How Has Barack Obama Used Social Media During His Presidential Campaign?

Obama Takes To Reddit

Last Thursday, President Obama took a break from his schedule to take part in an AMA on Reddit. It caught many of us Redditors by surprise and we all flocked to the social networking site in droves to see what he would say when confronted by the site’s loyal and unflinchingly witty users. For many who simply heard about it because it was Obama-related, this would be their first exposure to these strange terms.

What is Reddit?

Reddit is a social media democracy which is broken down into smaller sections for different interests. I’m not going to lie: things can get a little rude. Reddit works by users up-voting or down-voting topics and threads which are submitted by members so only the most relevant and worthwhile make it to the top where most eyes will see them. Comments can be left, which can also be voted on accordingly allowing for the most sarcastic, dry or plain wild humour to thrive.

What is a Reddit AMA?

IAmA stands simply for ‘I am a’ while AMA for ‘Ask Me Anything’. Reddit users can post an AMA whereby users can ask them… anything, firstly introducing themselves ‘I am a so-and-so, ask me anything’. It can be anyone from a cameraman who worked on Sooty in the 70s, to someone who is going through a terminal illness at the moment, to even the President of the United States as evidenced. The most popular AMAs can be scheduled and promoted in advance so more questions can be submitted, and usually these are for actors or writers who are popular on the site.

Is it Popular?

As Reddit has grown in the last few years, with membership now in the millions worldwide, it has become more popular and mainstream, and has drawn the eyes of many notable personalities to use it as a means of good karma with their most dedicated fans. Reddit’s humour or tropes synonymous with the site have slowly crept into various cultures because the site accommodates  so many different interests. Using Reddit can effectively humanise a world-famous figure who would normally be seen as untouchable. It is generally a good public relations option, without the tacky plugging which chat shows can descend into. The likes of Louis CK, Dan Harmon and Zach Braff have all taken part in an AMA successfully fending off the onslaught of questions from users, though not all make it out as well.

Rules of a Reddit AMA

If someone is overly promotional during an AMA, or starts ducking certain questions which are voted as being ones that users want to be answered, their image online can suffer. The same if it is clear that it not actually that person but someone from their PR team. While Obama was photographed supposedly during the AMA, it is likely that everything he wrote was supervised closely by his PR team. Woody Harrelson most recently is a prime example of a Reddit AMA going wrong, as he promoted his new film Rampart at every opportunity and avoided answering questions about his family history, which annoyed users. As a result he has become a joke not only on Reddit, but on other social sites too. The influence of Redditors can be felt when things go wrong as much as it can when things go well.

The Influence of an AMA and Reddit

Obama in AMA-mode Courtesy of

Of course, the appeal of all things considered underground is the fact that they are unknown, niche or a secret. When AMAs become more popular amongst bigger names, and more frequently used as a tool by publicists to recommend to their clients, they may lose their appeal. With the way things develop so quickly in social media, it is likely that something new will have come around by then too. The AMA formula might even be adopted by other sites or sources like television chat shows, though a legal battle could result – Reddit actually holds a patent on the use of ‘IamA’.

Reddit’s users are a sarcastic bunch, but overall are fun, and it’s their sense of humour, reactions, and most importantly, questions, which make the experience so entertaining to witness either in progress or retrospectively.

If you’d like to know more about harnessing the power of Reddit for business, contact us!

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