While on Twitter yesterday morning, I immediately became intrigued by the Promoted Trending Topic #AreYouBetterOff. This tweet is paid for by the Republican National Committee, and while it is not authorized by any candidate, we all know that this trend is designed to cause people to contemplate what (if anything) President Obama has done for them in the past four years. It’s a very simple question, founded on a very simple strategy. The RNC asks, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” People answer no, and the only subsequent logical course of action to take is to vote for Mitt Romney.
This sounds like a great strategy, but so did Clint Eastwood’s empty chair speech when he pitched it to the gals on Mrs. Eastwood and Company, and we all know how that went. (I’m choosing to forever think of Clint as he was with Meryl Streep in The Bridges of Madison County, not as he was on stage at the Republican National Convention.)
The problem with promoted hashtags is that the people/company/brand that promotes them has very little control over them. Once a hashtag is tweeted, it becomes public fodder. Anyone can use that hashtag, and if a hashtag trends on Twitter, the likeliness of people using it increases. The RNC can promote their own hashtag, but they ultimately turn that hashtag over to all of the individuals that use Twitter on a daily basis, and many times, this looks a lot like crowdsourcing gone wrong.
Twittersphere: 1, RNC Advertising: 0
In the case of the RNC hashtag, Twitter users hijacked it and used it to post tweets of their own, many of which were not supportive of the RNC. Promoted tweets are obviously a form of advertising, and in this case, attempts to encourage tweets that would summon online support for Romney (or rouse a collective dissatisfaction for Obama) backfired. People posted tweets that followed #AreYouBetterOff with #yes, thereby publicly avowing their pro-Obama sentiments and encouraging others to do the same. There are some tweets from Romney supporters and from the official RNC account peppered throughout the cascade of tweets that feature this hashtag, but there are a large number of tweets from Romney detractors as well.
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Something tells me this isn’t exactly what the RNC was going for.
The RNC’s Promoted trend was designed to portray Mitt Romney as the obvious choice in the November election, but what it really did was open up Romney and the Republican Party to criticism. And in an arena as volatile and impassioned as politics, criticism is not hard to come by. A politically oriented hashtag, whether Democratic or Republican in nature, is asking for a disagreement. Thus, while trying to drum up the voice of disgruntled Americans, the RNC made it easy for Obama supporters to usurp the hashtag and take it hostage. I think the same thing might have happened if the DNC promoted a hashtag on Twitter.
Better Luck Next Time
I’ve written before that politics and social media is not always a winning combination, and it appears that neither is politics and social media advertising. Twitter began accepting political ads one year ago. Mitt Romney recently became the first presidential candidate to purchase a promoted trend on Twitter, #BelieveInAmerica. According to AdWeek, promoted trends, political or otherwise, cost $120,000 per day.
Now, $120,000 a day might not amount to much in campaigns in which candidates spend 34.7 million per week on TV ads, but regardless of finances, any advertising effort that generates negative publicity for either candidate is a serious snafu.
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