We now have four official candidates for the 2016 presidential nomination, three Republicans and one Democrat. Each of them used Twitter to promote their announcements. How they used it varies tremendously among them. It is too soon to tell if their initial Twitter splash (twash?) is indicative of things to come, but the contrasts in tactics and results are striking.
Why does this matter, you might ask? Indicators from the last presidential primary season suggests that there is a correlation between who dominates social media and who leads in the polls at any given point in time. While this is not necessarily a predictor of final outcomes, it certainly affects media coverage and public attention at any moment in the campaign cycle.
For example, in 2012, when Herman Cain was leading the GOP field he was also generating the most buzz on his Facebook page. In that week, despite having only one quarter of Mitt Romney's fan base, Cain generated 50 percent more engagement on his Facebook page than Romney (~45,000 likes, comments and shares compared to ~30,000 for Mitt).
In 2016, the four candidates first out of the box are Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL). Each used Twitter to enhance their entry into the race in different ways and with different results.
On day one of his official campaign, Ted Cruz announced his candidacy at 12:09am on March 23, 2015. His announcement followed a handful of teaser tweets alerting his followers that a big announcement was coming at midnight. He tweeted his announcement along with a video. The tweet got 13,515 retweets and 11,858 favorites. The accompanying video was 30-seconds long and narrated by Cruz.
I'm running for President and I hope to earn your support! pic.twitter.com/0UTqaIoytP- Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) March 23, 2015
During the day of Cruz's announcement he gave a speech at Liberty University. The speech was live-tweeted by his staff. They highlighted key quotes from his speech in about a dozen tweets. Most of these tweets received hundreds of retweets. The last two broke the thousand retweet mark with the final tweet from the speech, which reiterated his announcement, getting about 4,400 retweets and about 4,800 favorites. Following the live-tweeting of the speech, a few more tweets promoted Cruz's upcoming TV appearances. Those got only a few hundred retweets.
On day one of his official campaign, Rand Paul announced his candidacy on Twitter at 12:54pm, 1:04pm, and again at 1:05pm on April 7. Each of these tweets contained the same animated GIF saying he was announcing his candidacy. The first time, he just shared his campaign URL with the GIF. The next time, he included "Today I announce my candidacy for President of the United States! Join with us at http://randpaul.com" in the tweet text. The third time was identical to the second.
As far as I can tell, this series of three nearly identical (two were identical) tweets was carelessness on the campaign's behalf. The first time, whoever was tweeting forgot to say anything in the tweet other than the URL. That means no one searching for the announcement would likely find that tweet. The second and third were identical, suggesting the tweeter posted it twice accidentally. As for the engagement, the first got 704 retweets and 602 favorites, the second got 611 retweets and 692 favorites and the final of the three got ~2,300 retweets and about the same number of favorites. This SNAFU probably cost the campaign in terms of the concentration of engagement with the announcement, splitting the shares among three tweets when one would have been stronger.
Throughout day one, @RandPaul retweeted dozens of selfies taken by his supporters using the #StandWithRand hashtag. This effort was launched in advance of Raul's announcement tweet and generated over 20,000 tweets from his supporters and his campaign in the few days around it. Aside from the explosion of tweets, the hashtag effort produced a large catalogue of photos he can use throughout his campaign.
On day one of her official campaign, Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy on Twitter at 3:27pm (not 3am) on April 12, 2015. Her announcement tweet exploded with 105,162 retweets and 106,866 favorites. It generated a huge discussion, both positive and negative.
I'm running for president. Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion. -H https://t.co/w8Hoe1pbtC- Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) April 12, 2015
Clinton, as is true for all three of the GOP candidates, did not use her announcement tweet to launch a campaign hashtag. This was a lost opportunity for all four of the campaigns, as their announcements generated their biggest reach.
With over 3.4 million followers, all of Clinton's follow-up tweets on day one got thousands of retweets and favorites. While she saw the same pattern of drop-off from her announcement to these subsequent tweets, the sheer magnitude of her audience set her apart from the competition.
Clinton also indicated on her follow-up tweets that he would hand the account over to her staff, but would occasionally tweet herself, signing them "-H." Her signed tweets continue to pop up in her stream.
On day one of his official campaign, Marco Rubio announced his candidacy on Twitter at 6:14pm on April 13, 2015. Unlike the other candidates, Rubio's tweet came too late for inclusion on the evening news or the morning papers that day. His tweet received 2,788 retweet and 2,609 favorites. And he was completely overshadowed all day on the news as reporters embarrassed themselves chasing after Clinton's "Scooby Van" like a pack of rabid dogs.
... I announce my candidacy for President of the United States of America.- Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) April 13, 2015
As did Cruz, Rubio spent his first day as an official candidate live-tweeting his speech. Of course, it was his staff tweeting, not himself. He needed to keep his hands free in case he needed a drink of water. Unlike Ted Cruz, who kicked off the day with his announcement tweet and then live-tweeted his speech, Rubio buried his announcement tweet within the live-tweeting of his speech.
Aside from burying his lede, Rubio also made it clear that he was not personally tweeting his announcement. While it is possible that none of the other candidates did, either, (though they claimed it was themselves doing it), by not tweeting the announcement while in the middle of a speech they could make the claim it was them at the keyboard. For a candidate seeking to make a personal connection with voters, as "one of them" with humble origins, this disconnect seemed out of context with Rubio's campaign theme.
So there you have day one of the first four official 2016 presidential candidates on Twitter. Each approached it differently. The clear winners, in so far as this can be called "winning," are Hillary Clinton (for sheer numbers) and Rand Paul (for engaging voters to share selfies while proclaiming their support for his candidacy). Moving forward, we should keep an eye on how these candidates continue to use Twitter (and other social media) and how the yet-to-be-announced candidates will roll (twoll?) out their campaigns on Twitter. It should be much fun.