Empty Accounts? Fake Followers? Politicians' Twitter Stumbles
Oh, how the mighty and media-savvy have fallen.
Two decades ago, presidential candidate Bill Clinton's saxophone-playing appearance on Arsenio Hall's TV show was taken as pop culture proof that he was a politician who could connect with a new generation of voters.
But now, Hillary Clinton risks coming across as a bit of a square, disconnected fogey.
Business leaders have found that a real-time, connected social media presence is crucial to engage their audience. Is the same true in politics? We're about to find out, because the former first lady, senator, secretary of state--and, let's face it, unofficial front-runner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination--doesn't have a foot in the door when it comes to social media.
Clinton's presence on Twitter currently amounts to no more than a locked and dormant account with no tweets, no followers, and an avatar that is the default egg. "Texts from Hillary," the viral internet meme inspired by a candid photo of Clinton checking her BlackBerry aboard a plane from Malta to Tripoli, still constitutes the possible candidate's largest internet presence. And the State Department aides who helped give her a reputation as a force for technological change are no longer with her.
The fact that she seems to be way behind on social media might suggest a big hurdle she'll have to overcome. It's about direct marketing to supporters, and it's also about her image--something her husband understood well as a candidate.
But Wait--Fake Followers?
In reporting for this column, I thought I'd compare Clinton's lack of social media presence (especially on Twitter) with her likely 2016 competition for president (mostly as determined by Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post).
As I looked through the other candidates' Twitter profiles, one surprising thing stood out--the number of Twitter followers that a widely-publicized Web interface concludes are fake.
If you're not familiar, buying fake Twitter followers is an apparently common tactic. During the 2012 campaign, media reports said about 70 percent of Barack Obama's then-18.8 million Twitter followers were fake.
Mitt Romney faced similar scrutiny. (Romney always had far fewer followers than Obama. Of his 1.5 million or so followers today, fakers.statuspeople.com says about 28 percent are fake, and 39 percent are inactive.) It's also important to note that public figures may attract "bots" that are programmed to follow handles that have lots of followers.
In any event, with Clinton missing from Twitter, here's how her top three contenders to be the 45th president stack up.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
Rubio, 42, is heavily involved in Twitter and social media. He tweets at @marcorubio, where he has 396,677 Twitter followers, and 1,355 tweets. But a search I ran on fakers.statuspeople.com says fully 25 percent of those followers are fake, and another 38 percent are inactive.
Most of his tweets are policy oriented, and his reach seems pretty good. As an example, when he asked followers to "RT if you agree we should oppose effort to raise the #debtlimit in our federal budget negotiations," on May 22, he picked up 759 retweets in a matter of hours.
Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J.
Christie's official Twitter is at @GovChristie, and the account is quite active, with about 371,000 followers and more than 4,000 tweets. (One-fifth of the followers are fake, according to fakers.statuspeople.com.) His tweeting style is a bit more conversational than Rubio's, with more personal touches in recent messages.
Of course, Christie's social media efforts have famously been focused more on YouTube, where his videos have accrued more than 7.6 million views.
Vice-President Joe Biden
As far as I can tell, there are two "official" Biden Twitter accounts. (Another potentially influential voice might actually be the dominant social media image of the vice president, though: the Onion's repeated "coverage" of him as a "Trans Am-driving, hard-partying ladykiller.")
Regardless, the official account, @VP, has a little more than 179,000 followers. Fakers.statuspeople.com reports that 27 percent are fake. It reads like an official Twitter account, with very little personal engagement.
But Biden also has another account--@JoeBiden--with more than 459,000 followers, but that hasn't seen a tweet since December. According to the bio, it was officially run by the Obama 2012 campaign. (Fakers says that 38 percent of that account's followers are fake, too.)
Of course, it's difficult to know how accurate this whole "fakers" analysis is, or whether having fake followers means someone connected with a politician actually paid to get them. And while a few hundred thousand Twitter followers would be amazing for most people, they're basically a drop in the bucket compared to Twitter celebrities like Kim Kardashian (17.8 million followers; 31 percent supposedly fake).
I'm also aware that a couple of years is a long time in social media. Who knows how important Twitter will be in 2016?
By the way, I asked Rubio, Christie, and Biden for comment--via Twitter of course (I'm at @BillMurphyJr). As of this writing, however, none had replied.
BILL MURPHY JR. | Columnist
Bill Murphy Jr. is a journalist, ghostwriter, and entrepreneur. He is the author of Breakthrough Entrepreneurship (with Jon Burgstone) and is a former reporter for The Washington Post.