After the 2008 loss to Barack Obama, a clear Republican weakness in the area of social media was exposed. The Obama campaign used social media to strategically raise money and spread the message of the campaign. It now appears that Republicans have emerged as the party that better utilizes the platform.
Republicans have proven savvy with engagement on Twitter. While they may not have more followers than the President, GOPers tweet with more substance and converse about the issues. Also note that several big name Democrats are nowhere to be found on social media.
An Edelman study found that Senate Republicans are the most mentioned of any congressional group on Twitter. It also found that Republicans tweet about legislation 3.5 times more than Democrats and 52 percent more of their tweets contain links.
Republicans are also quick to respond and answer to statements from Democrats on Twitter. Similar to the Clinton campaign’s use of the war room in the ‘90s, Republicans use Twitter as an effective platform to answer every policy proposal and criticism hurled at them.
The ability to retort statements with links to facts and figures is an important tool for the minority party. A Lassen and Brown study found that the minority party – covered less in the traditional media – is more likely to adopt new media, which can bridge the gap between representative and constituent.
(Side note: The same study cites party leadership as an important influence on a congressperson’s adoption of Twitter. In 2009, after the GOP loss in the presidential and Congressional elections, House and Senate GOP leaders urged their members to rethink social media strategies, encouraging them to get on Twitter and YouTube.)
Republicans had the edge in 2012 in app downloads. This is largely because of the ‘Mitt’s VP’ app, which promised to inform people of the vice presidential pick before the announcement. Making this direct connection with voters/users was an important way for Republicans to attract interest. This is a common theme for Republicans, who sidestep the mainstream media when using social media to interact with voters.
It is also interesting that Republicans have used social media to spread their brand. Using things like the dwinQ app at the Republican National Convention, the GOP was able to place a small RNC logo on each photo, getting the Republican brand out to the masses. The use of the #tcot hashtag (top conservative on Twitter) has also helped build a community of notable conservative voices.
In 2010, California gubernatorial candidate Carly Fiorina encouraged her followers to change their avatars to her logo, extending her reach with this free marketing tool. In 2012, there was more engagement in this way, with campaigns providing Facebook cover photos, infographics, social media profile backgrounds and other things that political users were able to use and share on their sites. This effectively made each user profile a free billboard for the message of the campaign.
Republicans have proven savvy in using Twitter to frame debates on their own terms. They seem to have grasped the importance of social media in a larger communications strategy. Notable Republican groups on Twitter include House and Senate leadership, leaders of conservative think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute, Tea Party groups, the Republican National Committee, top congressional staffers and conservative pundits.
Below are Edelman’s ten tips for congresspeople on Twitter. I provide a short description of each of the metrics below.
If you want to be effective, you’ve got to use the platform.
Tweet with relevant and compelling content
Linking to rich content encourages retweets, conversation and replies. Specifically, I would suggest tweeting things like infographics and photos, which attract attention and followers will want to share.
Hashtags allow congressmen and women to take part in larger public discussion, and encourage people involved in the conversation to retweet them.
Tweet about specific legislation
Talking about the specific and controversial subjects being taken up in Congress will show your users that you take your job, and their interest in the topic, seriously. It will also encourage retweets and replies.
Retweet other users
The more people you retweet, the more like you’ll get more followers
Be strategic with replies
More generally, be aware of the way twitter works. If you reply to a follower with only their handle at the beginning, they will be the only ones to see your answer. Put some punctuation before their name, and everyone will see what you have to say. Maybe you’ll answer some questions that lots of people were wondering about.
Tweet early in the day
It will help you get your comment out on the news of the day.
Tweet later in the work week
Effective MCs in the study peaked on Thursday.
Tweet over the weekend
Less people are tweeting during the weekend. Tweet out things and fill that vacuum.
Tweet while in session
Tweeting while in session gives the legislative process a human face. Show you want to engage and hear what your constituents think.
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