Learning from Obama’s YouTube Engagement

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President Obama followed up his State of the Union Address with a surprising decision. Rather than making the rounds on the usual press circuit, he conducted a series of interviews with some of YouTube’s biggest stars. 

The move may startle some, but the statistics prove the President knows exactly what he is doing. The broadcast version of the State of the Union Address had some of the lowest viewing statistics in recent history, but the online conversations told a different story. “1.2 million people watched the speech on the White House’s website; 2.6 million tweeted about it and another 5.7 million liked, shared or posted about it on Facebook.” 

This story shouldn’t be new to anyone who has been paying attention. For years, reports have shown media sources continue to be fragmented, while use of social media has only continued to grow. 

Media outlets have been struggling to keep up with the changes. The lines between media channels have continued to blur. Nearly every outlet, whether print or broadcast, has an online presence. Reporters are expected to develop a following on social media, and there are often financial incentives for how many clicks a story receives. 

What can companies and organizations learn from Obama’s example? Giving an exclusive to the right reporter might be the best way to get your story out via social media. Consider a different format than the traditional interview. Maybe it’s a Reddit-style question-and-answer session (also known as an Ask Me Anything or AMA). Maybe it’s a video interview where the publication has its readers submit questions via Twitter. Local media has readers it wants to engage and might be willing to try out something new. You never know until you ask. 

If you decide to go this route, there are a few things you must consider:

  1. Your story must be newsworthy. Make sure your exclusive is something truly important or you might damage your relationship with the reporter. 
  2. Make sure the reporter is someone you can trust. When trying out a new format, it’s important that ground rules are set ahead of time. 
  3. Be prepared to be transparent. Your critics will come out of the woodwork. Be prepared to answer their difficult questions. 
  4. You must be very comfortable giving interviews. This is not a technique for media newbies. If you’re not comfortable, media training is a great place to start. 

This technique might not be appropriate for everyone. You might consider doing something yourself, if you have your own social media channels. But if you want to get your story out to a wider audience using social media, your best bet may just be a member of the traditional media.