Twitter was a novelty in 2008 but it has grown into a force that drives the national debate and shapes the way reporters and campaign media operatives do their jobs. The micro-blogging site now has 100 million active users, according to the New York Times.
So how are the campaigns of Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich trying to take advantage of the pithy publishing platform? Their styles are decidedly different. In many ways, the Gingrich camp is the more advanced user. Through Twitter, the campaign has reached out to supporters, tweeted more often than Romney, interacted with other users and made it easier for users to post Gingrich’s content.
Gingrich has always been an underdog and Twitter, with its grassroots feel and insurgent-friendly atmosphere, may be friendlier to him than it is to Romney.
But Romney’s campaign has decided to use Twitter in a less vocal, more strategic way. By encouraging supporters to follow certain handles during debates the Romney team may hope that its supporters will create buzz on Twitter for them while the campaign keeps an eye on what reporters are saying to prevent any bad press.
Here’s a closer look at their differing strategies:
Romney (Approx. 300,000 followers) Romney enjoys playing the role of cool, collected frontrunner, and his Twitter handle reflects it. He’s tweeted an average of twice a day since the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary, a relatively tame amount. By comparison, Gingrich has tweeted twice as much in the same time period.
Moreover, Romney’s tweets are bland, like this one from Jan. 31: “Today is the FL Primary. As we’ve seen so far, every single vote counts.” They contain the measured message that we’ve come to expect from his hyper-organized campaign.
It might seem that Romney is not taking aggressive enough advantage of Twitter. But social media usage is only as good as the reasoning behind it—Romney doesn’t have to be a star on Twitter. The conversation on the ground is—for now—moving his way.
The Romney camp has, however, taken advantage of Twitter in two key respects. First, Romney’s team has actually used Twitter to listen more than talk. Romney staffers regularly keep tabs on what reporters tweet out after Romney events in order to predict what will be written and try to suppress or counter a bad story before it surfaces, according to the Times.
Secondly, Romney’s campaign handle is catering to active (and probably loud) Twitter users who already support him. By repeatedly urging his supporters to follow Romney staffers and surrogates during debate nights (Andrea Saul, Gail Gitcho, etc.), Romney’s campaign is trying to capitalize on Twitter buzz, disseminate their message, and make sure the candidate wins the debate on Twitter before it’s over on stage.
The campaign has also created some clever hashtags (most recently #GrandioseNewt) to encourage supporters to mock the former speaker’s more far-fetched ideas.
Gingrich (Approx. 1.4 million followers) The Gingrich camp has followed a different path. Gingrich’s own handle tweets twice as often as Romney’s, and is more adept at tagging other prominent handles (Hermain Cain and Sarah Palin, most recently). Fred Thompson even got a retweet from @NewtGingrich after his endorsement.
Tagging and retweets are basic, fun Twitter features that Romney’s campaign has failed to capitalize on.
Gingrich’s campaign also has been far more interactive with other Twitter users than Romney’s has through its second handle, @Newt2012HQ, based in Atlanta. It almost seems the sole purpose of the handle is to find vocal supporters on Twitter throughout the day and tweet at them a thank you for support. The value of this cannot be emphasized enough—everyone knows a visit from the candidate can energize and gratify tired phone-banking volunteers. The Gingrich campaign appears to be attempting to carry that strategy into the social media realm.
The Gingrich campaign has also tried to capitalize on energized Twitter supporters by signing them up as “social influencers,” automatically disseminating information and positive stories to users who can then post it to their Twitter (or Facebook) accounts with a simple click.
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.