Obama’s Facebook Townhall: Innovation Or Gimmick?

I don’t know if it’s smart for non-political entertainers or companies to hitch their wagon to politicians. General Electric’s cozy relationship with the Obama administration has earned them no small amount of scorn, and the “government motors” jokes will be with GM for generations to come. Even Oprah saw a ratings plunge during the election when she endorsed Obama.

Some are now saying Obama’s Facebook townhall could be damaging to the social networking giant.

Political consultants and brand managers says politicians and companies put themselves at risk when they become linked in the public eye. Think Dick Cheney and Halliburton. George W. Bush and Enron. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Wal-Mart.

Obama’s Facebook event is “political product placement — with the president seeking to leverage Silicon Valley’s innovation, future, entrepreneur brand and the companies seeking to benefit from being associated with the most powerful office of the most powerful country,” said Chris Lehane, a political consultant to Democrats and unions who worked in the White House in the Clinton years.

“Of course,” Lehane added, “the perils of such a mutual leveraging for the president is if a company does something that turns it into an Enron or BP and for the companies if they become defined as partisan in the way Halliburton or Koch was closely linked to the Bush White House and Republican Party.”

This is more gimmick than anything else, I think. Remember when it was all the rage for presidential candidates to open up headquarters in Second Life? Remember when the presidential candidates were fielding questions from animated snowmen on YouTube?

Social media is a powerful political tool, but campaigns and politicians have long struggled on how best to deploy it. The idea of using something like Facebook to hold a national townhall is a quaint one, and certainly comes off as hip and innovative, but ultimately it’s the same old same old. A candidate taking carefully screened questions and reciting back well-rehearsed answers.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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