Last month, Adele made history when she said “hello” again to music. Now the leader of the free world is also making history by saying “hello” – this time to Facebook.
President Barack Obama on Monday became the first sitting U.S. president to join the social media network, where he used his first post to raise awareness of the dangers of climate change. “We’ve got to preserve this beautiful planet of ours for our kids and grandkids,” Obama says in a video recorded during one of his regular pre-dinner strolls through the White House's South Lawn. Prior to highlighting global warming on Facebook, the president took over the White House’s Instagram account to document the environmental issues raised during his trip to the Arctic Circle.
The White House launched Obama’s Facebook page nearly six months to the day after his Twitter account went up on May 18. Both moves highlight what it means to be a president in a digital age when historic forms of White House communication – like the president’s weekly radio address – have less impact amid a fragmented media landscape. “Ultimately, what all of this is about is finding ways to communicate with people in a time when media has become so disaggregated that simply communicating through the traditional means is woefully insufficient,” Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to the president, said in an article profiling Obama’s digital team published on Sunday by the New York Times.
Obama’s Facebook page also provides a way for the commander-in-chief to engage directly with the American people in a newer and arguably more intimate way than before. "The president is committed to making his administration the most open and participatory in history, and this page will offer Americans a new venue to share their thoughts with the President on the issues that they care about the most,” Kori Schulman, Obama’s deputy director of digital strategy, wrote in a blog post announcing the launch of the president’s Facebook page on Monday.
The White House’s new digital presence is in keeping with the times, as more consumers get their news first on social media. A record 63% of Americans said Facebook and Twitter served as a news source for them in a 2015 survey from the Pew Research Center. “At a time when nearly three in four adults online use Facebook, this feels like a great place to do it,” Obama notes in his first video on the site.
And that place is growing fast. The president’s Facebook page garnered more than 26,000 likes -- and the video more than 78,000 views -- in it's first hour of existence. After six months, his Twitter account has gained more than 5 million followers.
Schulman's got more planned for the future, too -- videos and posts exclusively from the president, as well as some mysterious "fun" content that Obama teased in his first video Monday. Among those who commented on the president’s first post was Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who wrote: “Welcome to Facebook, President Obama! Excited for you to have your very own Page - and looking forward to the conversation (and the just-for-fun stuff).”