Saturday, February 16, 2013

#SOTU with the #POTUS #AtTheWH

This week, I had a very DC moment. I'd venture to say it was even more "DC" than hugging strangers at the Inauguration. As I alluded to in my last post - and, I'm using that term incorrectly for I didn't allude, I flat out told you - I was selected to participate in a White House Social for the State of the Union. The White House Social series are in-person meetings of people who engage with the White House via social media. You can read about other past events here, including a Holiday Open House Tweetup and a United Kingdom Arrival Ceremony Tweetup. 

This is me at the WH. I did NOT have a Bo Obama sighting.
I'll have to put that dream on a shelf until next time.
(This is the part where Emily gets her shout-out for letting me know about the WH Social opportunity. Follow her on twitter. You now have the direct link twice. So, no excuses. Thanks, Emily!)

The "application" was really just an online form in which you shared your twitter, Google +, Facebook, etc. usernames and - in 500 words or less - described why you wanted to participate.

I'm pretty sure I was the only applicant to use the term "Nutella" in an answer to the question of why I should be included. I don't recall exactly what I said, but my answer was something along the lines of "I believe I represent the average twitter user who doesn't tweet about politics day in and day out - as evidenced by my recent tweets about the Tuesday night TV comedy line-up and the deliciousness of Nutella - but who engages in topics and issues of importance to me, in my own unique voice." 

I just wanted to keep it real - sometimes I tweet about Anne Hathaway's haircut or post links to "Where Are They Now?" articles about the cast of Saved By The Bell. I wasn't going to lie to the President about my social media presence. Besides, all they'd have to do was go to my twitter feed to see what's up. I did go on to to tell them that I admire their efforts to engage and educate the public online and would be honored to have the opportunity to move the online dialogue to face-to-face conversation and gave examples of times I've participated in policy conversations ..but I think it was the "Nutella" that really put me over the top. 

So what exactly is the White House Social you may ask? It was an opportunity to watch the State of the Union address from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB) and participate in a post-address panel discussion with Obama's policy advisers and experts. We were also encouraged to bring multiple electronic devices, take pictures and videos, and tweet, post and blog our hearts out. Our official hashtags were #WHSocial #AtTheWH and #SOTU. (If you don't know what hashtags are then you probably don't need to worry about them.)

As members of the WH Social, we were invited to attend a tour of the White House that morning. Fortunately, two of my coworkers were also selected so we were able to attend the tour together. It was fun to get to meet face-to-face with some of the folks we'd been tweeting and would be viewing the SOTU with later that evening. 

My favorite part of the morning was the second grade class I was behind on the tour. It you are ever on a tour anywhere and see a group of school children you should try to be within earshot. Young kids (er, well-behaved young kids) on tours are hilariousThis particular group asked a lot of questions and had many opinions of the White House. When we walked into the dining room, they were fascinated by all the gold candelabras and chandeliers. 

2nd Grader to Security Guard: How did they get that gold candle on the wall? 
Very Patient Security Guard: That's an interesting question. I believe they screwed it on. 
Flurry of 2nd Graders: What about that big gold light up there? How'd they get that on the ceiling?! How?!
Very Patient Security Guard: They just screwed that one up there too, right into the ceiling.

I'm pretty sure these kids would lose their minds if they walked into a Home Depot and saw all the chandeliers hanging above them.  
This is what it looks like when you bring social media people together for a WH Tour. Post, tag, check-in, tweet, repeat. #AtTheWH
That evening, we were asked to report to the EEOB at 7:45 p.m. in order to go through security which seemed to take forever. I would imagine there is a more efficient way to handle a large group like ours but, hey, who am I to second guess secret service? I just kept my mouth shut and followed orders. 

The wait for our credentials allowed us time to mingle with fellow participants - some of who traveled across country to participate in the evening's event. A few of them had done other White House "Tweetups" and said they applied to participate whenever possible. I made a mental note to Retweet (i.e. plagiarize) those people's tweets since they probably know what they're talking about. 

This is a blurry picture of me and all my purses outside the EEOB.
One is my computer bag but I do kind of look like the people who sell knock-off handbags to tourists. 
 About 100 people participated in WH Social and seemed to be a diverse group despite our one obvious commonality - a shared nerdiness for social media. After we made it through security, we were directed to the auditorium that would become our home for the next four hours. We were given instructions for logging into WiFi as well as the list of official hashtags and future social media activities. As everyone filtered in and found seats, laptops were unloaded, iPads were powered on,  WiFi was connected and we all formed a line to have our picture taken with the stage. So, of course....
Ignore my god-awful hair. 
By the time we'd all taken our obligatory stage shots, it was time to get this show on the road. These tweets weren't going to tweet themselves, you guys! 
We watched the "enhanced SOTU address" that the White House was streaming online. As the POTUS spoke, a sidebar showed relevant stats, charts and images. I found it extremely helpful and will definitely watch it online for next year's event. At one point, as the President briefly mentioned fair pay for women, the "McKayla Maroney and President Obama are not impressed" meme made an appearance.
McKayla Maroney and President Obama are "not impressed" that Congress has yet to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. 
During the address, the auditorium was silent apart from the low hum of electronics and the click-clack of frantic typing. The room was illuminated by the romantic glow of iPads and laptops and the large TV screen at the front. Periodically, the audience would cheer, especially for healthcare, immigration reform, the Violence Against Women Act ("Good job, Joe") and  gun control. As true nerds, some of our biggest cheers were for science - the WH Social group was all-in for plans to combat global warming. 

I tried to write insightful tweets about the SOTU and share elements I found especially intriguing but, of course, one of the most retweeted and responded to tweets of mine was the one I wrote about them all processing in and shaking hands. It involved cleavage and Beyonce. Eh, at least I tried. Perhaps I'm just not cut out to be a true political wonk. 

After the address was finished, instead of watching Marco Rubio drink water, we were privileged to have a panel of policy experts to answer questions from the audience and the web. Or, as I like to call it, "The After Party." 

The panel was streamed online where my parents watched and texted me about how they couldn't see me, even when I was literally right behind the guy asking the question. My dad suggested I get up and go to the bathroom so that they could pick me out of the audience. Sure, Dad, I'll miss some of the panel to fake go to the bathroom so you can see me. My mom suggested the more bold attention-getter of standing up and singing. Yes, if there's one thing they like in high-security areas is when people randomly break out in song during policy discussions. At one point, I even touched the mic as it was passed to the person next to me. They still couldn't see me. Do they even know what I look like?

The audience (and online participants) asked a wide range of questions from details about cyber security to clarification on immigration reform. The panelists included:

  • Brian Deese, Deputy Director of the National Economic Council
  • Josh Earnest, Principal Deputy Press Secretary
  • Sarah Bianchi, Director of Economic and Domestic Policy for the Vice President
  • Felicia Escobar, Senior Policy Director for Immigration
  • Roberto Rodriguez, Special Assistant to the President for Education Policy
  • Heather Zichal, Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Policy
As soon as they solicited questions, about 60 people put their hands in the air so I didn't even try to get a question in there. I was just as happy to listen, take note and learn. 

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I try my best to stay up-to-date on politics and major proposed legislation but feel like I know a little bit about a lot of things and not a lot about any one thing. I was honored to be able to learn from the very people helping to shape policy in our country as well as from my fellow participants, people who are passionate about a variety of issues and see the value in conversation and dialogue. 

And, in case you were curious, I tweeted or retweeted 47 times that night - not as many as some others, but a respectable twitter count nonetheless.  The last tally I heard put the number of SOTU-related tweets that evening at 1.1 million. Clearly the White House knows what it is doing reaching out to online audiences. Now, who do I need to talk to about an official White House twitter handle for Bo Obama?  



  1. LOVED this post, Lindsay!!

  2. Thanks so much! It was great seeing you this past weekend.

  3. what a cool opportunity, lindsay!! thanks for sharing it!