Behind the scenes with the White House

Thursday, 21 July 2011

On July 6 the White House held its first Twitter Town Hall, when United States President Barack Obama answered Twitter users’ questions about the American economy. Using the hashtag #AskObama, people all over the world sent more than 160,000 questions and comments for the President to answer live during the event.

Behind the scenes with the White HousePicture from @whitehouse!/whitehouse/status/89070775952343040

Narrowing down so many Tweets into just 17 questions (including 3 real-time follow-ups) is no easy task, so the Twitter team put a lot of thought into creating a fair process to surface questions that accurately reflected the overall themes of discussion around the event. We took a three-pronged approach to identify the questions that most interested people on Twitter:

  1. We used the input from our ecosystem partner Mass Relevance to curate, visualize and integrate which topics were generating the greatest discussion.
  2. We used our own signals to measure engagement (Retweets, Favorites and @Replies) within these topics.
  3. Finally, a group of Twitter users (called “curators”) helped flag questions from their communities through retweets.

Partnering with Mass Relevance

Ecosystem company Mass Relevance played a key role in surfacing the most relevant questions to ask the President via their curation tool, TweetRiver. TweetRiver aggregated and filtered Tweets with the #AskObama hashtag into real-time topic streams, including jobs, the budget, taxes, education and health care.

Behind the scenes with the White HouseThe teams from Twitter and Mass Relevance backstage in the Green Room. Picture from hepwori on Flickr

Mass Relevance also delivered all the visualizations for the event: a heat map showing where Tweets originated, a topic tracker showing the most resonant issues and a display showing Tweets to the President.

Behind the scenes with the White HouseThe Twitter Town Hall was held in the East Room of the White House. The Topic Tracker visualization is to the left of the stage. Picture from hepwori on Flickr

Web Intents Power Town Hall Microsite

Twitter and Mass Relevance also created a microsite where viewers could watch a live stream of the event and see a timeline of Tweets, questions and the President’s responses. The timelines were created by JSONP requests to the TweetRiver API. We used Web Intents to implement Tweet Actions within the timeline, enabling users to tweet from the site, follow @townhall and follow @whitehouse. Web Intents took just minutes to implement, and made it possible for users to interact with Twitter content in the context of the microsite, without leaving the page or having to authorize a new app for the interaction.

Behind the scenes with the White House

Insight from Salesforce Radian6

Ecosystem developer Radian6 released a report this week analyzing Tweets about the Town Hall. Their analysis demonstrates that the event sparked a national conversation crossing every regional and demographic line.