As Conventions Wrap, Democrats Win Round One of Social Media Fight

Conventions show campaigns can't buy social conversations

The first round of the presidential social media dogfight wound down Thursday night with the conclusion of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C—and it appears Democrats walked away with a formidable victory.

Putting political views aside, the raw numbers paint a picture of social media dominance for Democrats throughout the conventions, with over 9 million #DNC2012 related tweets tabulated to the #RNC2012’s 4 million. Unsurprisingly, the two candidates, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, garnered the highest tweets per minute (TPM) rates for their respective conventions—but the volume was nowhere near the same. Obama set a political record of 52,757 TPM while Romney came in at a high of 14,289 TPM.

There are many possible theories for the high DNC Twitter volume. A liberal/coastal tendency toward Twitter use along with the high worldwide visibility of figures like Presidents Obama and Clinton could skew the numbers in the Democrats favor.

Plus, both Black and Hispanic voters are among the most active ethnic groups on Twitter and polls show Obama enjoys well over 80 percent of black voter support and over 60 percent when it comes to Hispanic voters.

Volume is all well and good, but does it translate to real, actionable votes?  Political Twitter consultant Zach Green of 140elect seems to think it can, especially with the youth vote. “With younger voters there is an ‘everyone is doing it’ and ‘it is cool’ factor. With Twitter, younger voters can see all their friends talking about the campaign and get a sense that ‘we’re all in this together.'" 

Green also notes that the Obama grassroots strategy centers on an idea that people are more likely to vote based on those they know who are invested in the campaign rather than the actual issues. “For many, Twitter could be that kind of energizer,” he said.

Will Scott, CEO of Search Influence, a New Orleans-based company offering search and social marketing, disagrees. Scott predicts Twitter will do little to sway the electorate. Scott doubts that the social site even impacted TV ratings for the two parties’ conventions.

“I don't think Twitter can drive enough interest when [TLC reality series] Honey Boo Boo beats the RNC in ratings and ties Bill Clinton's speech,” he said. “[It’s] either a sign of the apocalypse or age demographic interest.”

At the same time, Scott has higher regard for Facebook’s political potential. “If the Obama campaign is smart, they'll pull some of the sound bites from Clinton's speech and turn them into promoted posts,” the marketing exec suggested. “Romney's team could use the same tactic to point out hypocrisies in a well-reasoned way.”

Overall, Scott believes that Obama’s camp is clearly showing more social marketing muscle compared to the Republican ticket. Despite employing a 110-person digital team, he said, Romney apparently has “no one actively listening in the channel. When you look at the #areyoubetteroff fiasco, there was a total failure to engage traditional conservative hashtags and groups #tcot #gop #healthcare are all missing.”

Lessons learned

As Adweek reported last week, the Romney campaign has been active in the purchase of Promoted Trends, most recently asking Twitter users #AreYouBetterOff with the aformentioned promoted hashtag. However, as the experiment backfired, with many tweeting that they are indeed better off than they were four years ago, politicos on Twitter likely learned a valuable lesson about shaping the conversation. “People enjoy co-opting hashtags more than using them the way it was originally intended,” Green said. “You can’t buy the conversation on Twitter. It doesn’t matter who you are. All people have to do is have a retweet something for it to spread. You can’t force, you can only steer.”

Last night careful observers saw this hypothesis in action. As Vice President Joe Biden addressed the convention in the prime time 10:00 p.m. hour a misuse of the word ‘literally’ spawned derision from the political obsessives on Twitter. Working fast, the Obama campaign purchased a Promoted Tweet on the search term, ‘literally’ in an attempt to control the message in hostile territory. Like all recent political micro-gaffes, the event is forgotten in a matter of hours, but it remains a very tangible reminder of the breakneck speed at which this call-and-response social-media-election campaign is being run.


@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.