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Do you like me? Will you follow me? Social media in Mass. Gov. race

Posted by Mark Leccese  June 7, 2010 09:14 AM

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Update on the Massachusetts governor’s race: Democrat Gov. Deval Patrick holds a solid lead over challengers Republican Charlie Baker and Independent Tim Cahill in Facebook likes.

But Baker blows away Patrick and Cahill in Twitter followers.

I've said before in this space that nearly every tweet on Twitter is inane, self-promotional, or both. I haven't changed my mind. Most Facebook news updates are too.

But a political campaign is self-promotion (and no little inanity). Despite that, or maybe because if it, checking in with the candidates on Twitter and Facebook is fun.

It's a little like being a political reporter yourself, sorting through the never-ending stream of press releases and statements and stump speeches and random utterances and — this is important — following the daily jockeying for political advantage on issues and media coverage. Except you don't have to sit through the speeches and take notes.

All three candidates have Facebook pages that users can, in the odd language of Facebook, “like.” Patrick’s is here (about 13,000 likers), Baker’s is here (about 9,600) and Cahill’s is here (about 3,400). You don’t need to sign up for Facebook to view their pages.

You don’t need to sign up for Twitter, either, to see their campaign’s tweets. The tweets are mostly tedious if you’re not in one of the candidate’s camps, but it's fun to check out what the candidates say, how many followers each candidate has, and whom they follow.

@BakerForGov is way out ahead on Twitter. It has more than 2,000 followers, more than three times as many as @VoteDeval or @TimForGovernor (and Baker has tweeted more than 700 times to Cahill’s 280 and Patrick’s 146). Baker's big lead in followers could be because it appears Baker himself actually does some of the tweeting.

Many of Baker’s tweets are tedious boilerplate, like this one:

State government has become too big, and too complex. We can simplify our government http://bit.ly/8QBaAQ #MaGov #MaPoli #MaHadEnough

But sometimes the man himself, and his love of exclamation points, sneaks through.

At the Dorchester Parade with @TiseiForLG and a bunch of supporters. Look for me in the third division! #MaGov #MaPoli
Spent time meeting runners, organizers & spectators at the Corrib Pub 5K Road Race. Great buzz - no rain! Thanks to the signholders. #magov
On my way home from two gatherings in Central MA. I think Central MA has some really beautiful sites - tons of natural beauty. #magov

The Patrick campaign has four Twitter feeds: the main one (@VoteDeval), an organizing feed (@AClareKelly), a fundraising feed (@lkoester_dpc) and a campaign staff feed (@VoteDeval/campaignstaff). That one has only 68 followers.

Whoever runs the Patrick campaign’s main feed follows a lot of Massachusetts politicians and lefty political groups such as @MassEquality and @MAYoungDems and some media outlets, including the liberal @HuffingtonPost. @VoteDeval also follows @TimForGovenor but not @BakerForGov.

Hmmm.

Cahill’s Twitter account follows dozens of journalists and local papers, all four of the Boston sports teams, and such hard-right tweeters as Jay Severin (@Jay_Severin) and The Pioneer Institute (@PioneerBoston) think tank.

Baker follows 1,908 other tweeters (or “tweeps” as they’re known in Twitter World). Good grief. Reading his Twitter timeline would be a full-time job.

Ha ha, you say, who cares? Consider this: According to The Internet's Role in the Campaign 2008 by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, more than half of all social media users — or 14 percent of all adults — “used these sites for political information or to take part in the some aspect of the campaign.”

Social media is a powerful campaign tool, and candidates use social media to go around traditional media and get their message to their supporters — and potential supporters — directly. They also use it to point their supporters and potential supporters to only the traditional media coverage they consider flattering (or at least not unflattering) by posting links to the stories. And they use it to build large databases of voters.

In January 2009, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported:

President Barack Obama owns the names, e-mail addresses and gigabytes of other data on 13 million Americans who signed up to receive news from his campaign. Those 13 million — 3.1 million of whom contributed a total of $700 million — account for 19 percent of the 67 million Americans who voted for him.

Two Republican political consultants wrote in a Washington Post op-ed in January that attributed U.S. Sen. Scott Brown’s victory in no small part to his campaign’s use of social media (which they helped manage).

Scott Brown’s supporters became fans of the candidate on Facebook, where they commented on his status updates and uploaded their own photos. The Republican Senate hopeful took to Twitter, using the #masen hashtag to let his followers know how the race was going. His campaign powered its field operation through targeted online ads and Web-based spreadsheets, and raised $12 million from 157,000 individual donations in the last two weeks of the race. After he won last week, his team live-streamed the election-night party in Boston online.

If you're only following the campaign coverage of the mainstream media, you're missing a bunch of small but cumulatively important developments in the race for governor. You're missing a chance to see a little bit of the candidates unfiltered by the media. You're missing a chance to get each campaign's narrative and message directly. And you're missing some entertainment.

Update: Bonnie McGilpin, a press aide at the Patrick campaign, just sent me an e-mail to inform me that Gov. Patrick's is one of the most tweeted governors The @massgovernor account has 12,000 followers. That's way behind California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's 1,609,000 followers, but, hey, California's a big state.

A couple of months ago the website Customer Think ranked the nation's governors not only by the number of followers (Patrick is #5) but — and this is the interesting part — by an "overall rating" formula which used the website Klout's highly complex method "Klout Score" method and percentage of "reply to" each governor's Twitter feed logged. In that ranking, @massgovernor came out #1.

The whole concept of a Klout Score for Twitter feeds is fascinating. Mine is a miserable 27 on a scale of 1 to 100. Ashton Kutcher's is 87.

Follow Mark Leccese's self-promotional and inane tweets on Twitter at @mleccese.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Mark Leccese, a journalism professor at Emerson College, covered Massachusetts politics, business and the arts for more than 25 years as a newspaper reporter, editor and magazine writer. He has More »

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