How did the Obama campaign decide to use that photo of Barack and Michelle Obama hugging to accompany its victory tweet? The photo that became the most-retweeted, most liked photo in social media history? Campaign social media honcho Laura Olin filled Slate in by email on the gametime decision—and showed us the photo that almost made the cut.
Slate: How did you choose the Obama hug photo for the victory tweet?
Laura Olin: This was a decision made in the space of about half an hour, around 9PM Chicago time. We’d long had a photo choice lined up for a “thank you” post to put up around 10PM, operating under the assumption that the race wouldn’t be called until 2AM or 3AM, if then. I was a bit resistant to thinking about victory posts until more results came in, but my boss, our digital director, Teddy Goff, said it was time. One of the members of my team, Jessi Langsen, remembered that one of our campaign photographers, Scout Tufankjian, had taken a great photo a few nights before, of the president and first lady hugging at the president’s final campaign rally in Des Moines. Teddy liked it but thought we should go with a photo where you could see the president’s face—in the Des Moines photo, her face was to the camera rather than his. It was also pretty dark, as it was a nighttime rally. I remembered that Scout had taken another great hug photo in Dubuque over the summer. The first lady had been wearing a red-checked dress that day. I asked our photo editor, Mary Hough, if she remembered it, and she did. Teddy liked it, I wrote a few captions and we chose one. Later, I posted it to Twitter and Facebook as soon as Ohio was called for the president. I didn’t realize that we’d likely broken records until the next morning.
Slate: Were you at all worried about posting an image from August in November?
L.O.: It wasn’t a concern, no. I didn’t see any downsides. The feeling behind it was the most important thing.
Slate: Why not choose an image of, say, President Obama waving in front of a flag and looking resolute? Why include Michelle, and such a personal moment?
L.O.: Those just didn’t really feel as right as the more personal, emotional option. Running our social media platforms, my team discovered and re-discovered that people generally responded the most to photos depicting the president at his most human, as a relatable person, not in the trappings of his office. Old family photos, photos of the first family together, photos of the president and first lady together that show the depth of their love and respect for each other—those always got the most response. And the emotions we wanted to convey that night, after a long and hard-fought campaign and a win that would mean so much to so many people, were joy and relief. It’s what we were all feeling ourselves, and what we imagined everyone who had voted for this president was feeling.
Slate: Did you have an image prepared for a defeat?
L.O.: We didn’t. But we did have that “thank you” photo prepared for posts to go up in the late evening (around 10PM) under the assumption that we wouldn’t know the results of the election until early the next day. [The image is below.] The caption was going to be: “There’s only one thing left to say: Thank you.”
Interview has been edited and condensed.