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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

President Obama On Quora: Oy Vey

Screenshot of President Barack Obama's Quora profile accessed March 25, 2014

You can agree or disagree with the Affordable Care Act. (I personally think that few of us understand it.)

But there is little doubt that the President's incredibly powerful social media machine is pushing government-to-public engagement tactics to new heights of the stratosphere. Even when he makes some serious mistakes, as I will talk about in the case of Quora, he pushes the envelope for the rest of us.

But first a look at risk-taking and success. I think it was completely brilliant that the President took to Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis. It is so insane to do that, to be part of that incredibly rude, disrespectful and popular show. Phenomenal virality. Fearlessness.

But then the President went on Quora. He made a mistake not in using it, but in the way he did it. I've been on there for awhile and know the culture a little bit. Propaganda is a matter of disgust there, and the President's communication methods tend toward the slick, commercial and propagandistic.

Consider this excerpt from his wooden, scripted-sounded language on one question. We know damn well he didn't write it. And the commenters are all over him:

Q. "How will ACA affect career and job choices of young people, and their lives in general?"

A. "Today, thanks to the health care law, young adults can stay on their parents’ health insurance until they turn 26....In fact, seven in ten single young adults without insurance now may get covered for under $100 a month through the Marketplace." 

Here is an excerpt from the President's answer to another one:

Q. "Why has ACA enrollment accelerated so much over the past few months?"

A. "Now, it's no secret to anyone that we had some issues with the website at launch. But that was months ago. Thanks to a team of experts who worked around the clock to get the site working back then, response times on Health Insurance Marketplace, Affordable Care Act are faster than ever....And more than 5 million people have already signed up for coverage -- with tens of thousands more signing up every day."

As they said in the movie Valley Girl, "Barf me with a spoon" at the false familiarity and inflated-sounding numbers.

Not everything the President has done on Quora is badly executed. Consider his response to a basketball question, which does in the end tie back to ACA. Everyone knows he loves it, and I'll bet you ten dollars he wrote the first part himself or at least edited it very carefully:

"What's it like to play basketball with President Obama?"

"My hair's getting grayer, but I'd like to think I've still got a decent jump shot. And whenever I play pickup games with my staff or friends and family, I make sure they know not to go easy on me. A couple of years ago, I got elbowed in the lip pretty hard and needed 12 stitches, so even the President isn't immune to injuries."

Here's another great thing about the President's participation in Quora - his professional "headline." It reads:

"Dad, husband, and 44th President of the United States."

Smart. Human. Real. (When I did this on my LinkedIn headline I was actually terrified of sounding unprofessional. Now I can say the President did it.)

The point here is not really to discuss the ACA at all. Rather it's about communication tactics. Be extremely careful in social media. You can trip easily and there are a million ways to trip in front of an unforgiving spotlight.

Think geography: Beverly Hills is not San Francisco. Queens, NY is not Brooklyn. South Beach, Miami is not Jacksonville. Know where you tread and tread lightly until you get your feet wet. It's embarrassing to be so high-profile and not look like you know what you're doing.

* All opinions my own.