During the campaign season, President Obama amassed a huge network of nearly 6 million Facebook fans of his public profile page to organize supporters and raise money. Recently, however, the President has refashioned his Facebook presence to highlight his efforts to govern and drive policy changes in Washington with the launch of the White House public profile.
The new presence, which launched last week, has grown substantially in the past few days. Just last Friday, it claimed around 31,000 fans. Since then, that number has surged to more than 172,000 fans.
The president’s supporters — as well as people who didn’t vote for him — should view the White House Facebook profile as an integral aspect of his campaign promise to bolster government transparency through the use of the Web. Obama’s ability to deliver on that promise has been met with mixed reviews. He received criticism for failing to update his personal Twitter account for more than two months after his inauguration, with some arguing he merely used Web 2.0 tools to get elected.
But in reality, Obama’s promise to increase government transparency through technology has come to fruition in the following ways:
- A revamped Whitehouse.gov has an issues tab that allows citizens to track progress made on each major issue facing the country.
- The site features Obama’s weekly YouTube video address.
- His staff updates a blog.
- People can subscribe via RSS to ensure they don’t miss an important piece of content.
- People can bookmark posts on Whitehouse.gov to their favorite social networks, including Facebook, Twitter and MySpace.
- The administration launched recovery.org to help citizens track where the government spends and allocates their tax dollars. They can also report abuses they see in the spending of government funds.
But all of these initiatives have lacked one characteristic that only a site like Facebook can address: the ability to make information social by providing tools that instantly enable users to publish their thoughts on critical issues. On Whitehouse.org, users cannot comment on posts. Instead, they find themselves relegated to the static “contact us” form.
Facebook, on the other hand, creates a two-way conversation. As an example, the most current blog post on Whitehouse.org has also been posted on the Facebook public profile, where it enjoys 39 comments so far.
We welcome President Obama’s efforts to utilize Facebook to improve government transparancy and communicate with citizens, but his administration should be more aggressive and original in its efforts. As of now, the Facebook page merely republishes information posted to Whitehouse.gov. The administration should post more content that is original to Facebook, giving users added incentive to visit the page. They might also consider building applications that increase engagement with the administration’s efforts.
Finally, the profile page is too faceless. While we don’t expect the president to comment on every item posted to the page, the members of his staff should make efforts to participate in the conversations occurring there. Their names and faces should be front and center, letting citizens know the new government hears their opinions and will respond to them.