President Barack Obama’s inauguration marked the beginning of a new era, which included the launch of a dramatically overhauled White House Web site. President Obama wasted no time ensuring that the official site, WhiteHouse.gov, represented a continuation of his campaign’s masterful use of the Internet and social media.
During President Obama’s first month in office, it seemed like the overhaul had paid off with unique visitors to WhiteHouse.gov reaching an all-time high. However, as the novelty of having an Internet-savvy administration seemed to wear off, so did the visitation rate, leaving one to wonder if the revamped WhiteHouse.gov will actually become the effective tool for communicating with the public that the President hopes it to be.
On its own, the decline in Web site traffic doesn’t seem to be that surprising or interesting a finding. Site launch, followed by a surge in traffic and then a steep decline in unique visitors mirrors the trajectory of visitation to brand Web sites and online discussion after a large-scale (i.e. Super Bowl-level) campaign.
Interestingly though, Web traffic alone does not tell the whole story when it comes to WhiteHouse.gov. While some might see the drop-off in visitors as evidence of a gradually disengaging public, there’s more going on with these numbers. Despite the decrease in March, those visitors that did come were actually spending more time on the Web site than in January and February. The online town hall meeting on March 26 proved to be successful in engaging visitors on the site, as individuals submitted votes and viewed the meeting online.
So what does it mean that fewer people are spending more time at WhiteHouse.gov? From the corporate world, we know that a well-run online campaign thrives on two fronts—attracting new visitors and maintaining an active and engaged user base. Because time spent on a Web site is a key indicator of engagement, it is clear that while one front of interest has dwindled (i.e. traffic), another is beginning to blossom (i.e. engagement). Having dedicated visitors who are willing to spend time and engage with the site is certainly an encouraging sign for an administration that has expressed a desire to communicate its policies directly to the people.
Of course, WhiteHouse.gov is not the only resource for those interested in learning more about the Administration, and it wouldn’t be fair to assess engagement without also considering these other destinations. The Administration provides many avenues for communication, reaching consumers where they are already congregating. The official YouTube channel has received over 21 million views, President Obama’s Twitter account boasts over 800,000 followers and his official Facebook page has attracted over 6 million supporters to date.
But despite all of the social media activity, WhiteHouse.gov is perhaps the most compelling example of President Obama’s vision because it is a site that his administration controls as opposed to a third-party site. Frequenting the official site illustrates a level of effort and commitment that is not required when following President Obama on Twitter or becoming a supporter of his Facebook page. While it is hard to say definitively at this point, engagement on WhiteHouse.gov may prove to be the Administration's most valuable online metric in the long-run.
As we continue to follow President Obama’s online presence, it will be interesting to see just how much of an impact the retooled White House Web site is actually having and how President Obama’s strategy adapts to the ever-changing, online landscape.