February 17th, 2010
04:14 PM ET

White House spokesman on Twitter: 'Watch out Kim Kardashian!'

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/TECH/02/12/blackberry.twitter/t1larg.twitter.blackberry.from.jpg caption="Twitter reaches a variety of users from reality TV stars to White House staff."]

Shawna Shepherd
CNN White House producer

Soon after White House press secretary Robert Gibbs joined Twitter, he was already getting caught up in a race to amass as many followers as reality TV star and notorious tweeter Kim Kardashian.

Gibbs' third tweet from @PressSec: "Wow - in less than 30 hours almost 17K of you are following - amazing - watch out Kim Kardashian!"

His more than 25,000 followers as of Wednesday is impressive, but it pales in comparison to @kimkardashian, who has 3 million-plus followers. But Gibbs' foray into Twitter - the social networking and micro-blogging Web site that accepts messages, or tweets, in 140 characters or less - is an important avenue to deliver the White House's message.

"There's a tremendous amount of information that we all get and have to read and go through each day," Gibbs said. "This is certainly one way to get, on a rolling basis, to see a lot of that information in front of you."

Gibbs says he became fascinated with Twitter when he followed a live stream of reporters tweeting President Obama's press conference in the briefing room on February 2.

"I sat in that chair when the president was in here, admittedly hadn't spent a lot of time using that tool. I was fascinated to watch it," he said.

More than 1.7 million people follow the White House's general Twitter site, @whitehouse, and Gibbs' deputy, Bill Burton, @billburton44, has been actively tweeting since January.

White House director of new media Macon Philips said adding staffers' individual accounts to Twitter will only enhance the White House's social media arsenal.

Phillips said Gibbs "is a great communicator offline and I think the same will be true online. We're really excited to see how his account and Bill Burton's presence [on Twitter] will expand their dialogue with the White House correspondents and the public generally."

Gibbs follows about 150 political reporters and pundits, publications and blogs. He and Burton use Twitter to point out stories that are aligned with their message, or ones that they believe have inaccurate or misleading information, even calling out tweets for the same reason.

Twitter and other social media Web sites like Facebook and MySpace have been blocked from White House computers since the Bush administration.

Phillips said before Gibbs, Burton and the new media team were granted access to those sites, he worked with the White House counsel and Chief Information Officers Council to make sure they could use them while staying within the legal parameters of the Presidential Records Act.

For that reason, they didn't establish a White House presence on those sites until May 2009, but they devoted most of the year to improving the official White House Web site to include a blog and other new media components.

But tweeters beware - in accordance with the PRA, there's an important privacy disclosure on Gibbs' Twitter page, as well as other social media pages verified by the White House. It states that comments and messages received through official White House pages are subject to the PRA and may be archived, but what exactly that means in Twitter lingo can be confusing. Gibbs said his tweets and direct messages and replies will be archived, but followers and retweets will not.

For more information, check out wh.gov/privacy.

Gibbs hopes this won't dissuade followers from participating.

"I don't think anybody should fear going on Web sites and reading what we write or responding to what we write based on the Presidential Records Act.

It's simply intended to preserve the paper and the electronic records of the administration," Gibbs said.

In November 2009, Obama admitted that he had never used Twitter, dispelling the notion that he might have personally contributed to @barackobama, which remains one of the most popular pages on Twitter with more than 3.3 million followers. It was established in July 2007 by his presidential campaign and is now run by the political organization Organizing for America.

But that changed, sort of, on January 18, when the president visited the American Red Cross in the wake of the Haiti earthquake and clicked "update" on a tweet that someone else from the agency typed during his visit.

Chris Brogan, the president of New Marketing Labs and co-author of "Trust Agents," a book about building influence and trust in social media, said a successful Twitter account should not be based on the number of followers but the amount of engagement.

"Otherwise you're just using it as a one-way street," he said.

Another social media strategist, Jason Falls, who runs the industry blog SocialMediaExplorer.com, agrees. But he added that people, like Gibbs, who turn to social media to deliver a message run the risk of appearing disingenuous if they don't maintain a dialogue with followers.

"People have an expectation they can reach out to you, and they will be disappointed if they can no longer connect," Falls said. "It is not just about getting the message out, it is about listening as well as talking."

Phillips said he is encouraged by Gibbs' tweeting so far: "He's picking it up, and as he uses it more and more I think you'll see him using it in a more robust way."

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