So, President Obama Did an AMA

So, President Obama Did an AMA

President Obama recently hosted an AMA on Reddit. It only lasted for about 30 minutes, but regardless of your political preferences, it was kind of a big deal for Reddit and social media in general. Before we talk about how awesome this is for social media, let’s get this out of the way: what’s Reddit?

We’ve talked about Reddit before, but as a quick refresher: is essentially a news aggregator website. Users can submit links and text posts which are then “upvoted” if they’re deemed interesting, funny, or relevant. Similarly, users can “downvote” submissions that are deemed irrelevant or spammy.

Lots of great things have spawned from the Reddit community. When popular web cartoonist Matthew Inman’s (a.k.a. The Oatmeal) legal debacle hit full-force, Redditors supported and massively publicized his legal fund and contributed to the $200,000 raised for charity (and justice, if you’re familiar with the circumstances behind his legal mess).

Reddit is divided into smaller sub-pages, called “subreddits.” One of those subreddits is /r/IAMA, which stands for “I Am A…” The AMA (or “Ask Me Anything”) is a unique feature on Reddit because users with fascinating life experiences can host question-and-answer sessions. Past AMAs have featured Cirque Du Soleil acrobats, Stephen Colbert, and most recently, the President of the United States.

Got it? Good. So, why is President Obama’s AMA such a big deal?

Critics say that President Obama’s answers during his Q-and-A session didn’t provide much depth and were “milquetoast defense after quip after simple explainer,” writes The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal. But that’s not the point here. The point is that President Obama could have used any social media website to broadcast his message (Twitter, Google+, or Facebook, for instance) and the end result might have been pretty one-sided. Instead, he chose Reddit, a website where users are held accountable for their actions via a larger and unforgiving social community. And that’s awesome.

It got a lot of attention, too. At its peak, Google Analytics showed198,825 active concurrent visitors and 100,000 page views per minute.

By using Reddit – not an intern or a public relations team, but President Obama actually answering (albeit superficial and carefully chosen) questions – the President is making a clear statement that social media is powerful. We’re living in a tech world that is increasingly becoming more interactive, less private, and highly conducive to conversation and analysis. This is a huge step for the legitimacy of social media because it reinforces the idea that people are listening, watching, and writing, and they want to participate with the world in new and innovative ways.

It’s also a “coming out party” for Reddit, as Christina Warren writes on Mashable. Just as Oprah opening a Twitter account was a huge milestone for the company, Reddit has attained new levels of mainstream awareness, social legitimacy, and public influence.

What are your thoughts? Politicians and other figures of authority already have experimented with fringe social media – we can see that with President Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s Tumblr blogs – but this AMA could suggest a movement towards real conversations. Could current and future politicians and figures of authority benefit from conversing directly with their online audience?

Scott Kaufmann
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Scott is Partner at Lucid Agency and a lover of all things technology, marketing, investing and entrepreneurship. Scott volunteers on the board of the Denver-based Nonprofit Celebrate EDU and as a mentor for SeedSpot (a Phoenix-based social startup incubator).

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