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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Twitter ‘Taketh And Giveth Away’ For Presidential Candidates

Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry looks at his notes during a Republican Presidential Debate at Oakland University in Auburn Hills, Mich., Wednesday night. (AP)

Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry looks at his notes during a Republican Presidential Debate at Oakland University in Auburn Hills, Mich., Wednesday night. (AP)

When Texas Gov. Rick Perry made his gaffe at the GOP presidential debate on CNBC last night, failing to come up with the names of all three federal agencies he would cut as president, Twitter exploded.

“Rick Perry just created some beautiful Jon Stewart fodder,” photosbyms wrote.

WeeLaura was more scathing: “I am 100% convinced Rick Perry has his name stitched into every single pair of his underpants.”

Perry, on his own Twitter feed, responded with: “Really glad I wore my boots 2nite because I stepped in it out there. I did still name 2 agencies to eliminate. Obama has never done that!”

Candidates can quickly find themselves “stepping in it,” when it comes to social media, because the tide can quickly turn against them.

While traditional media, like television commercials or mailings allow the candidates to stay on message, social media can become an out of control digital hydra.

“The Twitterverse giveth and it taketh away,” Here & Now media analyst John Carroll said. “You have no control over it, so if you want to play in that sandbox, you have to take what comes.”

And it appears that candidates do want to play in the social media sandbox. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leads the GOP field on Facebook with more than 1 million fans. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich leads Twitter with 1.3 million followers and YouTube with 5 million views.

And when it comes to “buzz,” meaning how much people are talking about the candidates on social media, Texas Congressman Ron Paul leads Twitter, while Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann is ahead on Facebook.

But what does all this social media activity mean? Carroll points out that for all the social media hype, the actual footprint is significantly less.

“Remember, only 8 percent of Internet users are on Twitter,” Carroll said. “But it can get traction, it can go viral, and it can get a lot of press, which is what makes it sort of outsized.”

Carroll also notes that while most ordinary people use social media to share real moments in their lives, the same can’t always be said for candidates on Twitter or Facebook.

For example, multimillionaire Mitt Romney attempted to portray a “regular Joe” image by tweeting about eating Subway sandwiches and commenting about flying coach on Southwest airlines.

Rick Perry seems to have a hankering for hamburgers, posting frequent tweets about what he’s eating on the campaign trail.

Gov. Rick Perry tweets: "Rick Perry 'Brawny' burger. Need a whole roll of Brawny paper towels but worth it. Thanks for the great lunch!!!"

Gov. Rick Perry tweets: "Rick Perry 'Brawny' burger. Need a whole roll of Brawny paper towels but worth it. Thanks for the great lunch!!!"

Carroll says of all the candidates, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman appears the most authentic on Twitter. And Huntsman’s daughters, who have started their own feed, Jon2012girls, have been called his secret weapon.

“(Jon2012girls) is a hoot,” Carroll said. “It’s interesting and it’s different and it’s refreshing in many ways.”

Using the Internet as a campaign tool has evolved considerably in just the past four years. Back during the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama was heralded for his use of the web to garner support and raise money.

But he relied mainly on email and text messages. Today, the landscape has changed, with much greater reliance on Facebook and Twitter.

“Somebody said tweeting is the new baby kissing,” Carroll said. “And it’s not going to replace retail politics, but it’s a terrific supplement to it. And it’s a great tool to add to the sense of connection to the candidates.”

Guest:

  • John Carroll, Here & Now media analyst

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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