Presidential Campaigns’ Use of Twitter During the 2012 Electoral Cycle"
Drawing on interviews with staffers from the 2012 Obama and Romney presidential campaigns and qualitative content analysis of their Twitter feeds, this article provides the first inside look at how staffers used the platform to influence the agendas and frames of professional journalists, as well as appeal to strong supporters. These campaigns sought to influence journalists in direct and indirect ways, and planned their strategic communication efforts around political events such as debates well in advance. Despite these similarities, staffers cite that Obama’s campaign had much greater ability to respond in real time to unfolding commentary around political events given an organizational structure that provided digital staffers with a high degree of autonomy. After analyzing the ways staffers discuss effective communication on the platform, this article argues that at extraordinary moments campaigns can exercise what Isaac Reed calls “performative power,” influence over other actors’ definitions of the situation and their consequent actions through well-timed, resonant, and rhetorically effective communicative action and interaction.From the article:
The Romney campaign, by contrast, was organized very differently. The digital
department had a seat at the senior staff table, at the same level as political, policy,
operations, and finance. However, in contrast to the Obama campaign, Romney’s digitalteam had to go through an extensive vetting process for all of its public communications,meaning that the temporal workflow of the campaign did not match the speed of social media. As Caitlin Checkett (2014, personal communication), the campaign’s digital integration director, describes,
So whether it was a tweet, Facebook post, blog post, photo—anything you could imagine—it had to be sent around to everyone for approval. Towards the end of the campaign that was 22 individuals who had to approve it. … The digital team unfortunately did not have the opportunity to think of things on their own and post them. … The downfall of that of course is as fast as we are moving it can take a little bit of time to get that approval to happen.Zac Moffatt (2014, personal communication), Romney’s digital director, went so far
as to describe the campaign as having “the best tweets ever written by 17 people … It
was the best they all could agree on every single time.” A number of staffers on the
Romney campaign cite that while the initial challenge of the campaign was resources
given an extended primary, in the long run it was the lack of organizational autonomy
that undermined digital efforts on behalf of the candidate. Without a large staff during the primaries, the challenge was producing the various types of rich digital content the
Obama campaign was producing (such as interviews with field volunteers and staffers). But the broader issue of the approval process meant that by the end of the campaign, even when it had staffed up considerably, staffers were often repackaging press releases across platforms because everyone knew they were approved. As Checkett (2014, personal communication) describes,
So you get into the cycle where a press release is sent to us, it is something that we can add to the site, you can pull a Facebook message from that, some Twitter copy, and you don’t have to go through the approval process because it was already approved. So I felt like that was a huge problem because of course people don’t want to go to your website and read press releases and we knew that.