When President George W. Bush delivered his sixth State of the Union address, Twitter had just launched. Times have changed.
According to Nielson, an estimated 2.1 million tweets were sent last year about the State of the Union. From the build-up to the post-speech analysis, twitter today is almost an essential part of the full #SOTU experience.
For example, towards the end of President Obama's sixth State of the Union he said, “I have no more campaigns to run." After hearing some sarcastic applause, the two-term president quickly snapped back “I know because I won both of them."
The response on twitter was quick and the memes and faux picture captions were abundant. YouTube blogger Philip DeFranco told his half-million followers not to heckle the president unless you come prepared.
Janet Mock, host of So Popular on MSNBC’s “Shift,” gave Obama the “swagger salute.”
However, the twitter excitement started well before the evening speech.
Many political and advocacy groups were online hours before, suggesting activities State of the Union viewers could do during the speech. While there were several variations of drinking games for the more adventurous Tuesday night political viewers, the most popular recommendation was “Bingo.” There were a lot of custom #SOTU bingo cards to go around.
Beyond fun and games, politicians and their staffs used to the speech's dramatic buildup to show off their guests. Every year, the White House invites several guests to sit with first lady Michelle Obama in the “First Lady’s Box.” They are usually used to draw attention to a policy or action the president took or plans to take. One of the people sitting in the “First Lady’s Box” was Alan Gross, the government subcontractor who released from Cuba after spending five years in jail.
“And after years in prison, we're overjoyed that Alan Gross is back where he belongs,” President Obama said Tuesday night as he turned to Gross, who was sitting with the first Lady. “Welcome home, Alan,” Obama continued, causing a bipartisan standing ovation.
The White House used twitter earlier in the day to hint at this moment.
Lawmakers pointed out that many of them brought people to watch the president as well, with a few of the guests invited to show opposition to President Obama restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba.
House Speaker John Boehner brought Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, a leader of the Cuban resistance movement who was previously jailed for 17 years. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio also brought a guest to show his strong opposition to the administration's move to normalize relations.
There was even some criticism about one of President Obama’s guests who sat with the first lady. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, criticized the president for inviting a Ana Zamora. Zamora benefited from the president’s 2012 executive action that shielded young immigrants from deportation. King called Zamora “a deportable,” and was widely criticized.
President Obama’s tan suit made a virtual comeback when the White house tweeted a photo of the infamous suit, saying #YesWeTan.
There was also a last-minute surprise from the White House. About 15 minutes before the president was introduced, they published the full speech online for everyone to see. Senior Advisor Dan Pfeiffer, explained on twitter the administration published it early because “public should see it when press and Congress get it.”
As expected, twitter traffic during the speech surged.
There were the expected tweets about the first lady’s outfit.
Republicans were quick to connect former Secretary of State and possible 2016 candidate Hillary Clinton to Obama’s policies.
Then there were the videos and comments about the more trivial issues, like Speaker Boehner’s facial expressions, Obama’s winks, and some excited lawmakers-- all getting hundreds of retweets.
Although, it was former Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who reminded us that the best #SOTU tweets can be completely unrelated to the president’s speech. Just before the highly-watched speech, the longest-serving member of Congress tweeted how he was celebrating his first State of the Union off Capitol Hill.