The Day I Made President Obama (More) Famous

Back in April 2014 a client hired me for a ‘special’ job – generate social media buzz for President Obama’s visit to Malaysia.

As part of a trip around the region in support of an organization that he created called the Young South East Leaders Initiative (YSEALI), he would be having a town hall talk at one of the local universities to the YSEALI delegates, invited guests and dignitaries.

Working with my client and the US State Department, the brief was clear: make President Obama trend on Twitter the day of the town hall speech.

Why Twitter? Because that was the channel being tracked by the State Department back in America and their preferred social media channel of choice.

How hard could it be?

For those who don’t know, the President of the United States goes by the Twitter handle @POTUS and the topic hashtag of #POTUS, so people naturally use these in their online conversations.

This was going to be easy I thought to myself – just get the public to do my work for me!

And then came the kicker, that’s not how the State Department were going to track this campaign.

They had created a new channel called #YSEALITALK for the duration of the convention.

A channel that nobody was using and I only had 3 days to get it donethis was going to be tricky.

Seed The Idea

Knowing the challenges ahead I knew my first step was to start getting people using the channel hashtag (#YSEALTALK) as soon as possible, in the days before @POTUS arrived in Malaysia.

The YSEALI delegation was made up of about 200 delegates from around the region so this is where I started. As part of their welcome brief, they were told the following:

“Please mention @YSEALI and #YSEALITALK whenever you can when sharing your activities over the next few days J”

Live updates of keynote talks from guest speakers were quickly shared on Facebook and Twitter, getting the conversation going online.

Connecting With Influencers

Some people have bigger personalitiles and followings online that others, that’s just how things are – these people were the ones I wanted to get in touch with.

These ‘influencers’ were asked to help mention both the official Twitter handle and #YSEALITALK to their networks as often as they could, increasing the reach further still.

They included:

  • Keynote speakers who were popular social entrepreneurs in their own right
  • High profile delegates who already had an online following
  • Every US Embassy in South East Asia was asked to participate and share or retweet whatever they could

In particular we were focused on the local delegates and keynote speakers, because it’s always easier to trend locally when most of the sharing is done in a single country.

All the pieces were now in place.

Greetings Mr. President

By the time President Obama rolled into tow, I had been sharing great ‘sound bites’ from the various keynote presentations going on across the 3 day convention.

Each of those sound bites were being reposted and retweeted under the topic #YSEALITALK through delegates and influencers around the region.

Come the day of the town hall talk, all that was left to do was continue the conversation with great sound bites provided by @POTUS himself – President Obama is one of the best speakers I have ever heard speak live.

Slowly the public, who had no access to what was going on unless they tuned in to specific live video feeds, started doing searches for @POTUS and #POTUS which was being mentioned next to @YSEALI and #YSEALITALK.

The trickle of retweets slowly became a flood and before long, we started trending.


Mission accomplished.

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