Why Did President Obama Choose Reddit?
It may not go down in presidential technological history – along with FDR as the first president to appear on TV, or Truman as the first president to address the country on TV – but President Obama’s decision to hop on Reddit and participate in their “Ask Me Anything” session is an interesting sidebar to this tech-fueled political season.
Some are wondering why the president made the surprise decision to choose Reddit, over all the other social and community options available, including some more obvious choices like Facebook or Twitter or Google+. Could it be that Alexis Ohanian, one of Reddit’s founders, was active in the fight against SOPA?
My take is that the president’s team chose Reddit precisely because it was unexpected. Ever since Obama burst on the scene in 2008, he’s been known as a savvy, leading-edge user of technology for fund-raising, marketing and organizing. It’s a big part of his brand. Four years later – with Romney being a far more digitally-alert candidate than John McCain, who admittedly never used email or went online, it becomes incumbent on the incumbent to demonstrate that he’s still the digital and Internet leader.
So choosing Reddit – a site that techies have embraced, sends a message that Obama has tech cred, has the confidence to make the cool and unexpected choice. It also makes him a digital kingmaker. (Reddit’s site temporarily went down because of the traffic, so the president’s appearance clearly introduced new users to the site.)
President Obama used the medium well. The questions he chose ranged from the safe and obvious – about the economy, about his work/life balance, and the less obvious but still safe – like “what’s the recipe for the White House beer. His answers were conversational if a bit long and formulaic in places. What struck me as amusing was the juxtaposition of the funky user names on Reddit – “partyinyourmouth” and “SharkGirl” – in conversation with POTUS.
The last line of the president’s Q&A session was:
“By the way, if you want to know what I think about this whole reddit experience - NOT BAD!”
That’s an endorsement most brands would kill for, especially when they’re from a president who’s cool enough to begin the session by referring to himself with the hip-signifying lower case:
“Hey everybody - this is barack.”
Clearly, this credentializes Reddit. As Digiday points out, big brands have been wary of Reddit because it’s a bit uncontrolled and as a result, is higher risk. They note “But times, they are a changin’. If Reddit is good enough for Brand Obama, it is good enough for P&G.
It will be fascinating to watch how the digital campaign unfolds, as the candidates try to out-cool each other. But digital hipness has its risks. You can try too hard and look un-cool in the process. Or you over-promise, as the Romney campaign did when the said they would release his running-mate choice on a VP app. But the news leaked hours before, and Romney was soundly mocked on Tumblr.
They used to say all politics is local. But increasingly, all politics is digital.