Social media use by Barack Obama

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Obama in blue suit standing at a podium in front of an audience as a man in a light grey suit looks on.
Barack Obama in the first presidential Twitter town hall meeting with service creator and moderator Jack Dorsey looking on

Barack Obama won the 2008 United States presidential election on November 4, 2008. During his campaign, Obama became the first presidential candidate of a major party to utilize social networking sites, including podcasting, Twitter, Myspace, Facebook, and YouTube, to expand and engage his audience of supporters and donors.[1]

Obama's adoption of social media for political campaigning has since been compared to Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy's adoption of the radio and television media, respectively, in the history of communication between the White House and the American public. For this reason, Obama has been dubbed by some as "the first social media president."[2]

In the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama had more "friends" on Facebook and Myspace and more "followers" on Twitter than his opponent John McCain.[3]


Twitter activity of Barack Obama from his first tweet in April 2007. Retweets are not included.
Barack Obama embraces the First Lady after she had introduced him at a 2012 election campaign event in Davenport, Iowa. The campaign tweeted a similar photograph from the campaign photographer on election night, and many people thought it was taken on election day.

Barack Obama's Twitter account (@BarackObama) is the official account on social networking site Twitter for former President of the United States Barack Obama.[4] Obama also used the White House's Twitter account (@WhiteHouse) and the @POTUS account, which was created in May 2015.[5] As of October 22, 2023, @BarackObama is the most-followed politician and second most-followed person on Twitter with over 132 million followers.[6]

Obama has used Twitter to promote legislation and support for his policies,[4][7][8] as well as respond to the public regarding current political issues like the economy and employment.[9][10] As a major political figure with a presence on the platform, Obama became the subject of various debates on Twitter.[11][12] During Obama's 2012 presidential campaign, the rapidly-increasing audience on Twitter gave the platform a larger role in communication efforts than in the 2008 campaign.[13]

Statistics on Twitter usage[edit]

Graph of Obama's follower growth

The @BarackObama account is among the top ten worldwide in both followers and followed accounts.[14][15] The account held the record for following the most people.[16][17] On August 13, 2019, at 14:39 PDT Obama's account overtook Katy Perry to become the most-followed person on Twitter with over 107 million followers.[14][18]

During his 2008 campaign, the account was intermittently the world's most followed. In May 2010 Obama's Twitter account ranked as the fourth most followed account with about 4 million followers.[19] By May 16, 2011, @BarackObama was followed by 7.4 million people, including twenty-eight world leaders.[20] His account became the third account to reach 10 million followers in September 2011.[21]

Twitter was the most popular social media app during and immediately after the 2008 presidential election; studies show that Twitter reached its peak growth rate on its platform between 2007 and 2010.[22]

Account usage history[edit]

Obama "using Twitter" on May 24, 2012, in response to hashtagged questions

@BarackObama was launched on March 5, 2007, at 16:08:25.[23] It is his official account, although he also tweeted through @WhiteHouse which is usually used by the presidential administration, while @BarackObama was for his election campaign staff.[24] @WhiteHouse predates the Presidency of Barack Obama, since it was created on April 21, 2007.[25] Following the 2008 election, the Democratic National Committee was believed to have taken over Obama's official Twitter account; in a November 2009 speech, Obama stated "I have never used Twitter," although he had over 2.6 million followers at the time.[26][27] In 2011, the @BarackObama account was stated to be "run by #Obama2012 campaign staff. Tweets from the President are signed -bo."[28] The first Tweet using Obama's initials was posted for Father's Day in 2011 with the message, "Being a father is sometimes my hardest but always my most rewarding job..."[24]

three people in dark suits thumbtyping on BlackBerry's while seated
Audience members at the July 6, 2011 Twitter Town hall meeting tweeting questions to Barack Obama

During his presidency, Obama held public forums in which he fielded questions posted on Twitter. On July 6, 2011, he participated in what was billed as "Twitter Presents Townhall @ the White House".[9][29] The event was held in the East Room of the White House and was streamed online. Only written questions on the site about the economy and jobs were accepted for oral response by Obama.[30] His average responses were over 2000 characters long.[31] Speaker of the United States House of Representatives John Boehner participated by tweeting "Where are the jobs?" to the hashtag #AskObama, and received a response from President Obama.[32] The event was moderated by Twitter executive Jack Dorsey.[33] Dorsey said afterwards that Twitter received over 110,000 #AskObama-hashtagged tweets.[34] On May 24, 2012, Obama again responded to questions on Twitter about his administration's "Congress to-do list".[10][35]

On July 29, 2011, during the United States debt-ceiling crisis, @BarackObama lost over 40,000 followers when the president urged Americans "to call, email and tweet Congressional leaders to 'keep the pressure on' lawmakers in hopes of reaching a bipartisan deal to raise the nation's $14.3 trillion debt limit ahead of an August 2 deadline."[7] During the day, he sent about 100 tweets that included the Twitter accounts of Congressional Republicans.[36] Later in 2011, Obama used Twitter again to try to encourage the people to voice their opinion on legislation when he was attempting to pass the American Jobs Act.[8]

Barack Obama in a blue suit typing on computer at a podium while a white man in a light grey suit looks on
Obama and Jack Dorsey during the July 6, 2011 Twitter town hall meeting


On January 5, 2009, @BarackObama was among several celebrity accounts that were hacked and domain hijacked.[37][38] The hacker phished the password of a Twitter administrator's account, gaining access to other accounts to which he then changed the passwords, and subsequently offered access to accounts upon request at Digital Gangster. The case eventually led to a non-financial settlement with the Federal Trade Commission by Twitter.[39]

On July 4, 2011, Obama was the subject of a death hoax on Twitter when Fox News' Politics Twitter account (@foxnewspolitics) was hacked. The hackers were unfamiliar with Twitter and started their hoax messages with @BarackObama, thus only making the message appear in the Twitter timelines of those following Fox News and the Presidential account. Eventually, the hackers switched to hashtag references, increasing the visibility of their activities.[40] Fox News acknowledged the breach and apologized.[41]

Significance of Twitter in campaigning[edit]

During the 2012 presidential campaign, Obama and his Republican adversary Mitt Romney were active on Twitter. The Pew Research Center determined that only about 13% of American adults had joined the site at that time. Thus, Twitter's impact on the election was only "one slice of an enormous communication effort". Its impact grew significantly that as many tweets were sent in 8 minutes as were sent on all of Election Day 2008.[13] As of May 25, 2010, 48% of Obama's followers resided outside of the United States and 47% were female. At that time, the top five industries in which his followers were employed were

  1. Hospitality,
  2. Law,
  3. Marketing/Public Relations,
  4. Fashion and
  5. Education.[42]

Measuring social influence has become a new consulting career opportunity.[43] According to discussants on the PBS NewsHour, Obama had 5,000 times as much social media influence as Romney;[44] however, according to The Hill, Obama only had 12 times as much social media influence.[45]

The Change in Campaigns

Since Barack Obama was the first presidential candidate to use social media, he helped the immense realization that social media can greatly help one's campaign. Upon this realization social media contributed to helping candidates raise money for their campaigns. Previously, much of the resources that candidates utilized came from their financial reserves. In an article written by Pinar Yildirim of the University of Pennsylvania, emphasizes on the large amounts of money that are spent on campaigns and on advertising alone. Mike Bloomberg is introduced as an example as he contributed more than half of his campaign funds towards his advertising. Social Media has been shown to impact funds gained by candidates directly. These candidates who committed to social media shown to gain small percentages of what they would earn in a two-year time.[46]

Other social media platforms[edit][edit]

The official website of Obama is It is run by Chris Hughes, one of the three co-founders of Facebook, and has been described as a "sort of social network".[47] Steve Spinner, a member of Obama's National Finance Committee, says that while previous campaigns have used the internet, none had yet taken full advantage of social networking features.[47] The website included online tools that allowed members to identify neighbors that the Obama campaign thought might be potential backers and then report back on any resulting conversations.[48] By taking full advantage of social networking features, Obama would have saved over a hundred million dollars of TV ad buying by using social media to spread his message. This also meant that Barack Obama did have not rely on big tickets donations and instead could rely on micro-donations of hundreds of thousands of supporters.[49]

Members of the site could also create blogs, post photos, and form groups through the website,[48] but each member must publish a limited biographical profile and no more than one photo.[50] According to Hughes, during the 2008 campaign, over two million accounts were created for the website to "organize their local communities on behalf of Barack Obama".[48][50] He estimates that more than 200,000 events were organised through the website.[48] Moreover, 400,000 articles were written in blogs. Four hundred thousand videos that supported Obama were posted on YouTube via the official website. Thirty-five thousand volunteer groups were created. 70,000 people spent thirty million dollars on their fundraising webpages. In the final four days of the 2008 campaign, three million phone calls were made through the website's internet virtual phone.[50]


President Barack Obama made a surprise half-hour visit to the social news website Reddit on August 29, 2012. Using an Ask Me Anything (AMA) format, the President garnered 3.8 million page views on the first page of his self-post. Users left 22,000 comments and questions for the President,[51] 10 of which he answered. The questions' topics included more serious topics, from the most difficult decision made during his first term to a plan to end the corruption of money in politics. Some included a more lighthearted focus, like the recipe for the White House beer.

In response to Obama's use of Reddit, many noted bypassing generally established mainstream media channels during the 2012 campaign in favor of less-filtered and closer forms of communication.[52] When asked why Obama logged on to Reddit, one campaign official responded "Because a whole bunch of our turnout targets were on Reddit."[53] By using a newer, underused media channel like Reddit, Obama's campaign acknowledged a largely unaddressed demographic of unlikely voters on social internet boards.


The Barack Obama Facebook (@barackobama) is currently the official Facebook for the former president and was his Facebook during the campaign trail. Looking back onto the election, Obama mobilized the public through social media, especially Facebook. In fact, by the peak of the Obama campaign, his Facebook has around 3 million friends.[54] Marc Anderson, board member of Facebook and founder of Netscape, said "Other politicians I have met with are always impressed by the Web and surprised by what it could do, but their interest sort of ended in how much money you could raise. He was the first politician I dealt with who understood that the technology was a given and that it could be used in new ways."[55] effective social media campaigns, especially on Facebook, were developed and used under the Obama campaign. The transformation of social media sites into capital gain shows how he effectively mobilized voters and volunteers. "By converting everyday people into engaged and empowered volunteers, donors and advocates through social networks, email advocacy, text messaging and online video. The campaign's proclivity to online advocacy is a major reason for his victory."[56] Through Facebook, Obama created a sense of ethos between the voters and his campaign. This created a sense of trust, support and effective campaigning that made his campaign so successful.

In March 2007, the Barack Obama team created an interconnection between a user's account in Obama's official website and Facebook account, so a user may publish activities via sending postings from one to another.[57][clarification needed] In 2008, the Obama presidential campaign spent $643,000 out of its $16 million Internet budget to promote his Facebook account.[50] On June 17, 2008, after Hillary Clinton ended her campaign, the number of followers of Barack Obama's Facebook account increased to one million.[58] Meanwhile, in addition to Facebook accounts of Barack and Michelle Obama and Joe Biden, the Obama team created ten more Facebook accounts for "specific demographics, such as Veterans for Obama, Women for Obama, and African Americans for Obama."[57]


Former President Barack Obama used Instagram extensively during his presidential campaign in 2012 and also during his time in office. He used the platform to share personal photos, highlight policy initiatives, and connect with his followers. During his campaign, his social media team managed Obama's Instagram account and focused on sharing behind-the-scenes images of the campaign trail, events, and rallies. He also shared photos of his family, including his wife and children, to help show a more personal side of his candidacy.

After being elected, Obama continued to use Instagram to share photos and messages with his followers. He used the platform to highlight healthcare reform, environmental policies, and education initiatives. He also used the platform to connect with citizens and share inspirational messages.

One of the most popular posts on Obama's Instagram was a photo of him hugging First Lady Michelle Obama after the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act in 2015. The post received over 1.6 million likes and helped to showcase Obama's dedication to healthcare reform.

Overall, Obama's use of Instagram was seen as an innovative way to connect with younger voters and engage them in the political process. He created a more relatable and engaging image of himself and his administration by sharing personal photos and highlighting policy initiatives.


The topic of social media regarding presidential campaigns comes with a bit of hesitation to the general public. The concept of micro-targeting is the use of personal information garnered from online social media sources and public records, builds profiles for the voting demographic. Through Obama's successful online presence, his supporters and online friends made an incredible amount of information about his campaign that helped micro-targeting and social media strategy. This received a lot of criticism under the Trump administration due to his policy use of Cambridge Analytica, which a Britain-based company who provides information and strategies for micro-targeting and other tactics along those lines. "Obama's 2008 campaign was famously data-driven, pioneered micro-targeting in 2012, talking to people specifically based on the issues they care about," Cambridge Analytica said on Twitter.[59] The firm, under the Trump Campaign, gathered over 50 million profiles from Facebook to gain information about Facebook users. The Obama campaign team member Micheal Simon, responded to allegations of similar actions with "We didn't steal private Facebook profile data from voters under false pretenses. OFA (Obama's campaign) voluntarily solicited opinions of hundreds of thousands of voters. We didn't commit theft to do our groundbreaking work."[59]

See also[edit]


  • Hendricks, John Allen; Denton, Robert E. Jr. (2010). Communicator-in-Chief: How Barack Obama Used New Media Technology to Win the White House. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books. ISBN 978-0-7391-4107-6.
  • Baumgartner, Jody C.; Morris, Jonathan S. (2010). "Who Wants to Be My Friend?". Communicator-in-Chief. pp. 51–66.
  • Harfoush, Rahaf (2009). Yes We Did: An Inside Look at How Social Media Built the Obama Brand. Berkeley, California: New Riders—Peachpit. ISBN 978-0-321-63153-4.


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