Friday, April 3, 2009

President Obama Webcasts Press Conference

Last week President Obama held a press conference and took questions from a virtual audience in a video webcast.

According to an article written by Chris Lefkow on Yahoo, 67,000 watched the webcast live. The White House website was open for questions for 36 hours before the press conference. 3,607,837 votes were cast for 104,129 submitted questions.

The President answered seven of those questions. One of them was about the legalization of marijuana. Some groups banded together and used the opportunity of this process to submit a high number of questions about that topic, and the despite the fact that vetters tried to avoid that issue, President Obama weighed in with a firm no.

My point has nothing to do with the politics of marijuana.

If I can be so bold as to be self-referential, my first post on this blog was to equate the power of webcasting technology to that of the printing press. The printing press broke the monopoly of a relative few (for example, monks) who had the ability to publish the written word and decide which books were worthy of reproduction and distribution (most often, the bible). The printing press made publishing accessible to the masses.

Regardless of one's politics regarding the issue, I think everyone would agree that those who favor legalizing marijuana are not in the "main stream" or among the more influential interest groups in this country. Yet the President of the United States specifically addressed their question.

The Washington DC press corps is not going to ask that question - rightly or wrongly. But the webcast by-passed the traditional media filter and brought the concerns of this group of people to the attention of our country's chief executive.

How does that translate to the corporate world? Well, what is the value of getting real feedback from the rank and file? What corporation would not benefit from taking their executives out of the bubble on the 40th floor and exposing them to the concerns of the people at the sharp end of the spear?

What is the value of a corporate culture? Most companies do a poor job of communicating and maintaining a corporate culture from the top down. But the best companies leverage webcasting to enable communications from the bottom up and include that feedback in the corporate culture.

There are perhaps a few hundred journalists with access to the President. These journalists are the only way 300,000,000 Americans can hold their leadership accountable between elections. That is, until last Thursday when webcasting allowed the people to submit questions to their President and their President decided to answer them.

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