The feeds of Twitter are the new marble halls of Congress, at least for the influence set.
President Barack Obama held the first presidential Twitter town hall Wednesday, and lobbying and advocacy groups took to the social media site to barrage the commander in chief with questions, comments and pressure points.
A rapid succession of tweets with the #AskObama hashtag started accumulating hours before Obama started answering questions at 2 p.m. for the event, which focused on jobs and the economy.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce adopted a multimedia approach to urge Americans to ask the president: “Will you help businesses and free enterprise create #jobs by getting government out of the way?”
The chamber reached out to pro-business activists through Facebook, Twitter advertisements, emails, blog and website postings, and the old-fashioned telephone. A news release explained that the chamber “will be the first to use Twitter’s brand new ad platform in a high-profile advocacy effort. A significant buy of promoted accounts and tweets will ensure we’re seen and heard by millions.”
“Social media is changing the world around us, and today you’ll see that the world’s largest business federation hasn’t missed a byte,” Nick Schaper, the business group’s executive director for digital strategy, added on a chamber blog post.
The chamber’s effort, according to early estimates, resulted in nearly half a million tweets, including some from first-time Twitter users, according to Schaper.
“That’s one of the reasons we wanted to make a concerted push to get involved here,” he said. “We’re going to meet a lot of users that are here for the first time.”
But it wasn’t just big business clogging the White House’s Twitter feed in the hopes of flashing talking points before the president.
Community health centers, a potential target of government funding cuts, ramped up their Twitter activism for the town hall.
“We have under way a massive grass-roots mobilization effort,” said Amy Simmons, director of communications for the National Association of Community Health Centers.
The health centers’ suggested questions included, “What is your commitment to protect and expand health centers this year and in the future?” and “With job loss comes loss of insurance, how will Community Health Centers be protected and expanded to provide access?”
The community health centers, which currently serve about 23 million Americans, are slated to double their patient roster, Simmons said. “We have experienced a skyrocketing uninsured patient population,” she added. “Because the health centers rely on public support to survive, they are increasingly relying on the social media tools out there to survive.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.