Digital Lessons From the Final Presidential Debate

Hop on those trends, and don't be shy about declaring victory before it's over

So, the final debate has come and gone and all that's left is the spin. After obsessively watching and tracking the debates on Twitter, here are a few quick digital lessons we've learned.

Hop on those trends. Before the debates began, the social advertising chatter surrounded the Romney campaign's sizeable buy of the worldwide promoted trend, "#CantAfford4More." Yet, 45 minutes into the debate, President Obama delivered the viral line of the night, chastising former Governor Romney for his past criticisms of the size of the Navy, telling the candidate, "We also have fewer horses and bayonets." If you've spent any time on Twitter during these debates, it was clear the line would get picked up and it did, skyrocketing immediately to the third-highest spot on Twitter's U.S. trends. According to Twitter, the comment generated 105,767 tweets per minute, the highest of the debate. The Obama campaign capitalized and bought the Promoted Tweet on the #horsesandbayonets hashtag within 15 minutes. Sure, we've seen this before, but it is proof that, no matter how silly, the candidates are willing to do whatever possible to stay inside the social conversation.

Foreign Policy isn't as interesting as Game 7 or Monday Night Football. Perhaps it is debate fatigue, but Twitter was lacking noticeably tonight, facing stiff competition from two prime-time sporting events, including a decisive Game 7 baseball playoff game. The conventional wisdom on Twitter, however, was that the foreign policy debate was simply harder for average Americans to get excited about compared to the more tangible domestic issues. The candidates seemed to understand this too, often trying to change the subject in the first half-hour of the debate to the economy and issues like education. While hashtags like #lynndebate and #finaldebate trended in the U.S., this was the first debate where the Twitter-sponsored hashtag "#debates" failed to trend across the U.S. for the duration of the debates. In comparison, the final debate finished last among the presidential debates, with 6 million tweets received (the first garnered 10 million tweets, followed by 7.2 million for the second, and the vp debate saw only 4 million).

The slower pace and waning enthusiasm was felt by many throughout the night:

When in doubt, declare you've won before it's over. The social world has no real rules and is home to boundless speculation and wild prediction, which means that political campaigns can spin and even perform damage control from their computers well before reporters flood the spin room. In keeping with this tradition, it is no surprise that President Obama's Twitter handle declared its candidate as the winner of the debate roughly 10 minutes before the contest was over—a maneuver expected from the pundit class, but less so from the social media account of the sitting president. Yet, as of the time of this writing, the Tweet has been retweeted over 5,000 times, which goes to show that even candidates can be pundits these days.