When Barack Obama swept into the White house in 2008, he was hailed as the first U.S. presidential candidate to truly harness the power of social media in campaigning. But it doesn't look like the Democrats held onto that online edge for long.
A recent “Washington Post” survey of Congress showed House Democrats lagging behind Republicans 13 percent in the number of Twitter followers. The gap is even larger in the Senate, where Democrats have fallen behind by 17 percent.
In fact, congressional Republicans have been bragging for years about their prowess at Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. According to a series of 2010 news reports on social media collected by the office of House Speaker John Boehner, Republicans had more Twitter followers, tweeted more often, and were more popular on YouTube. In a 2010 Speaker of the House press release, the GOP even taunted Democrats about their use of the Internet, with the headline: “Democrats innovate by finding new places to ignore the will of the American people.”
In an attempt to gain ground, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer launched an annual social media competition to motivate his caucus. The Whip picked a three-week period, challenging lawmakers to acquire as many new followers as possible on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
Four years later, the annual “Online All-Stars” contest continues. This year, a trio of Californians placed among the top eleven. Barbara Lee of Oakland came in 6th, Adam Schiff of Burbank ranked 7th and freshman Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach took 11th place. Curiously absent from the top: Silicon Valley lawmakers. Though Jackie Speier of San Mateo did make it into the top 50.
By and large, the winners didn't delve into deep discussions about serious policy issues to gain traction in social media. Alan Lowenthal’s big online hit came during World Cup soccer competition. His office posted a graphic of a soccer ball painted red, white, and blue with a “Go USA” hashtag. It got 1.5 million hits the first day and nearly half as many on day two.
Adam Schiff took to the road to boost his traffic. He participated in a 545 mile charity bike ride to raise money and awareness for AIDS research and support. He posted his progress every day on his Congressional Facebook page. Schiff says one day, thirty of the comments were positive. One was not, reading: “not everybody likes you.” Schiff laughed, saying he responded: “No worries. I am constantly reminded of that every day in my job.”
Whip Steny Hoyer said Democrats acquired 213 thousand new followers during the contest. But that still leaves them behind the Republicans.
Alan Lowenthal had 3,569 Twitter followers; while Republican Darrell Issa of Vista had 45 times that many at 163,681. Adam Schiff had 27,669 “likes” on Facebook; but Republican Tom McClintock of Granite Bay had twelve times that many with 345,044.