The Woman Behind the Screen: Social Media & Digital Strategy for @POTUS

Avery Whitehead

Ever wonder how the president crafts meaningful social media content at the speed of current events? How does our nation’s leader stay ahead of the curve of culture and connect with diverse communities across a platform of over 19 million followers? 

At Monday’s Batten Hour event, we had the privilege of meeting Avery Whitehead, the woman behind the screen serving as deputy director of platforms at the White House Office of Digital Strategy where she manages President Joe Biden’s Instagram, X, Threads, Facebook and other social media accounts. In a compelling conversation, moderated by Ariel Watt – a 2023 Batten alum – Whitehead delved into the nuances of digital outreach, the transformative power of social media, and the evolving landscape of digital communication in the political sphere.

Her professional journey began in New Hampshire in 2019, where she engaged in grassroots efforts for Beto O'Rourke's presidential campaign. She discovered the challenge of communicating the campaign’s objectives and getting people excited about the candidate in a place where voters live in extremely dispersed communities and “neighbors” are miles away from one another. Door knocking and telephone canvassing efforts felt insufficient. 

Soon after, in Iowa with Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign, Whitehead saw the path to fostering genuine connections in digital spaces when she created a series of Facebook groups to generate support and dialogue within the community. This proved to be an extremely successful strategy, as she began to see voters gain a sense of comfort when they saw a trusted community member like their child’s basketball coach or the PTA president in the same online group as themselves. Forming these relationships across digital spaces, “meeting people where they are,” became even more essential during the COVID-19 pandemic when voters were more isolated than ever before, she said.

Her next job was in digital strategy for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, where she honed her skills before transitioning to her current role with the White House managing the @POTUS social accounts. She and her teammates have worked creatively and diligently to elevate the importance of digital content as a powerful strategic tool for White House communications efforts, she said, noting that doing one traditional broadcast interview might reach several million people, but doing a few social media posts might reach tens of millions of people.

Ariel Watt and Avery Whitehead
Ariel Watt (MPP '23) interviews her friend Avery Whitehead, who runs social media accounts at the White House. 

A peek into Whitehead's daily routine revealed a dynamic mix of trend analysis, event monitoring and presidential briefing preparations. She explained how fast-paced this environment can be, as messages responding to breaking news are often drafted and approved in a matter of minutes. She highlighted the evolving role of digital platforms -- "it’s how we share our lives” -- and the importance of transparency in showcasing the human side of governance to enhance public engagement.The Biden administration has a strong appreciation for the power of social media in humanizing the persona of the president, Whitehead said.  

In her talk at Garrett Hall, attended mostly by Batten School students, Whitehead spoke of her steep learning curve as a new White House staff member. She emphasized the value of respecting the institutional knowledge from those working before you and listening before speaking. She shared practical advice for job seekers, stressing the importance of maintaining genuine connections while being bold and ambitious when going after the things you want in a career. Hoping to land the gig at the White House, she emailed her now-current boss that she would “scrub toilets to work for him.” 

Navigating work-life balance also emerged as a crucial theme, with Whitehead emphasizing the importance of self-care and setting boundaries in an extremely demanding work environment. But she also noted the value of “getting caught doing the work” – not just pushing yourself when the spotlight is on but doing the work in between times, when true growth and development happen. 

When asked to share any “pinch me” moments from her career, Whitehead told the story of one of her first direct interactions with President Biden. With the launch of Threads, she had organized a special recording of the president officially activating his account. With high nerves and shaky hands, she successfully captured the video of him going live on the platform. He called her over to sit next to him and, live on camera, announced: “We’re live on Threads because of her!. In that moment, Whitehead felt her hard work and dedication had been recognized at the highest level. 

Whitehead's insights showed the transformative potential of digital platforms in shaping political discourse, fostering community engagement and driving positive change. As the digital landscape continues to evolve, she said, it is more important than ever to lean into social media as a crucial tool for connecting with diverse audiences, amplifying voices and mobilizing collective action towards a more inclusive and participatory democracy. 

avery whitehead crowd

Garrett Hall at Sunset

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