Tweeting a Successful Campaign

by Jeremy Loudenback

In the 2008 presidential campaign, the much more prominent use of social media by Barack Obama’s campaign served to highlight his relevance and forward-looking perspective.

But by 2012, the social-media gap had narrowed sharply, with Twitter and other social media becoming a contentious political battlefield for candidates from both parties.

However, a new paper argues that the Obama campaign’s continued social-media savviness and organization spelled an important advantage for him in the 2012 election.

In “Seizing the moment: The presidential campaigns’ use of Twitter during the 2012 electoral cycle,” Duke professor Daniel Kreiss examined how both the Obama and Mitt Romney campaigns used Twitter to influence journalists, appeal to key supporters, and shape strategic communications.

Through interviews with key campaign staffers on both sides, Kreiss paints a startling picture of two different approaches to political communication. The Romney campaign ran a highly organized campaign that used an extensive vetting process before social media shares were posted. An interview with Caitlin Checkett, the Romney campaign’s digital integration director, reveals that toward the end of the campaign, 22 people had to approve a social media post before it could go live. The workflow of the Romney campaign, Kreiss writes, did not align with the immediate and responsive nature of social media

The more autonomous approach employed by the Obama campaign provides a contrast. While there are dangers in entrusting political messaging to young social-media staffers, the Obama campaign’s ability to create timely, responsive, and more emotionally resonant social media content created better buzz for the incumbent and shaped the perceptions of journalists and other thought leaders. As the paper points out, a response to actor Clint Eastwood’s bungled address at the Republican National Convention proved a quick-witted parry to the actor’s speech and a clever way to cash in on the Eastwood meme that went viral after the speech.

For more insights about the 2012 campaign, read the paper here.