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Obama Books Hangout on Google+ for State of the Union Public Engagement

Posted by Sheila Shayon on January 23, 2012 03:03 PM

The first televised U.S. presidential candidates' debate, the 1960 between Senator John F. Kennedy (D-MA) and Vice President Richard Nixon (R-CA), illustrated the power and sway of the media in American politics. As the lore goes, TV viewers gave the debate to Kennedy while radio listeners gave it to Nixon.

In the midst of the Great Depression, March 12, 1933, the nation was held spellbound as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt assured his countrymen that their country would recover during Fireside Chats where Roosevelt shared his hopes and plans and invited the American people to "tell me your troubles."

Fast forward to 2012, and President Barack Obama and the White House will make digital history (again) as he plans to make himself available in a 45-minute live video chat room (dubbed a Hangout) on Google+ on Jan. 30 to answer questions arising from his State of the Union address delivered Tuesday night.

A team of senior advisors will field questions from Americans about the speech using the Twitter hashtag #WHchat and on the White House Facebook page (which will stream the State of the Union address in an enhanced livestream), followed by the first White House virtual interview with the President via YouTube and Google+ Hangouts.

In this virtual town hall, President Obama will answer some of the public's most pressing questions and their authors will be invited to join the President in the Hangout in live conversation. 

"For online engagement to be interesting, it has to be honest," commented White House digital strategy director Macon Phillips to the Associated Press. "We want to give Americans more control over this conversation and the chance to ask questions they care about.”

The White House has been leveraging social media around the State of the Union speech, testing networking tools focused on the evolving intersection of social media and politics. Google, Facebook and others are increasingly stepping into electoral politics. 

Facebook recently cosponsored a Republican primary debate with NBC News and Republican presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have appeared on Hangouts.

Google’s Steve Grove, head of community partnerships for Google+, said that the Hangout feature “will make for really personal conversation with the president that’s never really happened before. Whether it’s good for Google Plus or not, I guess viewers will decide by how well we pull it off”. 

Now through Jan. 28, questions can be submitted via White House's YouTube channel. The President currently has almost 300,000 followers, and the White House and Google are anticipating a surge prior to his Hangouts appearance.

From Fireside Chats to TV debates, and now Google+ Hangouts, the White House (and its eager to be re-elected chief occupant) is keeping pace with its legacy and love of the media.

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