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Campaigning onTwitter

... 140 Characters at a Time
By Christopher Massicotte

Let me be the first to admit that I was a little late in the game in joining Twitter, and getting to understand its power. Now it seems as if almost all of the politicians are in on the game.  Why?  Because it is so easy to get information out to a group of people that care about what you have to say.

I was watching President Obama’s address to Congress last month and noticed that every time the cameras pointed to the gallery, Senators and Representatives were on their BlackBerries. What were they doing?  They were Tweeting! In just the last year Twitter has become the fastest growing social networking site, approaching 10 million users in February and up over 700% compared to this time last year.

What isTwitter?

Twitter is a special kind of social networking site found at www.twitter.com. Its fame is due to its ability to facilitate a conversation in 140 characters or less.  Essentially, it allows people to answer the question that no one was asking: “What are you doing right now?” Twitter offers the ability to hold a “two-way” conversation among the millions who use the site.  People can very easily follow the “tweets,” or conversation on their mobile devices even when they are not near a computer.

Twitter allows you to search for certain terms that are commonly used among the “twitterati,” a collective term commonly used to refer to the millions who use the service.  These terms are placed under hashtags which are symbolized by the # sign and allow you to quickly view all tweets on a specific subject.  For example, during the NCAA basketball tournament you could follow #ncaa and whenever somebody used that in their tweet, you would be notified.  Twitter’s unique “two-way” dialogue allows you to not only disseminate information but to also get feedback on it instantly.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) - clairecmc on Twitter - very frequently tweets about what she is doing, where she is going, and what issues she is currently addressing in the Senate.  People can respond to her tweets and ask her questions on everything from her healthy cream spinach recipe to questions about her stances on issues before the Senate.  She recently tweeted – “Now back in my apt. Voted yes on budgt. Home in am.”  She gets  responses to her tweet immediately, to the effect of – “@clairecmc thank you so much for supporting the President.”  She currently has nearly 20,000 followers on the site.  With each tweet, 20,000 people hear what she has to say. I have created a list below of some of my favorite politicians and political types who are members of the Twitter network.

What does this mean for your campaign?

The meaning and impact of Twitter is significant.  A good portion of the twitterati are politically active and surprisingly to most, not as young as you might expect.  A recent study found that 45-54 year olds are 36 percent more likely to visit Twitter and represent the largest group visiting the site; this group is followed by 25-34 year olds, who are 30 percent more likely to visit. 

I have always said that political campaigns are as much, if not more about the number of people you contact rather than your positions on the issues.  Twitter is not only a great way to supplement your online and offline efforts to reach out to new people, but also a great way to humanize and endear your candidate to potential voters and supporters.  The personal connection established in following their tweets could mean more than getting a single contribution. Why? Because, after you tweet, they will comment on your tweet to their network of friends and family.

Once you join Twitter, make your first tweets about your campaign and encourage your friends to “follow” you first. Typical campaign tweets talk about where the candidate is going to be for an event, challenging their opponent to a debate openly,  or asking supporters to go to the campaign website to take some sort of action.

It is important to make sure that you use terms that are pertinent to your supporters or that are searched often.  Say you live in Springfield and there is a debate about a new casino going into town. You could tweet: “Heading to #Springfield town hall for a debate on new #casino. What do you think about this?”  Anyone following what is going on in your town (which I do of course) will see your tweet.  They can respond to you, start following you, and help you build your list.  If you express interest in an issue they care about, they are likely to spread the word, both via Twitter by “retweeting” your post – or offline to their friends. It is also important that you not make your Twitter  posts entirely about yourself.  Instead of answering the question of what you are doing, answer the question…. “what has your attention?”  Point out how great a supporter is doing at their blog. Mention how many doors some of your volunteers knocked on or Twitter about a newsworthy event in your community. Use your Twitter feed to create a newsletter, practically in real time, about your campaign. Twitter is becoming as necessary as Facebook, and how you utilize Twitter could mean the difference between breaking through the noise of traditional campaigning, or getting lost in it.

Do’s and Don’ts when usingTwitter for your campaign

Do’s:

  1. Follow as many people as you can on Twitter that are relevant to your campaign and use Twitter Search often;
  2. Be interesting and original in what you are tweeting;
  3. Talk to people about THEIR interests – by doing that, you are showing that you are human;
  4. Make sure that it is the candidate who is tweeting.  The campaign can have a Twitter account as well – but people are turned off when they realize that the tweeting has been “staffed out;”
  5. Put a link to your Twitter site on your campaign website as you would with all of the other social networking tools that you are using.

Don’ts:

  1. Don’t Tweet about anything that you wouldn’t want published on the front page of the New York Times.  There are a number of news reports of “Tweets gone bad,” please don’t let this happen to you;
  2. Don’t lock your tweets. Twitter allows you to lock your tweets so that people have to request to follow you and no one outside your group of followers can see what you are saying. You are not going to bring in new people this way;
  3. Don’t tweet just for the sake of tweeting – I stop following people who fill up my Twitter feed with irrelevant and uninteresting things that have no appeal to me;
  4. Don’t follow too many people – your feed will get too congested and you might miss something important – you don’t have to read every tweet. Most politicians do not follow anybody, but read their @replies;
  5. Don’t fool yourself into thinking Twitter is the next greatest way to raise money.  Twitter is a great tool for attracting new supporters and gets your message out virally, but putting links to your contribution page right in a tweet is the fastest way for people to stop following you.

Some of my favorite political tweeters:
    Sen. Claire McCaskill (clairecmc)
    Sen. John Mccain (Senjohnmccain)
    President Barack Obama (barackobama)
    Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (newtgingrich)
    Karl Rove (karlrove)
    Joe Trippi (joetrippi)
    Sen. Chris Dodd (senchrisdodd)
    Sen. Mark Warner (markwarner)
    Rep. Eric Cantor (ericcantor)
    Rep. Jared Polis (jaredpolis)

    ...and feel free to follow me at chrismassicotte.

Christopher Massicotte is Director of Sales and Marketing for
NGP Software, Inc., a Washington-based software
and technology consulting firm. You can reach Chris
at Click here to contact this Author or follow
Chris at Twitter.com as chrismassicotte



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