The REAL #SOTU Drama: Online Rapid Response

President Obama delivers the annual State of the Union address tonight, and professional political communicators all over DC are getting ready for the accompanying spin war. Here’s how I described that process a couple of years back:

Hear that rustling and rumbling in the background? That’s the sound of thousands of activists, journalists, bloggers and advocacy groups getting ready to spin tonight’s State of the Union address as it happens, live and online. The “traditional” (broadcast-era) way to respond to the speech was quite limited — a few talking heads and politicos would take to the airwaves, while advocates would spew out press releases and statements in the hopes of ending up in the next day’s coverage of the affair.

Nowadays, we get to join in DURING the speech, and the fun isn’t constrained to the handful of people with access to a television camera or a reporter’s notebook — Twitter, Facebook and blogs will play host to an extended conversation involving thousands of us scattered across the country. The goal? To get noticed, of course, but also to influence the discussion as it occurs, and ultimately to color the final political conventional wisdom about the Meaning Of The Night.

It’s part of a much longer process, naturally, since activists, industry groups and nonprofits have been working for weeks to make sure that their issues appear in the President’s speech in just the “right” way (or not at all), and the spin certainly won’t stop tonight (besides the cable-news and blog analysis, the White House itself will be taking questions online after the speech). But the immediate, as-it’s-happening nature of the digital discussion is something new to politics, and I’d argue that it’s one of the most positive effects of in-the-moment tools like Twitter. Of course, luck favors the prepared mind, and plenty of “live” tweets (and the resources they link to) will be prepared in advance for use at the appropriate times, hoping that the right words or the right messages will be picked up by live-bloggers, aggregators or random Tweeters and spread far and wide.

I wonder if communications professionals might be backing off from a full-on SOTU social-media frenzy these days, since with so many people commenting at once, very few individual messages can break through the clutter and have any influence on the conversation. But plenty will see it as their duty to engage on Facebook and to live-tweet — whether or not from the White House, as I once had the privilege of doing — hoping that their talking points can win the day. It’s what we do.

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