For a social media presentation I’ve been looking at how different brands use twitter. One of the most revealing comparisons I came across is Hillary Clinton’s campaign vs Barack Obama’s (yes I’m Canadian, but I’m also kind of a US political junkie).
They’re both on twitter, and both use it well – regular updates, often a few times a day, along with calls to action and links to interesting press coverage or videos. Of course I’m guessing neither one of them is actually doing the updating, it’s likely an aide or intern in their campaigns. Which is a shame because the idea of a future POTUS whipping out their phone and saying “hold on, I just HAVE to twitter this” is kind of funny.
But there’s one big difference: if you sign up to follow Barack Obama’s updates, his campaign immediately signs up to follow you. So now he has over 33,000 followerers – and also follows over 33,000 people. Hillary Clinton doesn’t follow anyone – she has 4,000 followerers, and follows 0 people. Now there are clearly some demographic differences there (Clinton supporters tend to be older, Obama supporters tend to be younger, more tech-savvy, and also more loyal and enthusiastic) but I’m guessing that a big part of the difference is explained by the fact that Obama reciprocates the act of following.
It’s a small thing, and I’m sure most people realize that it’s a token gesture: he and his campaign aren’t actually sitting there reading each of our updates. But it’s an important gesture that shows he understands the grammar of social media. Clinton is basically using twitter as another broadcast medium; Obama is using it as a tool for connecting with people on an individual level.
In any social media, there’s an important psychological trigger that happens when someone subscribes to follow your updates – it’s validating, it’s rewarding, it makes people feel in some small way that they matter. In this case it also creates its own word of mouth, because it changes the conversation from “I signed up to follow Hillary Clinton’s updates” to “Barack Obama is following me on Twitter!” – really, which one is someone more likely to say?
Obama’s act of reciprocation also has one other side effect: because twitter shows thumbnail images of the people you follow on your page, Obama’s page now has a huge sidebar of images of people which makes the page feel more grassroots and more like a community. It makes it seem more like you’re joining something.
Does your brand understand the grammar of social media? In another post I’ll share a bit more from my presentation.