Are Political Twitter Buys Working? (Spoiler: Yes.)

Have you signed on to Twitter recently, checked out the top of your feed and found yourself scrolling through messages that weren’t posted by accounts that you follow or re-tweeted by anyone you do? Us too! Oh, and have you noticed #areyoubetteroff trending over the last few days? So have we–and there’s a good reason for this. It’s called money.

You’ve probably realized by now that these unwanted messages are known as “promoted trends”, and they’re a tool almost always used by big businesses eager to get their PR spiel in front of as many eyeballs as possible without any inconvenient filters. They’re more than a little annoying, but we’ve accepted them as part of the Twitter landscape–much like sponsored Facebook ads.

We know you were wondering: Can politicians turn these tools into (rhetorically) formidable weapons? Yes, they can! 

Last week, Mitt Romney became the first political candidate to buy a promoted trend by spending $120K per day to hype the hash tag #RomneyRyan2012. This wasn’t a huge investment for the campaign, but we feel like it was worthwhile—and the RNC’s new “promoted trend” #areyoubetteroff is even more valuable.

The RNC wants voters to ask themselves if they’re better off (economically) today than they were four years ago, when many of them presumably voted for President Obama. The rest of the conversation writes itself: A voter who answers with a resounding “no” could be more easily persuaded to believe that Obama hasn’t quite delivered the goods and that his lackluster performance demands a (sad-faced) vote for one Mitt Romney.

The Democratic Party has made things a bit easier for their rivals by failing to deliver a coherent answer to the question: On “Face the Nation” this weekend, Governor Martin O’Malley of Maryland offered an unfortunately phrased “No, but…” and immediately lost messaging points.

Republicans have a ready response to their own query: this handy chart measuring household income indexes and unemployment rates over the past four years. The incumbent counterargument holds that Obama’s actions prevented further economic pain and that the intransigence of the Republican House has limited the amount of good he could do. Legitimate as this line of debate may be, politics works by way of soundbites, and the Obama campaign quickly realized that any answer other than “absolutely!” was an effective concession.

This simple, brutally effective campaign hints at the potential power of Twitter promotions to guide the national conversation online and off. Slow clap, guys. You’ve earned it.