Twitter is shaking up the US election campaign according to a recent story by AFP.
“Because Twitter democratizes the delivery of information, tweets can help a candidate by getting out a message that might not be seen on traditional media like newspapers and television.” they write.
They go on to interview and quote people talking about this incredible tool for outreach that only 20% of the U.S. population uses, which is probably used even less by voters since the median age of voters in the 2008 election was 44. I don’t buy the game changer argument and I’ll explain why:
What does Twitter replace?
For all of the platitudes about Twitter, people rave about the capability for outreach (which I’ll talk about later) and the capability to take a message to the people. If you study the politicians’ behaviors and the pundit arguments, what they’re saying is that Twitter is performing the role formerly performed by press releases. And it is a place to spend advertising dollars, whether by direct advertising or hiring community managers. If Twitter is the new press release, then without Twitter could we proclaim that press releases shake up the national elections? I’m no politico, but I think anyone that argues that point would be have some explaining to do.
Which leads me to my next point…
What are Obama and Romney doing on Twitter that is so revolutionary?
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 26, 2012
[Infographic] My plan for Energy Independence will deliver more jobs & more take-home pay for middle-class families mi.tt/OyOC89
— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) August 23, 2012
Social media would be very special for these campaigns if they decided to be social, but all they’re doing is advertising.
There is no interaction with people in their streams right now, and Romney is even sponsoring a tweet in his own stream. Twitter for them is a repository for advertising messages to be redistributed through people’s social channels. It’s almost disingenuous to call these accounts a social presence, since both campaigns are treating Twitter like a cheap advertising platform. Don’t get me wrong – Twitter can be a cheap advertising platform… it just has the potential to be something more.
I live in a swing state so I know the election doesn’t hinge on Twitter.
I used to live in Washington state. The national political ads that ran there were pretty sparse. If you told me that Twitter had anything at all to do with the outcome of the Presidential election LAST YEAR, I would have been skeptical but might have given you the benefit of the doubt. But I now live in Ohio, which (along with Florida, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Virginia and Wisconsin) is what is known as a “swing-state.” It is a quite a foreign, overwhelming and unpleasant political experience.
If Twitter were such a political game-changer, I suspect that I wouldn’t see advertisements for each campaign at every television break of every show that I watch. I wouldn’t be hit with geo-specific ad campaigns on websites I visit (like the Seattle Times for instance). If Twitter were changing the game, then each campaign would put more resource into it. They don’t do that.
Attributing game changing powers to Twitter when there are so many variables seems a bit over-the-top. Twitter is great, but the swing state special is a full-on media assault. Twitter optional.