GOP-targeting Twitter strategy looks more like ‘pre-printed postcards’

Tina Nguyen Contributor
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The White House’s latest Twitter campaign may amount to a new social media strategy, but it unintentionally produced little more than form letters.

After President Barack Obama urged the nation to tweet at Republican congressmen in support of a bipartisan resolution on the debt crisis, his supporters flocked to carryout the president’s call to action.

Many of the tweets, however, do not actually urge specific legislators to act: They’re  just retweets of the original @BarackObama message, with a few additional words added in.

Earlier today, for example, @BarackObama tweeted out the handles of four GOP Illinois congressmen: Peter Roskam, Joe Walsh, Robert Dold, and Adam Kinzinger. Within seconds, the message was retweeted nearly verbatim by thousands of Obama supporters. A majority of those tweets tagged all four representatives in the same order in which they appeared in the original White House tweet.

Most of the tweets that mention Illinois Republican Rep. Joe Walsh specifically did not target him for his steadfast refusal to raise the debt ceiling, nor for his role as a Tea Party stalwart. And few of his own constituents tweeted at him specifically: Between 2:30 and 3:15 p.m., 45 of the 60 tweets fired at Joe Walsh’s Twitter account also included the four other representatives who were included in Obama’s original Twitter message.

The Obama administration may have hoped for a Twitter landslide to exert pressure on GOP legislators by mobilizing the president’s constituents. But the resulting campaign looked more like a form-letter approach and may have little impact in changing the minds of Republican lawmakers.

Matthew Dybwad of CRAFT DC, a political communications firm specializing in online grassroots outreach, noted that Twitter outreach campaigns, though effective in showing constituent response, are more of a “call-and-response” medium than one that promotes political engagement.

“Social communication in general only has value when it is original and pertinent to the people. If I tweet something to my friends and it’s clear that I’m parroting someone says, the value of what I say decreases.”

“It’s the cyber-equivalent of pre-printed postcards — totally ineffectual,” agreed Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College and a former Hill staffer.

White House press secretary Jay Carney defended the Twitter strategy as “a call on Americans of all political persuasions to call on their members — if they support compromise.”