Will Social Media Ask Obama What MSM Hasn't?

As social media enthusiasts -- and critics -- gear up for President Obama's first Twitter Town Hall Wednesday afternoon, one major question is whether social media questioners will differ from their mainstream media counterparts -- in focus, emphasis, both or neither.

During the eight weeks leading up to the announcement of the town hall, the economy and national security dominated Twitter conversations about politics, each representing about one-third of all national political conversations on the social media site, according to Radian6, a social media analysis group.

What the analysts called "wellness" came in third, comprising about 14 percent of political Twitter conversations.

Twitter has hired Radian6 to analyze political conversations on the site both leading up to and during the town hall hosted by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, according to a news release.

An unscientific Nextgov analysis of questions asked during President Obama's last news conference on June 29 revealed roughly the same split between questions about national security and the economy. Reporters asked about eight questions in each category depending on what one counts as a new question versus a follow up.

Reporters asked only three questions that didn't fall into either realm, all of them about the president's evolving position on gay marriage. The press conference didn't include any direct questions about healthcare or other wellness topics, but several of the president's answers to economic questions -- especially about the debate over raising the federal debt ceiling -- referenced reforming Medicare and other entitlements.

Presuming the same dominance of national security and the economy during Wednesday's town hall, it will be interesting to see whether social media questioners bring a more diverse array of "third category" questions or if they're as tied to the news of the day as their mainstream counterparts.

It will also be interesting to see if questions culled from social media hover at a more human level than mainstream media questions. The majority of reporters' economic questions during the press conference, for example, centered around the debt ceiling debate. While Obama worked the term "unemployment" into several answers, it didn't make its way into any questions.

Twitter is employing a hybrid system to cull questions for the town hall itself -- a third-party computer analysis of which questions are submitted most often, correcting for geographical imbalances, and a fully human analysis by a panel of pre-selected high-volume Tweeters, a Twitter spokesperson told the government technology site Gov Fresh.