Michelle Obama 360

Michelle Obama 360


Fantastic. Look at that. Stunning. That’s
lovely, tipping your head like that. Look at that. Fantastic. Really cool shot. Technology has impacted American’s relationship
with government for 240 years. We’ve gone from stump speeches given on actual stumps
to radio, to television, and now the internet. And things are moving faster than ever: when
Barack Obama took office in 2008, he was proudly known as the first “BlackBerry president.”
But that BlackBerry isn’t exactly proof of being tech savvy anymore. His administration
has had to rapidly embrace platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. The public
is more engaged with government in more ways than ever before. But its Michelle Obama whose taken it even
farther. With her initiatives aimed specifically at young people, she’s pursued even newer
tools like Vine, Instagram, Snapchat, and Periscope. The First Lady’s office has stood
at the forefront of the changes the White House has faced online, while still balancing
her strategy with a unique authenticity. Somehow, Michelle Obama is a politician who’s remained
cool. We had the chance to speak with Michelle and
her communications director Caroline Adler about how they pulled that off. Nilay: So, in less than a decade, it’s been
an enormous amount of change, how did you think about handling that change, why did
you decide to so aggressively embrace social media? FLOTUS: If you think about the campaign, this
Presidency, we were always striving to be cutting edge nowadays, this generation, they’re
not watching nightly news, they’re not reading the newspapers, they’re not watching the Sunday
morning shows, they’re on their phones. So we had to start thinking of creative and fun
ways to connect with those folks. Because what we understood was this generation, they’re
looking for authenticity, they’re looking for what feels real and natural, so I knew
that my issues had to be real and natural to me if I was going to be anyway compelling
to the audiences that we were trying to reach. So that’s been refreshing. so people can
get to know me directly. they can see that im kinda silly some times, that i care, they
can feel the passion. they don’t have to have that filtered through another source.
And young people, in particular, like that. It’s true. In so much of what Michelle does
online, she seems authentic and natural. It could be her dunking on the Miami Heat with
Lebron James. Or hanging out with a few Vine superstars. Or rapping with Jay Pharoah. In
each of these, it feels like she’s having fun. But behind the scenes, a lot of work goes
into what she says and and what platforms she uses to say it. The First Lady has four
initiatives she and her team promote. Each requires a different approach to find the
right audience on the right platform. So something as simple as turning up with a turnip takes
a lot of planning. Nilay: When you are planning to do something
on Vine, when you’re planning to do something on Instagram, how does that idea come up,
how did Turnip For What happen? Walk me through that. FLOTUS: The beauty is, I’m surround by a lot
of millennials, so I usually get ideas from my team. Caroline Adler: And it’s often about, what
is the the strategic priority, what is the strategic goal that we want to achieve. So
each of the First Lady’s four initiatives: Let’s Move, Joining Forces, Reach Higher,
and Let Girls Learn, each have a goal, and they have a different audience, and when we’re
looking at our goal for each initiative, at a certain time, we wonder, “Well, what’s the
platform that will serve us best?” So, for Turnip For What. So that was actually a product
of the First Lady’s first Vine Q&A. Vine: Hey its Michelle Obama I’m excited to
answer your questions. Question: Mrs. Obama, what’s your favorite
fall veggie? FLOTUS: My favorite fall vegetable is a sweet
potato. Question: My name is Jordon, How do you get
kids to work out when they don’t want to? FLOTUS: I remind kids that working out is
just like playing. Question: On average, how many calories do
you burn every time you Turn Up? FLOTUS: Turnip for what? *music* You know, we want to make healthy eating and
active kids part of the conversation. And it was all because we started out wanting
to have a conversation on platforms where our audience lived. So that was Vine. Nilay: So who had that idea? Was that your
idea? Was that the President’s idea? Did Lil Jon call you?
FLOTUS: No, no – one of our team, you know. And it helped that, what helps with me and
the President is that we’re connected enough to pop culture that I know who Lil Jon is,
I know the song, my kids are singing it, so when somebody says “Why don’t we do Turnip
For What?” I get it immediately, and I was like “OK, that could be cute”. Nilay: One thing that strikes me about all
of this, which I think is fascinating is that the tools that you use to create the media
are the same tools that the public is now using to both consume what you create and
also to create their own media, they’re intimately familiar with how to use Snapchat, they’re
intimately familiar with how to use Instagram. I think that’s really changed the nature of
the communication, and I think it’s changed the nature of politics. Do you see that, has
it changed how you approach being First Lady at all? FLOTUS: What we learned is that we have to
be nimble. You can’t sort of be stuck in the way things we done or the way we did things
even in the first term, because the social media platforms are ever changing and you’ve
gotta be ready to move and shift with them. My whole goal, the question that I ask myself,
that our team, we ask ourselves, is “What’s gonna work? What’s gonna move the needle,
what’s gonna change the conversation” because what we talked about even coming in is that
we don’t want to be an administration, a Presidency that’s just into meaningless slogans. We want
to do things that are actually going to change people’s lives, and the only way to do that
is to constantly make those shifts so that the message is getting directly to the people
you’re trying to reach. And if that means Vine, alright, let’s bring some of the VIV’ers
in here and lets do some fun stuff with them, if that’s what young people are listening
to. If we want to get more people into the White House and have them access the people’s
house, well then let’s use virtual videos to open up these tours so that millions of
people who can never come and see these rooms have the opportunity to do it. That’s the
beauty of this administration. We have all these wonderful tools to just open things
up more and more, and it’s been so much fun doing it.
Caroline Adler: One thing I would add is, it’s a little known fact, the First Lady’s
office doesn’t have any Congressional authority or any independent funding.
FLOTUS: We got nothing. Caroline Adler: We got nothing. Except a great
principle. FLOTUS: And a good team. Other than that…
Caroline Adler: We want to have impact, we want to open the White House, and you want
to move the needle on all of the initiatives, that have become hallmarks of this office,
social media is a great opportunity for that, and I think that you’d, I hope you would agree
the next people who are here, it expands the office, it expands the impact that you can
have without those other resources. But even though there’s so much good to
be found online, there’s also a lot of bad. These new platforms can be used for abuse.
And the past few years have seen people, particularly woman, people of color, and other underrepresented
groups, who suffer the kind of harassment that silences them. It’s something The Verge and I take very
seriously. It’s why our parent company Vox Media teamed up with Intel and others to launch
#HackHarassment, a way to work with social platforms to safeguard their users from online
abuse. Nilay: What do you think platforms like Instagram,
Facebook, Twitter, can do to stop this problem. FLOTUS: And as a mom, this is one of the things
that I worry about, because we were talking about this the other day in the office, it’s
just, these platforms, not only do you bypass the middle man, but with young people, you
can bypass the parent. My kids first connection to social media happened without me involved,
because they can get their phones and they can tap into this stuff, and they’re using
it, before you even know. So the truth is these kids have access at younger and younger
ages to these platforms with no real guidelines on how to use it, because that’s sort of the
point. We want them to get in there and figure it out. But when you’re talking about really
young kids, they don’t know what they’re using, it’s like giving a twelve year old the keys
to the car and going “Just see what happens. Get out there on the road, figure it out.”
And bad stuff can happen. So one of the things I hope that the social media platforms, all
you guys can get together and help teach these kids all the many positive ways that they
can use these platforms, because there are so many. Make those positive uses trendier.
Get your hottest celebrities and start figuring out different ways that you can use Instagram
to highlight good stuff, and that that becomes how these tools are used, and kids will follow
those trends. because they will follow trends, they will
do what’s cool, it’s just, you guys have to make the right thing cool.
Nilay: Well, you’ve been helping out a lot, doing cool stuff.
FLOTUS: Yeah, we’ll keep doing it. Nilay: So you’ve got one year left: what do
you want to accomplish this year, what kind of legacy do you want to leave particularly
with communicating with young people? FLOTUS: This platform is so unique. We will
never have this again. The White House, this experience, social media allows the country
to grow with the White House, we, or the White House to grow with the country. You know,
there are constant changes, young people expect and want something different from their leadership.
And social media gives us the tools to stay connected and to again, be flexible and to
reach people where they need to be reached so they get the messages and understand the
policies that we are desperately trying to implement. You can’t do it now without this
kind of connection. So we’re going to spend these 12 months on
every single issue, making sure we’re driving to the very end.

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