What You Can Learn From The White House’s New Social Media Policy


The White House has always been a symbol of hope, power, and pageantry across the globe. People from all walks of life have always been fascinated by the happenings behind its walls – official meetings in the West Wing, state dinners with foreign dignitaries, and private first family moments shielded from the prying eyes of reporters and cameras.

With every presidential administration we see new guidelines around disclosure and transparency – what should be shared, what can be shared, and what needs to remain secret. For these reasons, The White House has held a long-standing policy for White House tour visitors barring them from using social media in the building.

That is, until this month.

On July 1st, The White House took a big step towards transparency, announcing that visitors on the White House Tour can now share their tour experience on social media. Administrators put up signs around the White House encouraging visitors to use the #WhiteHouseTour hashtag and share at will. It’s been heralded as a solid step for government to push forward with modern norms, and become more tech-savvy, open, and social.

But how many people actually posted about their White House experiences since the social media ban was lifted at the beginning of the month? And what can we learn from the White House’s big move?

We took a look at social data patterns in and around The White House over the past few days using a few different methods across Twitter and Instagram. Let’s see how proud Americans responded to the democratization of social media on Pennsylvania Avenue.


Checking Spredfast’s awesome Intelligence product, we can see that there has been a good amount of conversation around the #WhiteHouseTour hashtag since the July 1st announcement. But these totals includes a good amount of press mentions and others chiming in on the conversation, including the following White House occupant:

If we want actual pictures from the tour, we’ll need to limit our results to Tweets originating from the area surrounding the White House. If we can use a location filter, we can refine our search down to content coming from tours after the social media ban was lifted. We can use the geolocation filter functionality of Intelligence to get a closer view.

By limiting our results to within half a mile of the White House’s latitude and longitude, we can get down to the Tweets originating within the grounds of the building itself. While the White House doesn’t publish the number of visitors that are allowed to tour the building each day, this revised set of data (which comes in at about 3% of the total #WhiteHouseTour conversation) seems a lot closer to reality.

Taking a look at some of the media from our results, we can see content from visitors enjoying their new-found freedom to share their experience, including some good shots of the First Family’s dogs that were on site for the occasion.

It seems the users of Twitter have embraced the social media push from the President. Can we see the same thing on Instagram?

Hail to the Geolocation

It’s great to see what’s being talked about within a certain location radius, but we can go one step deeper. A good amount of social posts include the user’s current location, so looking at the White House data from this lens can give us some interesting results. Our Analytics & Research team built a custom map based on Instagram posts with geolocation enabled to see if certain patterns emerged.

Let’s zoom in to Pennsylvania Avenue to see what we can see.

Looking at the area around the White House since July 1st, we see a good amount of Instagram posts in and around the White House with geolocation enabled. Many of them are in front of the North Lawn, taking pictures in front of the iconic building (the count of pins in the above map is a bit misleading, in most cases each represents multiple photos being posted from the same location.) But what’s going on inside the gates since the social media ban was lifted? Let’s take a look.

Behind the Gates

After refining our results to the latitude and longitude inside the White House gates, we get a view of where visitors are posting while on the tour. The first thing we see when doing a geographic overlay is that a single location directly outside of the East Wing is commanding a huge amount of the posts – more than 85% of them, in fact. This is where the vast majority of pictures are being posted, which seems odd, especially when you dive into the data to inspect the pictures. The photos are from all in different areas of the White House, outside the front gates, and the gardens. What’s happening here?

While Instagram location can pinpoint a post’s exact latitude and longitude, it also has a list of popular, known locations for users to select from. In this case, the geolocation of “The White House” is designated as a spot directly outside the East Wing. When a user selects that location when posting, Instagram places them on the lawn outside the building.

Ok - so what about the other posts that didn’t use this label? Let’s map everything not using Instagram’s official location of “The White House” and see where they end up.

Looking at the other data from within the White House, we can see where things are posted during the tour. Again, we’re only looking at a few days worth of data from a very limited list of social media users, but it’s encouraging to see social activity already taking off after the ban was lifted.

The most popular locations include The North Portico, and The Blue Room / Center Hall areas of the building, but the posting patterns across the property currently enjoy a good amount of diversity. The data tells us that the first few visitors allowed to post within the White House are certainly enjoying their new-found social freedom.


What Can We Learn From This?

The White House is already seeing a good amount of social response to this move. What can the White House teach us about social media best practices?

Audiences Are Ready For More Access

When the Obamas gave the go-ahead for social media, the audience was ready. A great amount of content is already being created from inside the White House, as well as conversation from other parts of the country around the move. Any modern brand that fears social media should keep this in mind: your audience is probably already there.

Don’t Be Afraid to Be Social

There are a few brands out there that are holding on to fears about risks around social media. And while every organization needs a solid social strategy in place to manage their risk, the days of the Social Wild West are clearly over. If the most secure location in the world is allowing Tweets, Posts, and pictures to be shared, why aren’t you?

Guide the Conversation



At the @whitehouse celebrating the end of the ban on photos during tours! #whitehousetour

A photo posted by National Park Service (@nationalparkservice) on


The White House put up signage that encourages visitors to use the #WhiteHouseTour hashtag when posting throughout their visit, all while advertising their social accounts across multiple platforms. Giving the audience some direction helps to centralize the conversation and make content more discoverable while still encouraging users to participate.


Push Ahead, Even if You’re Behind

Growing more sophisticated with your social strategy won’t happen overnight, and sometimes it takes big moves to get your organization right with the times. Never be afraid to admit when you might be a bit behind and push forward with changes to make your organization more open, more accessible, and more modern.

The White House is using social media to democratize an experience that was once only seen by a few. It's a big (and fun!) next step towards openness and transparency.

Or, as Eisenhower so eloquently put it, “Accomplishment will prove to be a journey, not a destination."

Want access to more interesting data that can help drive your social programs forward? Download the Smart Social Report Volume 1 now!



Chris Kerns's picture

Chris Kerns

Chris Kerns has spent more than a decade defining digital strategy and is at the forefront of finding insights from digital data. He currently leads Analytics and Research at Spredfast. His research has appeared in The New York Times, Forbes, USA Today and AdWeek, among other publications.