07 April 2008

Twitter abuse?

Over the weekend at @Campaign2008 I tweeted this bit of trivia:

Campaign2008 Campaign2008 The candidates have increased a presence on Twitter. number of followers right now: @ClintonNews 131, @ObamaNews 1,168, @McCainNews 255

I didn't find this to be earth-shattering news; just a mildly interesting observation. The campaigns are trying to push news out via Twitter, and Senator Obama seems to be building a significantly larger following than the other candidates. The campaigns have been using Twitter for some time now, but the new thing seems to be pushing all their RSS feeds through a "news" tweet.

Shortly after this I saw a pair of interesting replies from BL Ochman, aka @whatsnext on Twitter:

BL whatsnext @Campaign2008 wrong. that's not participation. participation is by humans telling what they think.

quickly followed by:

BL whatsnext @campaign2008 - candidate's news bots is Twitter abuse. please get a clue.

Twitter abuse? So I tried to clarify:

Campaign2008 Campaign2008 @whatsnext as you know there's a difference between "presence" and "participation." They're using Twitter as a modified RSS feed, no more..

And I heard back:

BL whatsnext @Campaign2008 candidates are using twitter like MSM push media. they should be interacting her. we can get RSS feeds off their websites.

OK, fine. I get it. Participation is marketing. Cluetrain manifesto. Give something of value. Have conversations. Build relationships. That's how I preach social media to my clients, too. After all, what's campaigning if it's not marketing, right? And if I'm not interacting, I'm not doing my job, right?

Well, yes and no.

Of course the best-case scenario is there's a person on the other end of of the internet, engaging in conversations - just like what we're doing with @Campaign2008 and Virtual Vantage Points at APCO. But you also have to consider what you can accomplish with the resources you have, and you have to work within an appropriate context. So I asked:

Campaign2008 Campaign2008 @whatsnext does someone who follows a candidate on twitter have a reasonable expectation of a conversation? can candidates interact here?

I haven't heard back from BL yet on this but I hope I will. Her earlier comments seem to me that she thinks people do have a reasonable expectation to interact with somebody, if not the candidate, here. She may very well be right. But I'm not sure that the people following these candidate "News" twitter accounts are expecting to chat with someone - I think they're looking for news and updates, nothing more. I'd love to know her opinion here.

I'm also not sure (though opinions will differ) that pushing out news through Twitter constitutes "abuse." I follow a few news networks through Twitter, even though I'm aware of their RSS feed. The simple truth is people get their information from a variety of sources, almost all in the background. When you're running a campaign, your primary job is to put your messaging in front of people, wherever they are. Some people get their information through Twitter, so you have to put your messaging there.

I also know that campaigns are obsessed with resource ROI right now. Senator Clinton, for example, has relatively limited resources to communicate with people. Someone on her staff could spend time fielding questions from the 131 people (no doubt spread out across the country if not the planet) following @ClintonNews - or that person could be canvassing neighborhoods in Philadelphia or assembling GOTV operations in Harrisburg right now. What's the smarter investment given the finite resource? I think you push out info wherever people are, and do the best you can.

Yes, the ideal scenario is complete interaction, complete immersion in conversation. And when it comes to working with bloggers (and others) on marketing assigments, I try to insist on this. But even though the political campaigns have reached out specifically (and with mixed results) to political bloggers, I've yet to find the political campaign that fits that ideal scenario of complete interaction with everyone.

Of course, raising a boatload of cash from the online channel comes pretty close.


Brad said...

To me, the word "abuse" implies some sort of malicious intent. I think BL is jumping the gun here with using that word -- there's no such intent.

I find some of these streams to be very valuable -- and no, I don't expect a two-way conversation. I just like the updates. So, I've chosen to opt-into these Twitter streams.

It comes down to "value." I value these, so I don't think it's "abuse" or "spam." BL doesn't value these, so she has a different take.

But here's my question -- since Twitter is opt-in, where you have to actively "follow" someone to get their streams, is it really abuse? After all, you've chosen to follow them, knowing how they use Twitter.

My thoughts.

Frank Martin said...

I laughed out loud at the word choice of "abuse". What that means is that the perception of one campaign is that the other campaign has an (unfair) advantage over theirs.

This will be known as the year of Twittergate.

At the very LEAST I think this merits Congressional hearings followed by regulations to keep things fair in the future. ;P

David said...

Thanks Frank - I'm sure the special select subcommittee on socialnetworks and microblogging will hold hearings with full supoena power.

But I do get what BL is saying in a general sense - you do want to interact with people if you want to follow best practices.

Kristen said...

I think there's a happy medium for the candidates use of Twitter, and other social networks. I follow Obama and Clinton, and find some value in it, but not much.

By the way, I'm referring to the candidates actual Twitter accounts, not the news feeds mentioned in your post.

Right now, it's definitely one-way communication, but I don't think we can call it abuse. The great thing about Twitter is that you don't have to listen to anyone you don't want to.

HOWEVER, I would love to see a little interaction. Obviously, the communication of these campaigns is under a microscope, and every tweet is subject to public scrutiny, but it would be nice to see a little more effort to engage.

In any case, thanks for starting the discussion... maybe if we tweet loud enough, @BarackObama or @HillaryClinton will actually hear us ;)