Deletes of the Week: Presidential campaigns on Twitter

An illustration from 1880 of the opening of the presidential campaign.
A presidential campaign launches in 1880. Image via the Library of Congress.

As more 2016 presidential contenders transition to official candidates, they become tracked by Politwoops. Their digital fumbles offer a window into their social media team’s organization, communications strategy and, perhaps, their viability as a candidate.

In a UNC study of how presidential campaigns used Twitter during the 2012 electoral cycle, the differences between how campaigns handled social media had notable impacts on their communication effectiveness. Caitlin Checkett, Mitt Romney’s digital integration director, said, “Towards the end of the campaign [there were] 22 individuals who had to approve [tweets].” President Barack Obama had a much smaller digital team that managed tweets with significantly more autonomy, and the director was “considered senior staff in the organization’s hierarchy, on a par with other division heads on the campaign such as communications and field.”

As Twitter continues to be a central component of political campaigns, the structure of the team handling messaging through the site will impact the candidate’s effectiveness. Will the public and the media remember their hits or their gaffes? This week, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., announced his presidential campaign and his existing campaign Twitter account, @BernieSanders, transitioned to openly talking about 2016. The Twitter accounts associated with Sanders are quite prolific and regularly delete tweets. The Politwoops archive is stocked with more than 130 deletions, such as canceled media appearances, messaging changes and early dabbling with tools like Meerkat.

The campaign account of Hillary Clinton has yet to have a deletion appear in Politwoops, and has only tweeted 263 times. Perhaps the campaign is still getting its footing, but the Clinton camp appears to be using a very deliberate and infrequent tweet strategy. For comparison, President Obama’s campaign account has 41 deletions in Politwoops out of approximately 13,400 tweets, and the White House account has just 39 deletions in Politwoops, despite sending nearly 20,000 tweets.

On the other end of the spectrum, the campaign account for Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has a half-dozen people who access the account, and, according to his senior political adviser, they post without getting approval from the senator. Paul’s campaign was recently duped into retweeting a photoshopped image of James Holmes, an alleged mass murderer of 12 people in Aurora, Colo., posing with #StandWithRand sign. His account also deleted a retweet in November mentioning, “Cheers for him to run for president” — long before he official announced his 2016 campaign. Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., who has yet to announce his presidential campaign, deleted a retweet in January referring to him as a “2016 GOP candidate.”

These coy early references to their 2016 candidacy appeared in Politwoops because they were already tracked by the project due to their current status as elected officials. Jeb Bush is not in Politwoops yet as he hasn’t official announced his campaign, but Politwoops will shed light on messages his campaign would prefer you didn’t see — and perhaps expose inner workings of the communications strategy. Stay tuned, this race is just getting started.