(AXcess News) – Michelle Obama is on Twitter! That was big news on Thursday,the first lady’s birthday. The White House announced that Mrs. Obama had launched a new Twitter account,@FLOTUS,and lots of folks chimed in with messages welcoming her to the world of micro-blogging social media.

But hold it – wasn’t she already on Twitter? We’ve been following @MichelleObama since the beginning of the 2012 presidential campaign. Is this a reboot,a dual account,or what? Is it the equivalent of the grand opening of a store that’s been in business for months?

Sort of,yes. Except it’s a retail establishment that has two branches kept separate for legal reasons.

In this image,first lady Michelle Obama greets David Hall,one of eight citizen co-chairs for the Inauguration,in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington,Thursday.

The invaluable Mashable has the full story here. The @MichelleObama feed is paid for and run by the Obama/Biden political campaign machinery. That’s why it was so active during the summer and fall,as it exhorted everybody to get out and vote,and in general pushed the fortunes of the incumbent presidential ticket. It’s an overtly political use of social media.

The first lady’s Pinterest site is run the same way. Most of those photos of her and her family,and favorite recipes (grilled peaches with yogurt and pistachios?),and exhortations about “why we vote” were put up by campaign staff.

Mrs. Obama’s new @FLOTUS handle reflects her official White House duties,however. It’s run by people from her office who are executive branch (and hence official US government) employees.

Legally speaking,@FLOTUS tweets will have to be stuff that deals with her official duties and the nation as a whole,as opposed to President Obama’s political fortunes. Thus on Thursday she tweeted “Join me and Barack for #MLK Day of Service” after thanking everyone for sending birthday wishes.

Hmm. @FLOTUS has sent three tweets,and it’s got more than 78,000 followers. That’s a pretty good tweet-to-listener ratio.

Most of this social media stuff is done by staff,of course. The few that she sends herself are supposed to be signed “-mo.”

Is the White House actually good at social media? We think that question can be answered definitively only by someone more versed in the dark electronic arts than we are. But from our point of view,it’s a pretty shrewd operator. Take the White House petition site. You can put up a petition on anything,and if it reaches a certain signature level in a certain period of time,the White House will respond with its point of view.

Most of the coverage of this “We the People” effort has focused on the weird stuff: petitions for Texas to secede,to deport CNN’s Piers Morgan,and so forth. And responding to them has to be a pain for staff. Mother Jones has a piece on Friday in which anonymous staffers gripe about having to spend time actually writing about why the US won’t build a Death Star,and things like that.

But to us,“We the People” really is a clever technique for harvesting e-mail addresses. When creating an account to sign stuff,you can check whether you want to receive missives from the White House. Most of the petitions are in fact about real policy – the need for more or less gun control,for instance. What the White House may get out of this is a continually growing list of voter contact information segmented by policy interest. To push the president’s new gun policies,for instance,they may send targeted e-mails to pro-control addresses,urging them to contact Congress.

We think this because media organizations do the same thing with interactive questionnaires and quizzes. We figure out who’s interested in what kind of stories and we direct those subjects their way.

Surprised? Don’t be. Building brand loyalty – everybody’s got whole new ways of approaching this old problem in today’s Internet age.