Twitter largely remains a one-way medium for political campaigns, according to an analysis of the impact of Twitter on the 2009 gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey and the January 19, 2010 Senate special election in Massachusetts, conducted and released by Washington, D.C., public affairs firm Qorvis Communications. However, the study found that campaign staff are beginning to use conversational tweets to reach out to reporters and voters on Twitter.
“Social media is not like making spaghetti, campaigns shouldn’t throw it at the wall and see what sticks,” says Wyeth Ruthven, a senior director at Qorvis and a former press secretary to Congressman Lloyd Doggett and the South Carolina Democratic Party. “Campaigns should integrate Twitter into their strategies while understanding the unique needs of the medium. Social media should not be an afterthought.”
Among the recommend best practices for future political campaigns to adopt, according to Ruthven: maintain one Twitter account per campaign in order to maintain message discipline; engage followers with “calls to action,” such as specific requests for volunteers, fundraising, voter registration drives; and link to external content such as news articles, polls, and independent blogs as sources of third-party validation.
Ruthven analyzed more than 2500 tweets by the four gubernatorial campaigns and their staff during the final three months of the elections. Analysis of the Massachusetts Senate election examined over 900 tweets during the three month period from the November 3, 2009 filing deadline through the January 19, 2010 election. Ruthven adopted the methodology of previous Twitter analytic studies, classifying tweets into various categories for in-depth analysis.
The Massachusetts Senate election was more conversational than other campaigns. Both candidates devoted approximately one out of every five tweets to direct communication with individual followers. In the month after winning their respective party primaries, Scott Brown out-tweeted Martha Coakley by a three-to-one margin, 232 to 77.
Among other findings:
· The majority of tweets by the campaigns centered on self-promotional information, such as links to campaign materials. Creigh Deeds was the exception. Non-campaign personal observations accounted for a plurality (44.32 percent) of his tweets. In fact, Deeds devoted more tweets to his musical tastes (39 tweets) than to his transportation plan (one).
· Multiple Twitter accounts led to message dilution. Campaigns that maintained more than one account (6 by the Deeds campaign, 3 by the Christie campaign) found that their messages failed to reach a wide audience.
· By contrast, campaigns with a single-account Twitter strategy—Jon Corzine and Bob McDonnell—had the greatest reach on Twitter.
· Issues that were prominent in the campaigns at large were similarly prominent on Twitter. Across multiple Deeds campaign Twitter feeds, tweets about Bob McDonnell's thesis exceeded tweets about transportation policy by a ratio of 3-to-1. In New Jersey, Republican candidate Chris Christie’s campaign devoted 15 percent of tweets to the issues of property taxes and political corruption.
· In New Jersey, both campaigns relied heavily on social media tools such as TwitPic and Flickr to share campaign photos via Twitter. Approximately one out of every three tweets by the Corzine and Christie campaigns was a link to a campaign photo.