Not Your Grandmother's Caucus: How to be a Twitter Savvy Candidate

This weekend, I was lucky enough to help organize the first ever Texas Democratic Party Tweet-Up at the State Convention. We had several statewide candidates stop by to talk as well as a variety of elected officials and other candidates. The hashtag garnered over 1400 tweets (and counting!) and we aggregated 156 Twitter photos from the convention. You can relive the memories here.

The "Godfather of Politics on Twitter," Representative Aaron Peña agreed to emcee the event and did a terrific job by keeping it interesting and entertaining. We were also lucky enough to have had lunch provided by AT&T, which, at a convention that was seriously lacking food options, turned out to be extremely helpful. Thanks to everyone who stopped by and everyone who supported the event!

A surprising number of politicians this weekend asked me what they are supposed to do at a tweet-up, which was an interesting learning experience for me that someone might not actually know what a tweet-up was. So I decided to write down a list of lessons for candidates who might find themselves at a social networking event somewhere on the campaign trail.

1. Throw out your stump speech.
Really. If you're faced with a group of people who are trying to push your message out in 140 characters or less, unless you're Obama, reading the preamble isn't going to work in your favor. Your best bet for getting your message out past the room you're in is by feeding the people what they need: short statements that explain your stance on the issues, interesting anecdotes about your reasons for running and how to find you online. Lt. Governor candidate Linda Chavez-Thompson earned some tweets by opening up with a story about how most union men used to call her "pushy broad" and "mouth of the south."
Ultimately, it's important to keep it short and to the point. Especially if you're at a Twitter-related event--your goal is to get your name put out there on the Twitter, after all. Burnt Orange Report blogger and UDems president Michael Hurta put it best in 140 characters during Friday's Tweet-Up:
2. Make yourself relevant.
The Tweet Up was supposed to be like a caucus, in the sense that the people who were there are truly interested in social media, how politicians use it and hearing more about how it can and does help elect Democrats. Tailor your talking points accordingly. Senator Leticia Van de Putte reflected on how Twitter has changed the way she interacts with her constituency. "I feel like I'm with you all the time," quoted one Tweet-Up attendant.
3. Have a calling card -- and use it.
While we're good at working Google, when you're at a live event trying to get out your social media information to an audience, it helps to have one, easy-to-remember URL that you can repeat over and over so people can find you. If that's "I'm @CandidateName on Twitter and Facebook" or "You can find all my social networking pages on" then great. What's important is that you remind people of how to connect with you, even after the Tweet-Up is over. Bonus points for candidates who start using push-cards that provide audiences with this type of information. Senator Kirk Watson had these fliers placed on the seats of the arena.
4. Don't be afraid to go rogue (just not in a Sarah Palin kind of way)
The first thing I did when I walked into the Tweet-Up room was to start pulling apart the neat rows of chairs that are typical of most caucuses and panels. While rows may be conducive to crops of corn, it's hard to have a conversation with someone when you're lined up with them like cattle. I would have liked to have seen some of the candidates and elected officials take advantage of a powerful group of people held captive, smartphones at the ready. A clipboard passed around by a staffer to collect Twitter handles to be compiled in a Twitter list later on, an "Everyone get out your phone and send out this tweet" moment or even an encouragement to re-tweet a candidate's most recent tweet might have helped amplify the message.

In the world of social media, it's time for political activists and campaigns alike to start shaking up the snow globe we're used to living in.

We've got four months until November and two years till 2012.

Let's get @ it.

Update: Martha over at Musings has a great round-up of all the bloggers' convention posts.

Did you attend the Tweet-Up? What suggestions and/or feedback do you have for politicians hoping to reach out to social media users?

2 Response to "Not Your Grandmother's Caucus: How to be a Twitter Savvy Candidate"

  • Abby Rapoport Says:

    Hello there Ms. Mean! My questions: How many candidates do you think are doing any/some/all of these suggestions? Do you think candidates now need to—as people—embrace social media or can they get by with a half-hearted attempt and really savvy consultants?

  • Mean Rachel Says:

    Howdy! I think the number of candidates doing these suggestions is pretty small, relative to the number of candidates not doing these suggestions. That being said, after I posted it on Facebook, Lainey Melnick made a comment saying that she'd wished she'd known these suggestions prior to the Tweet Up and another candidate's staffer tweeted at me that he'd be putting some of these suggestions to work.

    I think if candidates aren't going to at least inform themselves on the subject -- like knowing the terminology and how/when it should be used -- then they should probably stay out of the conversation. I don't think every candidate needs to become the Aaron Pena of Twitter but I do think that if you're going to seemingly engage on these mediums (like have a campaign Twitter account that appears to be "you") you should at least know how it works.