Politicians on Twitter

08 June 2009

Interesting piece from The Fix warning politicians away from Twitter. In terms of risk management, he makes some strong points, but I think that politicians, especially those who maybe have tough races or can’t raise money so easily will continue to use Twitter to drive interest in them. As night follows day, that means there will continue to be goofs. But maybe it’s also that a lot of politicians have younger, SM-savvy staffers who think/know this is an important channel for their boss to be on but either start their boss running before walking, or don’t have in place some of the simple processes one needs to avoid foot-in-mouth disease. Just a thought. Over time it’ll become less of an issue as politicians, and voters, become more comfortable with the technology and its error-count.

Personally, I think there’s always going to be an element of there but for the grace of…

What do you think?

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7 Responses to “Politicians on Twitter”

  1. Andy Wilson

    I think that Cilizza’s piece is quite ill considered. As with a lot of process-focused political journalism these days, it discounts the power of ideas and dumbs down the political process instead of illuminating it. This is the same type of thinking that suggests that President Obama’s win was due to organizing savvy, online tactics, etc – maybe voters thought that he had better ideas than Sen. McCain (and President Bush, for that matter)?. Earth shattering, I know.

    To follow Cilizza’s logic, the reason that Gingrich screwed up was because he only had 140 characters to express his idea, not because he expressed an idea that was so far outside the mainstream as to be ridiculous. Suggesting that Judge Sotomayor is a racist was the problem, not the fact that the point of view was expressed via Twitter.

    Similar situation for the candidate out in Utah – he made a dumb mistake that could easily have happened with email or another communications platform. It wasn’t Twitter’s fault that he screwed up. Sounds like the medicine for him is to think before posting, not necessarily to stop posting.

    Finally, I’ll resist the urge to draw conclusions from the coincidence that the two follies mentioned here were by R’s – surely Cilizza could have found a Democratic Twitter screw up out there somewhere?

  2. Brian Noyes

    I actually agree with The Fix that Twitter is an awful tool in the hands of actual elected officials. If the politician is handling the account themselves, and not their communications staff or a ‘ghost tweeter’—then I think its only time before they stick their foot in their mouth or something gets taken out of context.

    They’re already overloaded with meetings, speeches, lunches, briefings, email, phone calls, etc.—which leaves them apt to say what they’re really thinking—a scary prospect on both sides of the aisle. Plus, during heated times (budget or election season), do we really want them off the cuff? As spectators maybe, but if I was on the Hill, then I’d much rather my boss use Facebook or a blog to get the message out, rather than Twitter.

    In the Gingrich case, I think Repulicans will continue using that ‘racism’ theme, just couching it in different terms and explaining it in much more than 140 characters. I think it was a definite talking point (as shown by Rush hammering on it too), but it went awry because he had to make it ’short and sweet’, and tried to react too quickly. I agree that it was probably a poor message, but my guess is it would’ve had a much longer shelf life if he hadn’t tweeted it.

    My 2 cents.

  3. Krystyn Firka

    I agree with the article that cilizza wrote. While there was some good points being raised about it being the message itself being the issue rather than the medium used (twitter) I don’t believe that twitter is an appropriate media tool to get the message across.

    I believe the risk is too high and when emotions get in the way people react to quickly. Such as Senator Grassley and his ‘tweets’ to Obama
    (sorry not to single out the republicans). And like email it’s quick and email to disclose information, almost too quick, especially with people in that position. I believe that there should always be a sense of caution when delivering a message.

    Furthermore, do you really think that by using twitter the proper target audience is being reached? What’s the objective of the messages that are being sent? If it’s just to show distaste for certain actions wouldn’t friends and family be a better audience rather than 2,000 of your closest followers that include businesses and the media?

    Just a thought…

  4. Eric Warner

    I found Cillizza’s article to be quite interesting as it highlighted the impact social media has on an audience that is willing and ready to embrace it.

    Changing times in technology and the evolution of social media sites from their incubation period to mass consumption and eventual decline has marketers in all spheres working to comprehend how to best communicate with their audiences.

    Having worked at one of the large social media networks during the primaries of the last US election, I found that user engagement when tailored was very well documented. Similarly, the utilization of Twitter by politicians does indeed allow direct user engagement and commentary in a condensed manner that is easier to digest than some political lingo. I feel that the audience wanting to communicate through this channel will do just so. For the time being as the trend is fresh, media will pick- up on the social media savvy politician. Again, trends die out quickly in this day and age, so how long people care about this dialogue is up for debate.

    I agree with Duncan that there will continue to be many slip-ups by politicians who are not yet familiar with Twitter or the next social media trend. Tweeting thoughts in a moment of passion can backfire. It’s great that this communication channel exists, but thinking before acting is the best approach. You can have 27,000 friends following you, but those friends can quickly become enemies if they are not addressed properly.

  5. Melanie Wade

    Despite the dangers of political ‘tweeting’, there is an argument to be made that twitter has brought a dose of transparency to the world of politics. Used wisely, twitter is a cost-effective way for politicians to show voters what they’re really doing and why they’re relevant. For instance, I find it refreshing that if someone asked me “what is Jack Layton really doing for us?” I can answer confidently about what he did today, yesterday and last month.

    Gingrich reacted too quickly and made one of the biggest political mitstakes on twitter. Good or bad, it was his true reaction. Voters want to know politicians for who they really are and what they really think. I think that political tweeting is good for voters and bad for politicians who lack impulse control. Overall, it’s great for the world of politics.

  6. Michelle Symeonides

    I agree with Melanie. I think if used appropriately and correctly ( i.e. knowing how to send private messages versus public ‘tweets’), it could be very beneficial for politicians and their respective parties. She raised a good point by saying that Twitter is a good way for politicians to keep the public informed with their accomplishments. Cillizza’s article also raised a good point, saying that if politicians are going to use Twitter, their key messages should be aligned with one another so that there are no discrepancies.
    I’m currently studying PR at Humber College and we got a little lesson on Twitter yesterday. One useful tip that stuck with me was that Twitter is meant to be a public place, not a private one. So if you want to send a private message to someone, e-mail the person the ‘old-fashioned’ way. I thought that was good advice, and it would have saved these politicians from their public humiliation, or so I’d like to think…

  7. Mitch Tucker

    For me, it’s pretty clear: Twitter is a powerful communication tool and should not be ignored by politicians because of a few inherent risks. If politicians ignored any medium that might make them look stupid, we’d probably never hear from them at all. And really, Cillizza didn’t convince me the risk of using Twitter is all that high for politicians.

    The examples he used to illustrate the dangers of Twitter all could have been avoided with a little ‘Twitter-savvy,’ which basically comes down to good, old-fashioned common sense:

    Don’t tweet immediately after something upsets you. Most politicians know better than to tweet while in huff about something, especially something as contentious as racial discrimination.

    Don’t mistake a text-message for a tweet. They are different. Should politicians stop using email because they may select all of their contacts instead of one?

    Don’t tweet if you’ve been drinking. Common sense.

    These are the dangers Cillizza says make Twitter too dodgy for politicians. I would argue that the ability communicate instantaneously with millions, far exceeds these risks. But that’s just me.

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