Thursday, February 20, 2014

Twitter: Where Decision and Opinion-Makers Hang Out

Mark Leibovich sets the scene, by way of Mike Allen’s Playbook:

In Politico parlance, “influence” is less a verb than the root of a noun. Politico’s top editors describe “influentials” (or “compulsives”) as their target audience: elected officials, political operatives, journalists and other political-media functionaries. Since early 2007, Allen’s “data points,” as he calls the items in Playbook, have become the cheat sheet of record for a time-starved city in which the power-and-information hierarchy has been upended. It is also a daily totem for those who deride Washington as a clubby little town where Usual Suspects talk to the same Usual Suspects in a feedback loop of gamesmanship, trivia, conventional wisdom and personality cults.

Peter Hamby provides a case study:

For reporters covering the 2012 race, Twitter was the usually the first iPhone app they opened bleary-eyed in the morning, and the last one they peeked at before falling asleep at night.

Everyone in politics, it seemed, was on Twitter: journalists, editors, pundits, campaign managers, television producers, bureau chiefs, flacks, pollsters, activists, lobbyists, donors, wives of donors, daughters of donors, hacky operatives, buffoonish down-ballot candidates, cousins of direct mail specialists, interns desperate for retweets. Even Dick Morris was on Twitter.

When political news broke, Twitter was the place to find it. Top officials from the Obama and Romney campaigns would joust, publicly, via tweet. When news producers back in Washington and New York were deciding what to put on their shows, many looked first to their Twitter feeds.

"It's the gathering spot, it's the filing center, it's the hotel bar, it's the press conference itself all in one," said Jonathan Martin of the New York Times. "It's the central gathering place now for the political class during campaigns but even after campaigns. It's even more than that. It's become the real-time political wire. That's where you see a lot of breaking news. That's where a lot of judgments are made about political events, good, bad or otherwise."

Operatives in each of the campaigns understood the potency of Twitter as a way to watch, and influence, how narratives were forming among journalists.

Lance Ulanoff paints the picture today:

Everyone knows about Twitter because the social network’s most active users are members of what I like to call the information “shaper” class—reporters, editors, producers, social media editors and managers, TV anchors, bloggers, marketers, public relation professionals and writers. You get the idea. The people who find information and then share it on wider, often very public networks ... Many Twitter members rarely—if ever—tweet, but they love following people and consuming their 140 character witticisms.

John Dick makes the counterargument:

Recent data from the Pew Foundation show that 18% of American adults are on Twitter (our internal data say 20%). The group of active and engaged users is probably much smaller than that. Pew says that 32% of Twitter users visit less than once a week.

Yet the media and business intelligentsia (most of whom are inside the echo chamber) would lead you to believe that Twitter is far more ubiquitous. Every consumer brand worth knowing has set up a Twitter account and assigned a social-media director to keep tabs on it. Advertisers are shifting dollars there. Market-research companies are even attempting to use Twitter to measure trends in TV or music. Nobody is trying to talk them out of it. But should they?

The next time you see a copy of the USA Today, open it to the Lifestyle section. Then look at the Top 20 TV shows ranked by recent ratings. Just below that, you'll see the list of Most Tweeted About shows. You won't find many, if any, shows on both lists. Why? Because the most vocal people on Twitter are not representative of the real world. Not even close.

Related: Why Journalists Love Twitter

Addendum (5/1/2014): Twitter is “a necessary element to any communications strategy in politics these days,” says Dan Pfeiffer, a former White House director of communications and now a senior adviser to the president. “It is really where the elite political debate is shaped.”