of mass communication.
The result is the potential for a greater sense of intimacy with “fans” than traditional media allows, a quality that should be particularly valuable for politicians — though it’s been most successfully exploited by performers and other public personalities to date.
Other world leaders are communicating with their constituents on Twitter. A number of European politicians reportedly announced the capture of war criminal Ratko Mladic last month on the social network, perhaps aligning themselves with justice in their followers’ minds.
Some tweets are more personal: British Foreign Secretary William Hague reportedly sent a Twitter birthday greeting to a voter in his parliamentary district.
Not all such tweets are positive: Rwandan President Paul Kagme reportedly used Twitter to rebuke a journalist who criticised — on Twitter — Kagme’s human rights record.
Of course, intimacy can get famous people in trouble, as Anthony Weiner abundantly demonstrated by sending suggestive pictures of himself through Twitter. It’s likely staffers will filter Obama’s tweets to avoid accidental gaffes.
The President is the third-most popular person on Twitter, with over 8 million followers. The next politician on Twitaholic’s ranking of users is Al Gore, in 87th place.
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