There’s no question. Twitter is now a driver of the 24-hour news cycle. The once-for-fun social media site has become a transformative political tool. Used effectively, it gives campaigns and activists the ability to communicate directly, constantly and easily with their supporters.
But how can you get the most out of Twitter? Because campaigns have embraced Twitter—sometimes using multiple accounts—several free Twitter applications have entered the market to make account management more effective and rewarding for campaigns. These sites move beyond what you can do with the original Twitter website, but there are still some challenges.
Downtweet is the ideal Twitter application for campaigns that are primarily using twitter to consume (i.e. your campaign is monitoring the Twitterverse more than engaging with it). Customizable widgets allow you to keep tabs on multiple topics or users. Say, for instance, you want to keep an eye on reporters covering your campaign. You can simply put them all into one easy-to-monitor feed, and watch the stream in real time.
Unfortunately, Downtweet doesn’t allow you to send tweets—but there’s no reason that any Twitter-minded campaign operative shouldn’t have the unobtrusive Downtweet open on her desktop 24/7.
TweetDeck is a social media platform offered by Twitter itself to manage multiple accounts, search feeds and schedule tweets. There’s nothing fancy about its design. This platform is all about helping you manage your Twitter presence.
With TweetDeck, you can customize unlimited columns to fit your social media needs. Different columns can show timelines for multiple Twitter accounts, mentions of those handles, feeds focused on monitoring key search terms or hash tags, direct messages, etc. Users can compose and send tweets easily from the desktop, and can choose from which account – or accounts – they want to send from. This makes TweetDeck ideal for a campaign that manages multiple Twitter accounts, sends tweets and monitors the Twitterverse.
The ability to schedule tweets also comes handy for campaigns that tweet multiple times a day, but aren’t always in the office. There are some small glitches – deleting tweets through TweetDeck can be a pain, and seeing Twitter conversations (replies) can be hard, too. Overall, though, TweetDeck’s performance makes it a preferential tool for campaigns to use in their Twitter outreach.
HootSuite is the Mt. Olympus of social media monitoring applications. While it’s the most commanding, not all campaigns will need to dive into its deep power. HootSuite allows users to link their Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ accounts into the dashboard and unleash content across the multiple platforms. But HootSuite also offers impressive analytical tools, allows for compatibility with other members of your campaign team, lets you integrate your RSS feed from your blog into your social media and presents several other unique features that might prove useful to any social media campaign.
Of course, because HootSuite is so spectacular, only a limited version is available for free. And because it offers users so many tools, many campaigns might get lost in its complexity and miss the forest for the trees. Unless you’re about to launch a mega-campaign with impressive brand name recognition and salience (the list of HootSuite users include Food Network, People and the NBA), your campaign may be more inclined to use the simpler, but still effective, TweetDeck.
Andrew Clark is an account director for Hynes Communications, where he works with political campaigns, corporations and advocacy groups on new media messaging. He previously worked on the McCain 2008 presidential campaign.