There is no denying it: Obama and his PR team are social media mavens.
The State of the Union took place this past month and I was once again impressed by Obama's ability to reach and engage Millennials. I don't own a TV. Like many Millennials, I don't see the point when information should be accessible and in many cases is through streaming and social media. So, I briefed myself on it through a combination of Snapchat (surprisingly, my first source for this event), Washington Post (delivered to my inbox), Facebook posts, and reading the official text on Medium. The transparency and accessibility that might have been impossible a few administrations ago is now the expectation. But it goes beyond that.
Throughout Obama's time in office, the administration has made huge strides in engaging Millennials. I am often asked by talent acquisition professionals, recruiters and organizational leaders how to build relationships with Millennials, especially using today's social media tools. Corporate leaders and organizations can learn a lot from Obama.
Let me break down the top four lessons learned, walking you through the SOTU as a great example.
No. 4: Using Social Media Purposefully
Obama and his team don't just use social media to have a presence. They use it purposefully to provide a window into the inner workings of the administration and to cultivate conversation. For example, after the SOTU, the president sat down with three Youtube stars for interviews (lucky them!). He also made the SOTU speech text available on Medium, a rising publication platform for thought leadership, before the actual event. The strategic use of Medium, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and Snapchat is to be envied. Another extremely smart move is the partnership the White House struck with Amazon to stream the SOTU, making it available to anyone post-event for free.
No. 3: Cultivates Conversation
Another way Obama wins with Millennials is his effort to cultivate conversation. Every touch point, from the SOTU website to each social media channel, is punctuated by a request for the viewer's thoughts. Whereas many leaders' blogs may be closed for comments, Obama's blog on Medium is wide open. For the SOTU address, his blog garnered 1,700 recommendations and 268 comments (and counting). Granted, any good politician's job is to get feedback from their constituents. However, it shouldn't be so different for organizations. The lesson to leaders is to let go of the fear of negative commentary and questions. As we Millennials say, there are always going to be haters. With the exception of any illegal or immoral activity, I expect Obama's biggest fear is not bad conversation, but having no conversation about his efforts. It is then that we descend into obsolescence.
No. 2: Advocate for Change
Throughout his time in office, Obama has appealed to Millennials' appreciation for change. It has been at the forefront of his message. In the SOTU address, he stated:
Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change; who promised to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control. And each time, we overcame those fears. We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the "dogmas of the quiet past." Instead we thought anew, and acted anew.
For Millennials who often hear the mantra in their workplaces "It's always been done this way", Obama's consistent advocacy for change is inspiring. Right or wrong from a policy perspective, it cannot be denied that Obama has pursued significant changes.
No. 1: Relatability
Number one on this list is that hands down, Obama is relatable, certainly the most relatable President in my (Millennial-sized) lifetime. Whereas I couldn't relate to the Bush family (despite being from Texas) or Clinton, I can relate to Obama. The reason lies in his ability to reveal intimate moments to the masses, whether through his dance moves, dry humor or allowing Snapchat users to provide an inside look at SOTU.
And for this final one, I'm going to try to make it shorter. I know some of you are antsy to get back to Iowa.
For those of you who missed the SOTU on Snapchat, here's a few images from a more intimate perspective.
Being a leader is a lonely job. One of the greatest challenges a leader faces is maintaining distance, yet exuding a "one of you" persona so people will follow. That's why we are attracted to shows like Undercover Boss, because we need reassurance that our leaders know what it's like to be one of us, have been there and done that. Obama makes being President look like, not just a tough, incomprehensible job, but an occasionally fun one too -- one that maybe a Gen Z kid somewhere out there wants to be someday.
As Obama works on his strategies to guide the nation in his final year of office, I encourage you to think of your communication strategies for 2016. You may not be the POTUS, but no matter where you sit in your organization, you have significant impact, especially on younger employees joining your organization. Your ability to connect with today's talent matters. It makes the difference between staying in the organization or leaving and whether to join at all, in the first place.
Crystal Kadakia is a lauded speaker, author, thought leader, and consultant for Millennials, Multi-Generational Workplace, and Modernizing the Workplace. She is considered a unique resource and requested by executives and organizations to bring practicality and rigor to applying Millennial insights in today's world.