Hashtag Feedback

Hashtag Feedback: Twitter & real time political accountability

I was certainly not surprised to read that Twitter is calling this the year of the Twitter election; former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs had said as much in a PRWeek interview last October that stated: “political campaigns, governments, and businesses face a “unique” environment with a completely new set of rules: no-one is immune to society’s doubts and everyone has to be accountable to their users, who are now the ones in control.”

Moreover, we see the impact of users’ voices on Twitter every day – whether occupying Wall Street or voting for The X Factor winners. As social media professionals, we advocate that one of the regular benefits of social media listening for any organization is the opportunity to take a pulse of the community, but in the upcoming election, that pulse can impact media coverage, debates, and candidates in real time.

Last night’s Fox News debate in South Carolina invited audience participation not just through submitted questions and comments, but also by having them hold candidates accountable. In addition to using the #scdebate hashtag, viewers were asked to tweet with #answer when they felt a candidate directly answered a question and #dodge when they didn’t. By our tracking, nearly 8,000 people “voted” using these hashtags in the debate last night.

Twitter then partnered with Mass Relevance to show minute by minute viewer tracking of #dodge v. #answer based on what was happening on air and produced timelines like the one above.

Moderators, including Juan Williams and Bret Baier, both very active on Twitter, not only asked questions from Twitter, but also used the Twitter feed to reinforce the need for more thorough and accurate answers.

So the question is: what does this mean for this year’s election?

  • Candidates will be accountable to everyone all of the time – whether you’re in the room or not, a Twitter election is always on. Candidates who want to win can’t just look like Boy Scouts, they always need to “be prepared,”.
  • A web army is a powerful army – Romney may have won the first two primaries, but his audience was not with him last night. It’s one thing to be ganged up on as the front-runner on stage, but another when 4,000 Newt supporters are emphasizing you dodged the question in real time.

Beyond elections though, last night’s debate showed me that creative use of hashtags can open up new opportunities for data – instead of a “who won?” web survey, we have minute-by-minute user response available. Last night was just one example that the focus group has been democratized.

In or out of an election year, what are the possibilities for your brand or organization?

Read Twitter’s recap on the campaign here.