Obama’s Twitter followers surge past 9 million after a ‘Twitter Town Hall’


US President Barack Obama hosted a historic Town Hall on Twitter on Wednesday after giving Americans the chance to submit questions prior to the event.

Though nothing particularly newsworthy emerged during the hour-long discussion, the Twitter Town Hall marked Mr. Obama’s latest attempt to broadcast his platform beyond the bounds of traditional news media.

“The Town Hall represents an effort to really ramp up his ability to move around the media and not have to be filtered through the media,” said Judd Legum, vice president for New Media at the Center for American Progress.

In January, President Obama took part in a YouTube forum, and followed it up in April with a Facebook question-and-answer session, moderated by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

The online events point to a president tech-savvy enough to connect to the young generation, and a White House eager to take advantage of new media as a way to reach out to broader groups of Americans.

“If you’re going to communicate with the broad public, it is no longer sufficient to simply do it through the traditional mainstream media,” said Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, during an informational call for reporters on Tuesday. “We’re always on the lookout for ways to have a productive interaction with the public in new and exciting ways.”

The problems weighing most heavily on the US public’s mind emerged from Twitter trends; the top questions asked were about jobs, the budget, taxes, education and housing, in that order.

According to White House officials, the 18 questions Mr. Obama answered were selected by a team from Twitter and a group of veteran Twitter users from around the country.

Aided by algorithms, they culled through the 60,000 tweets to @AskObama, the hashtag created late last week for the Town Hall, to determine which Tweets were receiving the most attention through retweets, favorites, and replies.

With the 2012 Presidential campaign on the horizon, Mr. Obama is seizing every opportunity to reconnect to the base of energetic young voters that helped secure his presidency in 2008.

His campaign team announced in June 2011 that Mr. Obama himself would be Tweeting from @BarackObama and signing the 140-character messages to his followers with the somewhat unfortunate “BO.” The official White House account, @WhiteHouse, will still be run by staffers.

Analysts say trading on the social-media successes of 2008 is a good strategy for Mr. Obama.

“Obama has millions and millions of people on Facebook and YouTube. All the Republican candidates right now are way behind. You need that critical mass of people Obama already has – that’s going to be a big advantage for him,” Mr. Legum said on Wednesday.

After the Town Hall, Mr. Obama picked up an additional 30,000 followers on Twitter, taking his follower tally to just over 9 million.

(Angela Simaan is a producer in the Washington Bureau of Al Arabiya. She can be reached at: [email protected])