By Felicia Cravens, USDR Contributor
During the 2008 presidential race, the Obama campaign used social media to great advantage. They developed a simple, easy-to-navigate website; then yoked it to all the social media platforms they could find. When Obama was speaking somewhere, the campaign sent out announcements and invites through all the social media platforms, drawing people to the event. After the speech, the team loaded up video to the campaign’s You Tube account. That video link then would be Tweeted, shared on Facebook, and recorded on the campaign blog. Photos from the event would be uploaded to Flickr, and everyone in attendance could update their LinkedIn profile with the event. Each event created another occasion to update the social media followers.
By the end of the campaign, Obama had developed around 2.5 million supporters in various online platforms, and 13 million names on the e-mail list. The campaign had made social media a priority they were willing to pay for: one report from Edelman Research shows the Obama team had ten times the number of online staff than the McCain campaign had hired. The Obama campaign dominated social media.
Fast-forward to Obama’s presidency:
At the 2011 State of the Union address, president Obama launched a new initiative to “Win the Future” by spending large amounts on projects like high-speed rail and high-speed internet. Aside from the lack of wisdom of spending borrowed money on projects requiring ever-increasing tax revenues to support, conservatives were struck by the initials WTF, which online and in texts have a meaning vastly different from ‘Winning the Future.’ Never mind that the phrase was originally the title of a book by Newt Gingrich, almost immediately the conservative community began to mock the slogan, led by none other than Sarah Palin herself, who offered this take in a televised interview:
And his theme last night in the Speaker of the House was the “WTF,” you know, “Winning the Future.” And I thought, “OK, that acronym, spot on.” There were a lot of “WTF” moments throughout that speech, namely, when he made the statement, Greta, that he believed that we can’t allow ourselves to, I guess, eventually become buried under a mountain of debt. That right there tells you he is so disconnected from reality! The problem is, we are buried under a mountain of debt, and jobs cannot be created by the private sector. We cannot grow and thrive and prosper as a nation when we are buried under this $14 trillion debt.
The Twitter conservatives riffed off the WTF idea, and tweeted a steady stream of ridicule. The term “Winning the Future” is still in use, but after Charlie Sheen’s meltdown this summer with his “WINNING” rants, the phrase is a sad joke at this stage.
As the 2012 election season was beginning, the Obama campaign created Attack Watch in September 2011, a website with the tagline “Get the Truth. Fight the Smears.” The ostensible goal was to challenge negative statements about the president, much like the original “Fight the Smears” site used during the 2008 campaign. The campaign added a Twitter account and a hashtag to the mix, and launched what they thought would be a cutting-edge rapid-response team of Obama supporters.
That didn’t work out very well, either. Chicks on the Right collected some of the best of the backlash, including:
Dear #attackwatch there is a suspicious ATM on my block that I think is killing jobs. Please look into it.
Others tweeted mercilessly, essentially hijacking the hashtag:
Hey @AttackWatch, I heard GE’s Jeff Immelt flies in a cororate jet. Get him!
Dear #attackwatch There are several former Dems who are in my tea party group. Is there a reward for turning them in?
#attackwatch, can you translate the site into its original German?
All that brings us here, to the latest social media “blitz” the administration had planned. In a speech, we find Obama was instructing people in his administration thusly:
So my instruction to Jeff and Gene and Valerie and all the advisors who are sitting around the table is: Scour this report, identify all those areas in which we can act administratively without additional congressional authorization and just get it done.
Frustrated by the inability to get a questionable jobs bill through a Democratic Senate, the administration launched yet another salvo in the #hashtag war – #WeCantWait. From White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer: “We can’t wait for Congress to act, so we’re going to take the steps that we can take.” The president echoed this in a speech Monday in Las Vegas, part of his fundraising tour through Western states. But if he expected this mantra to succeed any better than the previous ones, he was mistaken:
#WeCantWait til dead people STOP voting #Democrat
#wecantwait until President Obama has to start looking for a job himself… then he’ll finally get it
#WeCantWait for @BarackObama endorsed #OWS goons to clean up their crap, shower and go home.
#WeCantWait for workers to unite against their unions when they realize they’re no longer working in your best interests.
#WeCantWait until we have a President who understands that we hired him to take care of America, not the whole world.
The lesson: the conservative community is rapidly catching up to the administration in the social media battle, and steering the conversation to places the Obama campaign doesn’t want it to go. Between greater media and candidate scrutiny, the proliferation of citizen journalists, and a growing community of online conservative activists, the Democrats can’t count on dominating the social media platforms. They should have seen it coming, too. Once they figured out how to be effective at it, they ought to have known that their success would be studied, emulated, improved upon. After all, Nixon in 1960 learned too late of the power of television, but by 1980 Reagan knew it well.