During the 2008 Presidential race, then-candidate Obama showed his competitors how to leverage the Internet and a variety of social media platforms to reinvigorate the notion of a grassroots campaign for the 21st Century. It was largely upon the shoulders of individuals who reposted and retweeted his messages that the POTUS was carried to victory – by small donors who contributed their last $100, those who believed that the nation could ill-afford another four years of Republican top-down cynicism disguised as patriotism, morally and fiscally bankrupting the nation. Don’t like continued tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy during a time of war? Then the terrorists win!
It is a savvy marketing template that ensuing candidates from both parties have sought to emulate, with varying levels of success. Former Maverick John McCain captured the public imagination however momentarily with his selection of social media darling Sarah Palin as his running mate, unfortunately learning the hard way that stupidity is no more appealing in the digital age, but we can never take that moment of cultural zeitgeist away from the Republican ticket. All credit goes to the Obama team for forcing all walks of political dinosaur into accepting new media as part of the deal. It does not matter if one appreciates the value of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and the like. They are modern campaign tools that one must utilize in order to compete. We can never turn back the clock.
And as social media strategy becomes synonymous with campaign activity, reports of potential misuse become a common feature of the news cycle. For example, this morning Yahoo News ran a story via Mashable: “Mitt Romney Sees Sudden Unexplained Spike in Twitter Followers.” At first glance this appears to be an unlikely tale of crashing bore Romney enjoying unexpected appeal in the Twitterverse. Could it be that dull messaging is somehow inverted when permitted only 140 characters?
Ah but no. To delve deeper into writer Alex Fitzpatrick’s story is to uncover a common feature of new Republicanism: if you can’t engender love the old-fashioned way through sound policy and dynamic personality, just go out and buy it. After Romney’s Twitter feed gained a plethora of new followers over the weekend – 23,926 on Friday, 93,054 on Saturday and 25,432 on Sunday – Zach Green of 140elect.com, a blog which monitors Twitter trends relative to the presidential election, couldn’t help but notice per the Mashable piece that, “analysis indicates that Romney hasn’t seen a noticeable uptick in other metrics, such as mentions, which would suggest Romney was getting these followers organically.”
In other words, there are no more people interacting with he of the slick hair on Twitter than before. Well then, what’s the dilly yo? Do we really believe that nearly 150,000 individuals suddenly couldn’t resist the bon mots of the Romneybot on a weekend when campaign activity was suspended? Sometimes the easiest answer is the right one. For whatever reason, the campaign bought the followers, in a wrongheaded, simplistic attempt to make Mittens appear beloved. As the Mashable piece highlights:
“Zac Moffatt, the Romney campaign’s digital director, has denied buying Twitter followers. Moffatt has in the past stressed that his strategy revolves around targeted engagement and not simply accumulating massive numbers of new followers. Buying fake followers doesn’t mesh well with that approach (plus, follower totals mean very little for politicians if real voters aren’t interacting with the message being sent).”
So the Romney campaign has flip-flopped on a previously stated position? The hell you say! Now granted this is not the type of scandal for which a Congressional investigation must be called. It is merely another example of how very out of touch Team Romney is with reality. Did they think no one would notice this latest shell game? Hide your tax returns! Change your tune on health care reform! Buy some Twitter followers! But all the money in the world can’t make you a real, relatable homo sapiens Mittens. The human touch can’t be purchased.