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#SOTU on Twitter: What Big Brands Can Learn From Obama’s Social Team

On Tuesday, President Obama gave his annual State of the Union address. His speech was scheduled to start at 9pm EST but Twitter didn’t start paying attention until 16 minutes later, when the president actually stepped to the podium.

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The speech covered a wide variety of topics and issues, each supported by a unique hashtag that the White House media team put together, but the highest peak in Twitter engagement occurred at 21:47 EST when the president made a joke and cultural reference to Mad Men: “It is time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a Mad Men episode.” The Twittersphere responded with a massive amount of Tweets, stamping that minute as the Twitter highlight of the SOTU speech.

The Obama team, as usual, did a phenomenal job of pushing the key messages through the online channels — Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and YouTube — while directing to a dedicated microsite. There’s a lot we can learn from the execution of the SOTU campaign, but here are the top 5 lessons big brands should take away from the SOTU speech and the White House social media team:

5 Lessons Big Brands Can Learn From the #SOTU Campaign

1. Prepare content for an integrated, cross-channel campaign

There’s nothing better than an event like the SOTU to prepare a fully integrated, cross channel campaign. The White House team was firing on all cylinders – TV, radio and online. Furthermore, online, all major social media channels were active. The White House and Obama’s Organizing for Action (which is responsible for the president’s Twitter feed) pushed content before, during and after the speech that supported the key messages in the president’s address to Congress. The content, focused on Twitter and Facebook, was prepared to fit the specifications of each network. For example, this Tweet was posted just minutes before the speech started:


And the equivalent on Facebook:

Facebook post pre SOTU Speech

The content that was prepared in advance was used to promote the event as well as support it in real time.

2. Create Tweetable soundbites to reinforce key messages

Obama’s speech was timed perfectly with the slides that gave visual support to his speech. But the slides — content prepared well in advance — allowed the message to be amplified using social media. The speech was full of snackable, Tweetable soundbites that allowed people to immediately share them on Twitter.

Looking at the percentage of Tweets that included a link during the hour leading up to the speech, we see that over 40% of Tweets that mention the hashtag #SOTU included links, and over 60% of them included embedded media such as pictures and videos. These numbers are typical and follow recent trends on Twitter (read more in our Twitter study). But in the hour during the speech, as well as the hour following it, the percentage of Tweets that included links dropped dramatically to 14% and 17%, respectively.

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This number is even more impressive considering the fact that during those two hours, the sheer volume of Tweets with the hashtag #SOTU jumped by 1,074% (!), from an average of 1,037 Tweets per minute in the hour before the speech to an average of 12,180 Tweets per minute during the 65 minutes of the speech.

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These stats reveal the real-time nature of Twitter but more so, they show that if you prepare and enable your audience to Tweet by preparing Tweetable soundbites, they will. The speech was full of those soundbites, and users took any opportunity to use them during the event.


3. Use hashtags to enable and encourage sharing around key messages

The OFA and White House teams did more than just prepare a speech full of sharable soundbites; they enabled and encouraged users to share them. Not only were the slides full of hashtags, the SFA and White House Twitter accounts were extremely active during the speech. They frequently published Tweets with images and videos (content types that are shared most frequently on Twitter), and included hashtags to focus and drive users to the right conversations.

SOTU pushing hastags

4. Test messages in real time and apply lessons immediately for maximum results

Obama’s speech and slides were full of hashtags and soundbites that some of them actually seemed like a test of “what will stick?” It’s hard to imagine that Obama’s media teams used the speech to test messages, or that the president would be willing to try those out. A closer examination of the OFA and White House Twitter feeds the day following the speech shows that even if it wasn’t intentional, lessons were learned and applied quickly.

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During the speech, the hashtags with the biggest spikes in volume were #EqualPay (5,356) and #RaiseTheWage (8,669). In addition, #OpportunityForAll recorded the most mentions, even if it didn’t have the same spike in mentions (14,898). Looking at the hashtags used the next day and how they trended, we see that #RaiseTheWage and #OpportunityForAll both performed strongly.

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A big reason for this prolonged engagement is that Obama’s and the White House’s Twitter feeds continued pushing these hashtags and encouraging users to retweet.


5. Have a follow-up plan

While the drop in embedded media during the speech was clear, the rebound effect was even more impressive. The follow-up plan set by the media teams is a master-class in online marketing and content marketing.

Once again, key messages were promoted and reinforced on all major channels with the lessons of which messages resonated the previous night. Tweets like this allowed users who didn’t even watch the speech to take to Twitter and amplify the administration’s messages.


Uri Bar-Joseph

VP of Marketing at Simply Measured and the designated punching bag for the marketing team. I believe in marketing through data, but love the creative elements of marketing. I write about strategy, decision making, the future of marketing and how social media is reshaping marketing. I'm on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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