Sociopolitical Media: How the White House Creates Online Buzz

As for the President's official site, BarackObama.com? It's run by none other than Chris Hughes, one of Facebook's original founders, and has been likened to a social network itself.

In addition, the President not only participated in a Reddit AMA session, he also exhibited an innate knowledge of the internet and its thriving, meme-laden culture by sharing that his experience was, in fact, "NOT BAD." For those unfamiliar, that means a U.S. President acknowledged a "rage face" meme based on one of his most famous facial expressions.

These attempts to reach out to supporters and voters are setting a precedent in terms of the level of intimacy and access afforded by social media, not to mention setting the bar in terms of the commander-in-chief's awareness of and relationship to online culture. Certainly, previous presidents have made successful strides at communicating directly with citizens. Take FDR's "fireside chats," which marked the first time a U.S. president used the media resources available to him to speak directly and informally to the American people. And there's John F. Kennedy's TV presence which, in contrast to Nixon's, helped cement the importance of image when it comes not to politics and policy, but a leader's place in pop culture. The Obama administration has built on this by tuning into the lesser-known, more niche media outlets available to them (Reddit, for instance, has its own tight-knit community of regulars, and the Internet in general has a language, pace and attitude all its own that can be more difficult to grasp and master than, say, a simple chat via radio).

But as fascinating as all that is, there is still a balancing act that must be played with politics, policy and pop culture, and it's one that the Obama administration hasn't always gotten right.

It ultimately comes down to a matter of personal opinion on what is appropriate for a given U.S. president The Obamas have certainly garnered a degree of criticism, both from right-wing media outlets and otherwise, for their visits to programs like The View, The Daily Show, The Late Show, The Tonight Show, Late Night, and Jimmy Kimmel Live. Perhaps the most confusing melding of politics and pop culture was the First Lady's surprise appearance at the Oscars, where -- flanked by members of the U.S. military -- she announced Argo as the year's Best Picture.

With each successive presidency, this balance of politics, pop culture and the web will continue to be defined, refined and then re-defined, particularly given that the president and his (or, someday, her) administration undoubtedly and not always intentionally leave their own mark on popular culture. Comedians and late-night hosts will always turn to the White House for material, films and TV series will continue to be inspired by the drama and pathos of White House politics and Reddit users will forever create image macros based on the funny, terrible, shocking, touching or clueless things that presidents do and say.

The trick likely lies in being familiar enough with the language of popular culture--particularly with the unique jargon, references, in-jokes and narratives that abound online--to not only be conversant, but to effectively guide the conversation. And by creating engaging, relevant and shareable content online, the Obama administration has been able to do just that.

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