Is Twitter the Right Forum for National Debate?
When I read about President Obama's Town Hall being held on Twitter this afternoon, I started doing some digging to make sure I was following the right people to see how it plays out. I know a number of journalists and bloggers are planning to live-tweet the event, along with the President's own aides, who will have the daunting task of summarizing the President's answers and cutting them down to the requisite 140 character requirement to share them with the masses. In other words, the President will leverage Twitter for the questions for this event and will use Twitter to disseminate his messages and gather data, that will be analyzed by Radian6, but he won't be sitting at a computer typing his responses -- or dictating them, which could be an interesting feat.
I've done 60-second sound-bite drills with executives I've coached, asking them a question that might come up in the middle of an interview and having them give me their answer in 60 seconds or less, using a sound-bite. I've written before that the President is a non-sound-bite type of presenter, which works against him in the fast-paced, sound-bite, tweet-obsessed communication environment of today. In my humble opinion, I actually think it would have been a good exercise for him to come up with his own tweets back to the selected tweeters. Some sound-bite training, which tweeting could help with, would add to his communications arsenal and get him ready for the war of words already beginning in the upcoming election year.
Will we really get anything definitive out of this use of Twitter for a Town Hall about employment, a hot button issue if there ever was one? I have to say "no." The questions are being selected, which will eliminate the silly and insulting ones (check the #askobama feed to see what I mean), and weed out the opposing parties' barrage of negative questions. But it won't be a live Twitter Q&A, which actually could have been more interesting. This approach feels a bit more like American Idol -- send your question in multiple times and get your friends and family to retweet it and you may rise to the top. Hey, did Google's search ranking analysts design this method?
The translation of Obama's potentially lengthy answers into tweets likely will lose a lot of the context and the human emotion, which could be useful when you are responding to people who cannot figure out how to get a job in the current economy.
It requires you to watch the live Twitter feed to get the gist of the discussion and glean information from it. And you will get it in bits and pieces, which is what Twitter is all about. The blog posts and articles that summarize the points made will be more helpful in the long run, and will be something more easily searched and read than reading through the hash tag of tweets.
The analysis afterwards of the types of tweets, the audience, the results, etc., could be interesting, but I'm not sure they will be that startling or revealing.
The big winners will be Twitter, whose founders and brand are getting a nice boost from the publicity, and Radian6, whose CEO just tweeted about heading to the White House for the event.
I am just a skeptic about this one, but I could be wrong. What do all of you think?