There’s no question that The White House knows its way around social media—President Obama’s “four more years” Instagram tweet quickly became the most liked and shared message in history.
Of course, officials like the President don’t just use Twitter and Facebook to post adorable pictures of themselves and their families—they also use it to drive strategy and influence policy. And yet, as we’ve seen in the past, social media is an unwieldy animal that many political groups struggle to master.
Exactly one year ago, The White House used Twitter to push an effort to extend a “payroll tax cut” that affected millions of Americans. That effort ultimately proved successful, but now Obama faces a new and potentially bigger challenge involving the much-discussed “fiscal cliff” that would result in massive spending cuts and the elimination of George W. Bush-era tax cuts if not addressed by congress before the New Year.
Obama recently debuted the hashtag #My2K, named for the approximately $2000 in yearly tax increases that would theoretically affect millions of middle-class Americans if congress doesn’t act. He tweeted his millions of followers encouraging them to offer personal stories of what that $2K might mean to them and their families—and to direct those messages to their representatives.
Sounds like a well-planned PR strategy—but will it work?
“Call your members of Congress. Write them an email. Tweet it using the hashtag #My2K.” —President Obama
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) November 28, 2012
When Mitt Romney attempted to use the #areyoubetteroff theme to push his message framing the President’s economic policies as failures, he encountered a significant amount of pushback from Obama supporters who turned the tag against him by answering “yes”. The White House has witnessed some of the same counter-messaging this time around: On hearing about the messaging plans conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation purchased a sponsored tweet that now sits atop the feeds of anyone searching for the Obama tag and links directly to an op-ed decrying tax increases. Others who oppose the president co-opted the tag to post contradictory opinions.
So it looks like senators and media operatives are learning the rules of the latest political messaging game. The question: Can politicians, even those with a megaphone as loud as the President’s, truly rely on social media to influence public debate and shift the sympathies of voters? Or will Twitter and Facebook remain a swirling vortex filled with millions of messages, most of which ultimately get lost in the clutter? Is every fight waged via social media ultimately a losing battle?