It’s the biggest political event in a non-election year in US politics, certainly the biggest speech, and presumably a pretty big deal Comms-wise for the good people of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. On Tuesday, President Obama delivered his State of the Union address to Congress. And this is part of what it looks like online:

State of the Union page on

There, right there. That’s digital engagement.

I can only imagine there’s a vast team behind the scenes who have been working for weeks on this, given just how much they’ve managed to put together:

  • There’s an enhanced video, with the full speech alongside contextual content and explanations, and even stuff to keep you interested during the handshaking
  • There’s a round-up of coverage of the speech on the White House blog
  • There’s pre-scheduled Q&As via YouTube or Twitter with a range of senior staff across the main policy topics, continuing for two or three days after the main event
  • There’s a vast array of partnerships with external online communities, from to AOL Health, to promote and source questions for the policy-focussed roundtables
  • There’s ‘fun’ stuff (well, you’re not here to play Angry Birds…) in the form of a rollover sidebar profiling the special guests sitting with the First Lady, and some trivia about the event
  • Email is a priority, with the White House’s mailing list promoted in a big box top-left, and again at the foot of the page
  • The content is shareable, with a good hashtag and branded short domain and some great content on Facebook that somehow feels like it’s giving you the behind-the-scenes, human context of the event
  • There’s a mobile app, if you’re the kind of American who likes the latest from the White House in your pocket at all times

It’s not good because there’s a lot of it. It’s good because:

  • It’s integrated: a microsite tightly associated and branded within its parent site, with meaningful links to corporate presences in social media and plenty of calls to action to signup for email, share, learn, ask and – most elegantly – ‘RSVP’ for a discussion
  • It’s connected: to a range of off-site partners, balancing a great corporate site with the effort made to bring in new audiences via simple requests on sites like
  • It’s high quality social content: the team have invested effort in making the online experience more than you’d get from TV: the context, the opportunities to interact and share, all enhance the experience
  • It’s focused on people: this isn’t engagement for its own sake – there’s a range of seemingly genuine opportunities to discuss the issues raised with important people in Obama’s government

This takes effort and resource, digital vision and political commitment. None of it is particularly challenging technically, but to have delivered it is a huge achievement in terms of communications strategy.

It feels like we’re miles away from this in the UK at the moment.

Even our biggest and brightest official digital platforms struggle to respond to the demands of this kind of project. Politicians – of all kinds, I suspect – and their senior officials and comms strategists aren’t geared up for or believers in interaction in these kinds of ways. And even when digital engagement is done well, it’s not done with the degree of polish or integration with email and social media channels that the White House achieves – look what you get in your inbox when you sign up to the WH email list, for example:

There are good examples – the Treasury’s work around the Spending Review, and the FCO’s Q&A with the Foreign Secretary are pretty impressive, to be fair. Doing digital engagement well means having the focus to develop great content, integrating channels really well and bridge-building internally with the senior people who have the credibility to make it happen, as well as externally with the communities who have the audiences to bring it to life.

To quote the President:

Let’s seize this moment — to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our digital engagement once more.  (Applause.)

Check that one against delivery, maybe.

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