Obama Using New Media to Reach Ghanaians



Watch or listen to President Obama's speech from Ghana live beginning at 1230 UTC, Saturday, 11 July

President Barack Obama arrives in Ghana Friday on his first trip to Sub-Saharan Africa since assuming the presidency and once again Mr. Obama will make widespread use of emerging information technologies to reach out to as many people as possible. Mr. Obama made the use of the internet and other technologies a mainstay of his campaign for the White House and he has continued that trend on trips overseas.

Traditional radio and TV outlets in Ghana are trumpeting President Barack Obama's two-day visit to their country, hoping it will mark a turning point in their history.

Back in Washington, Mr. Obama's new media team is hard at work figuring out how to get the president's message to as many Africans as possible using more high tech methods.

Macon Phillips is the president's director for new media. He explains how even in Ghana people are using popular social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to interact and ask the president questions.  

Phillips says the goal behind this strategy is to allow more people abroad to voice their opinion about the United States.

"I think that it's less about trying to market the President in a positive way, but it's more about having a conversation and real engagement with people that hasn't happened before," Phillips said.

Obama has used technology and his popularity abroad to his advantage.

In Cairo last month, the White House also translated President Obama's speech into 13 languages and disseminated it by e-mail and web video worldwide.

Phillips says he's has had to learn a lot about how different cultures get their information.

"There is a big difference in the way people consume information across the world, so what is really popular in Asia is very different than the United States and is very different than Africa, or Europe, or really there's so much variety out there," Phillips said. "One of the most exciting things about Africa is how comfortable people are with their phones."

Phillips explains how Africans can send messages to a specific number on their phone, known as a short code.

"If you're in Africa and you want to send a message to the president, you want to ask him a question, welcome him to Africa, or just comment on things in general, you can use the following short codes... If you're in Ghana the short code is 1731," he said.

A state visit by the president is not just about pomp and closed-door meetings anymore, it's a chance for participation.

Be it criticism or praise, Phillips says this feedback from people in different countries will help President Obama shape his foreign policy.

Ghana: 1731
Nigeria: 32969
South Africa: 31958
Kenya: 5683

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