The White House is tumbling further into social media

Earlier today, the White House officially joined Tumblr. A short initial post and a hand-drawn infographic explained what the 100 million or so active members of the social blogging platform what to expect when they visit whitehouse.tumblr.com:

We’ll post things like the best quotes from President Obama, or video of young scientists visiting the White House for the science fair, or photos of adorable moments with Bo. We’ve got some wonky charts, too. Because to us, those are actually kind of exciting. But this is also about you. President Obama is committed to making this the most open and accessible administration in history, and our Tumblr is no exception. We want to see what you have to share: Questions you have for the White House, stories of what a policy like immigration reform means to you, or ways we can improve our Tumbling. We’re new here, and we’re all ears.

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The move onto Tumblr is only the latest in the progression of the White House establishing beachheads on the most popular social networks on the planet.

Over the past several years, the White House digital team has used unprecedented scale of its connections on these networks to try to influence national debates on proposed laws, policies and rules, applying public engagement to politics with mixed results. Now the team will be  as well as tweeting, blogging, liking , pinning and plussing.

The White House had already joined other popular social networks over the years, including:

While the conventions of Tumblr will mean the way that the staffers at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue communicates will be different than 140 character tweets, White House Hangouts or holiday pinning, the overall strategy is the same: use new media tools to go directly to the public. For a fun twist on that strategy, look no further than the White House joining Vine on the day of the White House Science Fair.

Tumblr’s culture lends itself to infographics and pictures, particularly animated versions of images in the Graphics Interchange Format. (Animated GIFs were a big deal in Election 2012, if you missed it.)

The White House clearly understands that context, given the nod at the end of today’s initial post: “…yes, there will be GIFs.” So, apparently, does the staffer running the Twitter account of First Lady Michelle Obama:


I can only imagine what might have been if these tools had been around two decades ago.

One detail in the first tumblr post shouldn’t go unnoticed: the White House is asking users to send them posts using Tumblr’s submission tool.

If they’re anywhere near as daring with resharing submissions as they’ve been with retweets at @WhiteHouse on Twitter, many political reporters will soon be adding “reblog does not equal endorsement” to their Tumblr profiles in the days to come.


Postscript on Pronunciation: At Buzzfeed, Ellie Hall noticed another detail embedded in the graphic accompanying today’s inaugural Tumblr post: the White House weighed in on the pronunciation of GIF, coming down on the side of the hard “G,” like “gift.”

As she correctly reports, however, the creators of the GIF format have long held that the correct pronunciation of GIF with a soft “G,” like “gem.” That’s how Compuserve employees pronounced it as well, back in the late 1980s.

Who’s right? The GIF Pronunciation page comes down hard (er, soft?) on the side of “jif.” As noted in Wikipedia, however, where such contentious debates never fully expire, the Oxford English Dictionary[5] and the American Heritage Dictionary.[6] accept both pronunciations as correct. Good luck successfully navigating this debate, Mr. President.

Post-Postscript: The White House made good on its promise quickly, publishing an animated GIF of President Obama brushing his shoulder off prior to his appearance at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner to Tumblr last Saturday.

Other posts include three pictures, in keeping with Tumblr’s visual style, including links to the White House blog and video of the President’s comedic set from the dinner.

Post-Post-Postscript: After a mechanical engineer named Claudio Ibarra commented on a Google+ thread linked to this post that he thought that staff making animated GIF was a “waste,” I explained why the White House be spending time making animated GIFs.

4 Comments

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4 responses to “The White House is tumbling further into social media

  1. Reblogged this on cyberscoopers and commented:
    White House gets into Social Networking Sites!

  2. Pingback: White House moves to bash patent trolls, though Congress still must enact trollbane | E Pluribus Unum

  3. Pingback: New partnership with Microsoft and Bing lets citizens Skype the White House | E Pluribus Unum

  4. Pingback: The White House (quietly) asks for feedback on the open government section of its website | E Pluribus Unum

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