Obama’s community organizer roots pay off

Jonathan Karl, Richard Coolidge, and Jordyn Phelps
Power Players
Obama’s community organizer roots pay off

Politics Confidential

Former White House Director of Digital Strategy Macon Phillips sees potential for the White House to communicate effectively in even the darkest corners of the Internet. He says the infamous “Death Star” petition to the White House resulted in more than just a clever official White House response.

“We put into our answer all the things that, in fact, we were investing in,” Phillips said. “There's a program that NASA puts out called Spot the Station, that if you sign up, when the U.S. space station is above you, you get a text message.

“That's a program that got 10,000 click-throughs through our petition response,” he said.

Phillips first joined the Obama campaign in 2008 and has since led digital innovations in the White House such as Twitter Town Halls, Reddit “Ask Me Anythings” and Google Hangouts.

Under Phillips, the White House launched “We the People,” a site where citizens can create online petitions directly to the White House. If a petition gets enough support within a certain timeframe, the White House will issue an official response.

“Right now, we've had over 10 million people create over 15 million signatures on about a quarter million petitions,” Phillips told “Politics Confidential” on the White House North Lawn.

Phillips said one of the strengths of “We the People” is that the White House is able to better inform the public through their official responses.

“We're able to tap into things that people find really interesting and present them alternative things that they may not may not have known about,” he said.

Phillips said it is evident that President Obama understands the value of social media in his administration.

“For me to say he’s open to it would be, I think less persuasive than me to show you four and a half years, five years of our track record, of taking risks and doing interesting things,” Phillips said.

Phillips traces Obama’s understanding of social media to his roots as a community organizer.

“What we accomplish as a digital perspective on the campaigns really flows from who the president is, fundamentally, and what his history is as a community organizer, and someone who fundamentally believes in public engagement,” he said.

Now Phillips has left his post at the White House, moving to the State Department to develop new strategies to for America to digitally engage with foreign audiences.

To hear more about Phillips’ digital endeavors in the White House, including the most popular questions during Obama’s Twitter town hall, check out this episode of “Politics Confidential.”

ABC’s  Alexandra Dukakis, Michael Conte, Kyle Blaine, Tom D'Annibale and Shari Thomas contributed to this episode.