By MATT SCHULER, Digital Architect, Marx Layne

Millions of people were watching President Barack Obama Sunday night as he declared American forces had killed Osama Bin Laden.

It was a late-night speech. If you had gone to bed early, there’s a good chance that you didn’t hear the news until the next morning.  But the White House drove viewers to the president’s speech and they did so through social media.  You don’t “break” news on TV or in the paper any more, and a lot of people knew what was going on before it was announced on the news.

Jon Stewart made the point a few minutes into “The Daily Show” on Monday.

While the media was broadcasting a preview, people were talking about what was actually happening on social networks.

Maggie Fox make the point in her post Osama Bin Laden, The White House and Social Media.

“I stand in awe of the White House and their masterful understanding of how news is now realtime, and the role that Twitter plays in the information cycle as “circulatory system”. Knowing that seeing the President announce that Public Enemy #1 is dead, and making that emotional connection, human to human, is of critical importance, the White House brilliantly managed information release around the announcement.”

Fox also has an exceptional timeline of the events as they unfolded that evening:

10:00 – watching CNN, we were informed that there was to be an important announcement regarding “national security” at 10:30 – Twitter immediately lit up with speculation

10:20 – the announcement is delayed, and strong speculation that it’s about Osama Bin Laden’s death starts to emerge

10:25 – Twitter is on fire, with a tweet from a CBS news Producer (with fewer than 4500 Twitter followers) confirming a leak that Bin Laden is dead retweeted over 1000 times

10:50 – The White House invites Facebook users to discuss the pending announcement (where the Presidential address is also scheduled to be broadcast)

10:53 – print media demonstrates where it can’t compete so well, with a journalist for a major national magazine noting that this announcement was going to “profoundly screw up” their Royal Wedding edition.

11:15 – Osama Bin Laden’s death confirmed by the White House

11:22 – We’re still waiting for the President to speak on TV

The administration used social media masterfully to drive the audience to the television. By doing so, the ratings were huge.  In fact, if you look at the picture below from Mashable, you’ll see that it was his highest rated speech of his presidency.  The president’s speech drew half as many viewers as the Super Bowl.  A lot of people tuned in and it’s there’s a good reason why.

President Obama Speech TV Ratings

Then it all goes back to the man who was tweeting live as the operation was taking place.


In the end, the world’s most wanted terrorist is now dead and the Barack Obama administration provided a textbook example of how to channel an audience through social media engagement.