Laura Olin is a one-woman Internet institution: she handled social media for Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, and she created the wonderful Everything Changes, an email newsletter which does exactly what it says on the tin, with each edition covering topics as varied as gifs of dogs playing in fountains, advice on how to be brave, facts about chef extraordinaire Julia Child and classic poems updated for the modern age. It’s a rare ray of light in an online world that can sometimes seem excessively ironic. I spoke to Olin about all things internet-y.
A lot of people in our generation associate working in social media as being kind of corporate and soulless, but your career seems to function as a go-to guide for how you can work on the internet in a meaningful way. How did you get into working in political social media?
I was already into politics. I’ve worked in politics or nonprofits for most of my career and realized a few years in that politics on the internet was possibly a really effective way to communicate messages and encourage people to get involved.
I know from this great Medium piece that you worked on Obama’s presidential campaign as Social Media Director in 2012. How did you land the dream job of tweeting and facebooking for Obama?
Yes, I ran our social media strategy. I happened to know the right people at the right time — a former boss of mine had the digital program sort of dropped in his lap by the campaign manager. I was someone who he knew could write quickly and well and was good at both email and social media, so I became the first official member of the digital team.
How involved was Obama himself in creating his digital voice?
He obviously directed the entire organization’s voice and messaging through the campaign manager and senior staff, but he was president at the time and had a lot going on! So we didn’t have chats about tweets or anything, unfortunately. The White House reviewed signed tweets and Michelle often edited hers or wrote more for us.
What was the post you were proudest of from that time?
I’m obviously proud of the tweet we posted on election night — “Four more years,” with a photo of President Obama and the first lady hugging, which I posted right when Ohio was called for the president and we knew we had won. It became the most retweeted tweet ever and held that position for quite a while.
Four more years. pic.twitter.com/bAJE6Vom
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) November 7, 2012
Which of the various potential US presidential candidates do you think struck most of a chord on the internet last year, and why?
It has to be Trump. Among those who support him and those who don’t, no one talked of much else last year.
Why do you think Trump does so well on Twitter?
He makes strong statements that the darkest and most active corners of the internet agree with. Being outrageous and hateful at the same time will get you a lot of attention and fans.
One major critique following the election seemed to be the „filter bubble“ — the idea that social media separates people into their own bubbles of opinion and filters out anything they don’t agree with. Do you think it’s still possible for social media to reach across ideological divides?
I’m sure some social media posts and movements will be able to – there’s a lot of platforms and conversations happening out there. But I’m placing most of my hope now in what people can do through on-the-ground organizing – one-on-one conversations.
You’re also known for Everything Changes. What do you think people find so appealing about newsletters?
Because they come directly to your inbox and don’t have instant feedback loops, there’s something that can feel comforting and old-fashioned about newsletters. It’s a person with a unique voice talking directly to you — it can feel like they’re talking only to you. So it’s a good way to establish a voice and form a relationship with people.
For me, the joy of Everything Changes is that it feels like the pulsing heart of the internet — you often publish Google Docs with crowd-sourced answers to searching questions (like this, for example). How do you get complete strangers to open up online?
So much of what makes Everything Changes lovely is the community of people that have put their time and trust into it. Everyone’s lovely and thoughtful so it makes space for others to be lovely and thoughtful, and it’s the standard the community has set.
Finally: what’s the best thing the internet has ever done for you?
It helped me find both my boyfriend and my dog, so I couldn’t ask for anything more.
Want more Laura Olin in your life? Check out her book, Form Letters, which grew out of Everything Changes.