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The Social Effect on the Presidential Campaign
Twitter played a primary role in shaping the 2012 presidential campaign, stealing valuable campaign time and resources from more traditional media, according to aides for Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Speaking at the 2012 Washington Ideas Forum, Kevin Madden, senior adviser to and spokesperson for Romney, said Twitter drastically altered how campaigns formed and distributed their message, and how quickly they had to react to news.
"The speed was different. In 2008, I had signed up for Facebook for the first time ... we also didn't have Twitter," he said. "Here we are now, so much of what we did was driven from the bottom up with Twitter. I would go to the back of the plane and gaggle for 20 minutes and when I got to the front of the page I had found that I already made news."
Jennifer Psaki, who served as an Obama spokesperson and press secretary for the 2012 campaign, added that the Obama camp developed a Twitter strategy for all aspects of the race, from framing the presidential debates to getting out the vote. But she also said that traditional mediums, especially television, played a large part in shaping the president's message.
"There is still huge power in television. That's still how people get their news," she said. "The challenge overall [with Twitter], I would almost related it to a 14-year-old girl, not being distracted by the different Tweets."
Psaki also said that obsessing with Twitter messaging distracted from other important forms of communication. "It becomes a shiny ball that people chase," she said, referring to Twitter. "It becomes a snowball that you have to deal with and you can't deal with other things."
Madden said that the dramatic increase in social media means coordinating communication efforts across all mediums and all aspects of the campaign. "We have so many instruments at our disposal. I liken it to a symphony. Each one of the instruments has to be playing," he said.
Psaki, reflecting on the Democratic victory, said that the 2008 and 2012 campaign experiences were completely different.
"In the first campaign, there was this amazing wave of excitement and many people were projecting what they wanted Obama to be," she said. "The first was like being in a relationship. The second is like after you've been married for a few years. ... It was harder fought but that much sweeter at the end."