Professor Evaluates Importance, Strategy of Twitter in Elections

Running for president in the digital age has brought a new requirement to the job: knowing how to work the Twittersphere.

Dr. Janet Johnson

That is the analysis of Dr. Janet Johnson, who teaches in the Emerging Media and Communications (EMAC) program at UT Dallas. Johnson has recently published an article in the Journal of Contemporary Rhetoric about the role of social media in presidential campaigns.

Johnson says that in 2008, President Barack Obama revolutionized the digital campaign with Twitter and blogs.

“Obama created a social networking website that allowed supporters and potential voters to participate in creating content as well as communicate with the campaign and with each other. Obama’s campaign helped the audience members feel like they produced change by participating in the election.”

To combat a digitally savvy incumbent Democrat, Republican candidate Mitt Romney spearheaded a comprehensive social media campaign. Johnson studied all of Romney’s 161 tweets from Feb. 1 to May 31, 2012, to evaluate how effective his Twitter campaign has been.

“Romney’s tweets referred to Obama 55 times, and tweeted expression of thanks to the audience 20 times. Most tweets included a link back to the campaign site, and to infographics about U.S. citizens, videos, or a written speech or opinion editorial submitted to a national newspaper,” she wrote.

Johnson discusses the different rhetorical tools, situations and motivations behind specific tweets. She examines how tweets correlate with national news stories and how Romney aims to build credibility with undecided voters.

The Romney and Obama campaigns both have made extensive use of Twitter and other social media in their campaigns.

In the article, Johnson also cites the overall importance of using what she calls “Twitter bites.”

“The candidates who use Twitter, Facebook, and blog can expand sound bites and ensure that the sound bites are accurate presentations of what the candidates want to present.

“Using Twitter bites rather than sound bites chosen by the media middleman allows politicians to give their readers a first-hand experience that other media cannot accomplish.”

In addition to Twitter, Johnson is working on a new study about Facebook and how people feel about the 2012 candidates’ Facebook pages. She’s named the study Exposure or Rhetoric: Fan Politics on Facebook.   

Johnson has a master’s degree in journalism and a PhD in rhetoric.  Her dissertation was titled Blogs and Dialogism in the 2008 United States Presidential Campaign.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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