Obama, who’s known for his social media savvy, held the first-​​ever Twitter Town Hall meeting last week, where he answered the public’s ques­tions about taxes, jobs and the economy. Dan Kennedy, an asso­ciate pro­fessor of jour­nalism, is an expert in news reporting and social net­works. Here, he dis­cusses Obama’s choice to engage the public through Twitter, and the use of social media by pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates and journalists.

Why did Pres­i­dent Obama run the Town Hall meeting through Twitter, as opposed to television?

Pres­i­dent Obama’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions folks have been forward-​​looking in their use of digital-​​media tools since the 2008 cam­paign, and last week’s Town Hall meeting was another example of that. It was an effec­tive demon­stra­tion of social media’s reach, but it was also gim­micky. After all, the pres­i­dent got to pick the ques­tions, and he used them to repeat his oft-​​stated talking points. I also wish he hadn’t diluted the public-​​participation aspect of the event by taking ques­tions from House Speaker John Boehner and New York Times colum­nist Nicholas Kristof.

What role will social media play in the 2012 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign? How will that affect a candidate’s dis­sem­i­na­tion of his or her mes­sage through tra­di­tional media, like news­pa­pers and TV ads?

Pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates — and pres­i­dents — always try to find ways to make use of tra­di­tional media, which still reach the widest number of people, and to com­mu­ni­cate directly with the public. I have no doubt that all of the can­di­dates will put con­sid­er­able effort into social media as the 2012 cam­paign ramps up. That said, I’m not sure how many will feel com­fort­able with the decen­tral­ized, par­tic­i­pa­tory ethos that make social media so pow­erful. But a top-​​down strategy of con­trol­ling the mes­sage will alienate the very grass­roots activists a pres­i­den­tial cam­paign needs to catch fire.

How much do jour­nal­ists rely on Twitter and other social net­working plat­forms for tips and sources for their news stories?

There are still plenty of old-​​fashioned reporters out there who want nothing to do with social media. Increas­ingly, though, jour­nal­ists use Twitter and Face­book to pro­vide run­ning reports and com­men­tary on their beats, to ask their friends and fol­lowers for leads on sources and to engage in an ongoing con­ver­sa­tion with their readers. In my work, I’ve found that social media are a pow­erful sup­ple­ment to tra­di­tional reporting tools. And I’m impressed with the way some of my former stu­dents are now using Twitter in their work as pro­fes­sional journalists.