All eyes on Twitter in the race to the White House

Blog by @chelseahartling

Three weeks ago what did Big Bird, Binders Full of Women, and the Presidential candidates have in common?

Not much.

Today? They all have their own twitter handles.

Social media gives us a new way to witness and participate in vibrant political dialogue and at Digital Royalty, we acknowledge that social media is an equal opportunity space where everyone has a voice and has the opportunity to be heard. It’s actually very democratic.

On Tuesday night we saw the second presidential debate of the 2012 race to the White House. The Digital Royalty Team had our eyes glued to Twitter because 7.2 million tweets were exchanged during the 90-minute debate – that’s nearly 110,000 tweets per minute. The ebbs and flows of the worldwide trending topics were right in line with the questions from town hall members and it was apparent the entire world was watching. To keep in perspective, only 27% of Twitter users reside in the United States.

Maybe you noticed the worldwide promoted trend for the night was #FightForJobs. As a reminder, a promoted trend is a purchased social media ad unit at the top of the trending topic lists. At minimum, the cost for purchasing a trending topic is $120K per day. The Fight For Jobs initiative definitely had a large stage and spotlight but may have missed some opportunities by not clearly identifying the organization, or providing a direct link to their website in their Twitter bio. Many Twitter users wanted to learn more about the organization yet their bio wasn’t completely filled out.

We also noticed the stark contrasts in social media use from the two candidates. For example, President Obama’s campaign tweeted 50+ times (including RT’s) throughout the debate using a variety of hashtags like #RealRomney, #SketchyDeal, and #PromiseKept to highlight their key points. Meanwhile, Governor Romney’s camp tweeted only a few times during the debate, and instead directed the public away from his Twitter handle opting for a section of his website, mittrmoney.com.

Their style of social media use is quite different. Mitt Romney tags @BarackObama in his tweets, which drives more people to the President’s handle, while Obama never tags @MittRomney. Both candidates do a good job of humanizing their brand in different ways through Instagram. Obama’s account posts pictures from all across the campaign trail and focusing on the voters – he brings the public into his social space. Mitt Romney uses Instagram to post pictures of him and his running mate Paul Ryan, as well as pictures of his family. They use different techniques, but both seem to be embracing Instagram as a way to connect with voters.

Leveraging in the social media space could prove to be a deciding factor in the 2012 presidential election. Social messages are scalable and are only bound by the speed of technology. Impressions don’t always convert, but influence does. Combining authenticity and humanization, candidates can make or break their own approval ratings and influence voters at the polls.

Twitter isn’t the only social space that has influence. For example, immediately following the debate a Tumblr blog appeared called Binders Full Of Women – a clear jab at a comment Romney had made while attempting to answer a question about equal pay for equal work. This comment quickly spiraled into an Internet meme with hundreds of pictures surfacing within hours of the final question.

This kind of movement begs the question, are Twitter and other social outlets taking the debates seriously? One tiny misconstrued comment can turn a candidate’s remarks into a complete joke. But is the joke on us? Do we look to Twitter for serious conversation or for light-hearted chatter? What if one of the candidates bought #BindersFullOfWomen as a promoted trend for the next debate – how would that alter conversation and what kind of message would it send?

Social can also be a volatile, high-risk space, which is why the need for social media education is of utmost importance. Unfortunate things can happen during campaigns, but most crisis situations can be prevented with proper education. If you have a relationship with your follower base ahead of time they will be more likely to embrace the high points of your message and more likely to forgive you if you lay a big yellow #BigBird egg. It all starts with intent and truthfulness. In fact, at Digital Royalty University we have a Stop, Drop, and Roll plan to educate people on crisis management. Our advice to our global brands, celebrities, and sports teams has always been: Don’t wait and hope an issue blows over, address it immediately.

Savvy social media campaigns are great at acquiring volunteers and securing high volume micro donations. This late in the campaign game, focus is on the undecided voters, which means it’s important for the candidates to empower their loyalists to influence friends and family to vote and spread information.

And for those voters still undecided, would it be a game changer if the candidates bought #FactChecker to hold each other accountable? We saw the moderator, Candy Crowley doing a bit of live fact-checking, but there’s still opposite information coming from both sides. If a non-biased source were to be the fact checker for the night and fact check in real time on Twitter, would it have an impact on the results of the election?

With 500+ million users on Twitter, it’s irresponsible to count the social media factor out of the 2012 Presidential race. How each candidate utilizes social media ultimately could very well determine the next President of the United States.

So the question is, who is doing it well? Is less more, or is more more? Who do you think has the social media edge in this race, and how big of a role do you think social media will play for Governor Romney and President Obama?