How the Dictionary Triumphed on Twitter During the Presidential Debate

Inside Merriam-Webster's real-time word lessons

Headshot of Christopher Heine

Merriam-Webster stole the show on Twitter during Monday night's presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, correcting the candidates' bad word usage.

The Twitter engagement and referral traffic earned for such efforts was impressive. For instance, site searches for "braggadocious"—a Trump utterance when he meant "braggadocio"—increased by 15,500 percent. His use of "bigly" inspired searches for that term—which shares a web page with "big"—to jump 65,000 percent. 

Today, we caught up with Meghan Lunghi, Merriam-Webster director of marketing, to get the inside details around the real-time initiative. 

How many people were on your Twitter social team during the debate?

This was a collaborative effort between folks in social and editorial. Several people were monitoring lookups, offering commentary, writing Trend Watch articles for our site and tweeting throughout.

Was it difficult to pull it off?

It wasn't hard to come up with anything; the challenge was to keep up with everything that was going on, and to try to keep everything in the brand voice despite the speed at which we were working. But most of the tweets wrote themselves. When Clinton says "Words matter," what else are you going to do? 

How quickly—minutes-wise—did you pull off some of the tweets on Monday night?

Within a minute of the comment, which almost felt too slow. There was a lot of frantically looking stuff up and trying to get it into 140 characters without any typos before everyone else had already moved on.

Has your brand heard positive or negative things from supporters of either candidates?

The response has been overwhelmingly positive. People seem to love it—we gained

thousands of followers the night of the debate, and a lot of them tweeted at us to say they were following us because of the debate coverage. … Katy Perry called us the Bible! The only negative feedback at all came from a handful of people who claimed that "stop and frisk" hadn't been found unconstitutional; they objected to our tweet which said, correctly, that it was.

Will your team do real-time coverage of the VP debate on Tuesday?

Maybe—we'll see if there are any good trends.

Will your folks react in real time again during the last two POTUS debates?

Oh, yes. Watch this space. 

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