Jenna Brayton Discusses President Obama's Digital Communication Strategies

Jenna Brayton
, who served as Associate Director of Content for the Obama White House Office of Digital Strategy, addressed a capacity crowd of students at last night’s Symposia.   Her topic was “The First Digital White House:  A YouTube Presidency, Hashtag Activism, and the Significance of the Shift to the Internet.” 

Ms. Brayton shared with the audience the sweeping and swift changes that have taken place in digital communications between the end of the George W. Bush Administration and the onset of Obama’s.  The Bush Administration communicated mainly through “binders” of papers.  For example, Secretary of State under President Bush, Condoleeza Rice said in 2000 that she seldom used her email address.   Fast forward eight years to the Obama Administration, which was the first administration to have a Digital Strategy office (alongside a Communications Office).   Much of this was driven by vast changes in technology that took place since the Bush years, but also by President Obama’s eagerness to embrace social media.  In fact, Ms. Brayton shared that President Obama has avidly embraced digital platforms to reach a wider base of citizens.  He was the first president with a Twitter account, and he set a world record (broken soon after by Caitlyn Jenner) for establishing one million followers in a little over four hours on Twitter.  


Ms. Brayton answers questions after her talk to a prospective studentMs. Brayton discussed how her team in the Digital Strategy Office facilitated President Obama’s desire to have a strong social media presence.  She showed segments of his appearance on YouTube star sites (such as Swoozie and GloZell’s) as well as internet shows such as “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” with Jerry Seinfeld, and “Between Two Ferns” with Zach Galifianakis.  These internet platforms allowed President Obama to reach a younger demographic of citizens who don’t normally tune into television news shows or read newspapers.  For example, his interview with GloZell in the White House reached her over four million followers.   Another initiative the Digital Strategy Office successfully employed was its $40 hashtag campaign on Obama’s Twitter account to extend the payroll tax cut that Republicans in the House wanted to eliminate (the tax cut amounted to $40 per two week paycheck).   The White House asked its 2.6 million followers what $40 a paycheck meant to them.  The response was overwhelming, with over 2,000 tweets per hour.  The groundswell from Twitter thwarted Republicans efforts to eliminate the payroll tax cut.

 Ms. Brayton shared other examples of the enormous reach that social media has in reaching citizens and how the Office of Digital Strategy continues to think creatively of ways of tapping into diverse social media and internet platforms to advance the President’s agenda.  She also discussed how social media sites are increasingly setting the agenda for the traditional news media to follow.  At the same time, she acknowledged the valid concerns critics have raised about presidential appearances on social media sites.   For example, while Obama’s interview with GloZell may have increased his accessibility and visibility to the people, does it come at the expense of the dignity of the office?   She also engaged the question if raising awareness campaigns on social media (dismissed by critics as “slacktivism”) have the same impact as traditional forms of on-the-ground activism.  These are questions that students were asked to wrestle with themselves  after this very lively and informative talk. 


Wednesday Symposia on Sustainability: Conservation and Creativity 

Paul Thiele, Ph.D., is a political theorist teaching about sustainability at the University of Florida where he is the Director of the Center for Adaptive Innovation, Resilience, Ethics and Science (UF CAIRES) and the author of the book, SUSTAINABILITY, which won the Choice award for Outstanding Academic Title.  Professor Thiele spoke to a group of about 75 students and faculty at the March 2nd Wednesday Night Symposium event  which was co-sponsored with the AAP Environmental Programs.   After discussing how sustainability is typically viewed as a 3-legged stool dependent upon: “planet, people and profit” (i.e., the environment, society and the economy), Thiele suggested the need for a “fourth leg” which he calls “cultural creativity.”  This emphasizes the critical importance of how humans take opportunities to engage, enrich and innovate to address any challenges they face.  Thiele suggests that we can live sustainably in a fast-changing world by employing 3 practical principles – “practiples” as he calls them:  1) There is no away; 2) Diversity serves resilience; and 3) Sufficient is beautiful.  To understand more, please view the recording of his talk or read his award winning book.



College Presidents Should Come from Academia

Dr. Benjamin Ginsberg, Chair of the Center for Advanced Governmental Studies, has a new opinion piece in the New York Times in response to the question of whether university presidents should come from academia or the the corporate world.  Ginsberg, in "College Presidents Should Come from Academia," argues that business people's management style, practical skills focus and customer-centric orientation renders them "unprepared and unqualified to manage a university."  Ginsberg writes:

University professors, conversely, make informed presidents. Indeed, most of the founders of America’s great universities were liberal arts professors. Cornell’s founder and first president, A.D. White, was an English professor. Johns Hopkins’s founder and first president, Daniel Coit Gilman, was a geography professor. The University of Chicago’s founder and first president, William Rainey Harper, was a professor of Greek, Latin and Hebrew.

Not a single one of these entrepreneurial scholars held an M.B.A. degree.

Read the full article here.


Chief Data Officer, HHS OIG Speaks at GAB Forum

This month, we were delighted to hear from Dr. Caryl Brzymialkiewicz, Assistant Inspector General/Chief Data Officer, HHS at the Government Analytics Breakfast Forum.  Dr. Brzymialkiewicz provided insight into how HHS uses analytics to reduce healthcare fraud, waste and abuse.

Perhaps surprisingly, HHS OIG oversees a $1 trillion portfolio.  The office is charged with auditing, evaluating, investigating and providing counsel.  Dr.  Brzymialkiewicz, OIG's Chief Data Officer, relies on data and analytics to assist OIG with advancing its mission.

Dr.  Brzymialkiewicz emphasized the importance of soft skills when conducting analytic work.  She explained that an amazing analysis is worthless if the researcher does not communicate its meaning and implications to varied audiences.  Often the communication of analytic results is greatly enhanced with visualizations.  Mapping data, in particular, is a great way to convey the key takeaway from an analysis in a way that "clicks" with a lot of people.  

Dr.  Brzymialkiewicz also spoke about the impotance of creating communities of practice in which analysts can discuss challenges they're facing and innovations in the field.  Deriving meaningful, actionable results from data requires collaboration and a multidisciplinary approach.  Further, she emphasized the need to speak "truth to power" -- if an analyst uncovers an important truth in the data, she should stand by the findings and communicate them effectively to key decision makers.

A recording of the event can be viewed here.

Please join us for our next event on April 13 featuring Alvaro Bedoya, Executive Director of the Center on Privacy and Technology, who will discuss the government's use of facial recognition techniques.


Ben Ginsberg and the Worth of War

Dr. Benjamin Ginsberg, Chair of the Center for Advanced Governmental Studies, was interviewed by To the Best of Our Knowledge about his recent book, The Worth of War.  You can listen to the interview or download it here

The interview will air on NPR this weekend.  For local listings, click here.