Twitter and the 2012 Political Conventions - The Medium is the Message

There has been no greater demonstration of the Social Media Revolution than the dominating presence of social media during the Republican and Democratic National Conventions.  

Four years ago, Facebook was starting to take off and Twitter was in its infancy - with people still trying to figure out its purpose or value.  Four years ago, people looked at Twitter as merely a ‘Facebook status update’ where you were unlikely to relay political messages during the convention; rather choosing to share what you had for lunch that day. Four years ago, nobody had a clue how Twitter was going to be popular, much less how it was going to generate revenue. 

Fast forward to the present where social media has not only shifted political conversation from TV to the web but completely revolutionized election coverage as we know it.

The 2012 RNC saw a 23% plunge in television viewers from the 2008 election that introduced Sarah Palin to the world.  While the TV viewership may be down significantly; it pales in comparison to the skyrocketing of social media usage.

In 2008, the two conventions combined drew just 365,000 tweets. This year, the RNC alone surpassed 5 million tweets during three days.  According to an AdAge article, on election day in 2008, there were 1.8 million tweets, today that many tweets are sent every six minutes. 

Costas Panagopoulos, a Fordham University political science professor explains why:

"The changing media landscape has given people a chance to gather convention information relevant to them through social networks and other nontraditional sources."

Adam Sharp, Twitter’s director of government, goes on to say it is more than just the ‘what’ that explains the Twitter’s boom in usage; it’s the ‘how.’ 

"You are no longer tethered to that screen in your living room or anywhere else - you can actively participate in these events while you're in line at the supermarket or waiting for the bus. It's incredibly transforming and freeing."

Instead of me now camping out in front the couch and tuning into network television to watch politicians' speeches, I can be at the gym, at the supermarket or even at work - pull up my phone and be provided with instant coverage, analysis and reactions … not to mention I can also be a part of the conversation.

Twitter’s convention accessibility empowers the user to customize their convention coverage in terms of who they want to follow, where they want to get their news from and how they want to express their personal beliefs; all three of which traditional media outlets are extremely limited in doing. 

Joe Green, president and founder of NationLevel explains the importance of this being the most socially connected election season ever. 

"Democracy in its most basic form is really about mobilization of the masses, and that is what social media enables at the grassroots level."

As for advertising? Well Mitt Romney and team have launched on full scale offensive via Twitter by purchasing ‘Promoted Trends’ each day of the DNC.  Rumored to be going for a cool $120,000, these trends have been strategically juxtaposed to whatever message the DNC is sending out during the convention that same evening. 

But what happens if there’s negative backlash to said promoted trend or if the engagement you are driving turns out to be more critical than complimentary?  

Zac Moffatt, digital director for the Romney campaign, explains.

"The news cycle moves so fast that whether something worked well or didn't work well, the world will be on to something new next week," he said. "This is much less true in the world of brand marketing."

Perhaps the best way to describe Twitter’s evolution from social media anomaly to political game changer is the phrase coined in 1964 by Marshall McLuhan.  

The message is in the medium.