What's Behind the Right's Current Twitter Advantage + Using #TCOT vs. No Hashtags Whatsoever

Practicing Politics in the Twitter Era: If we are to speak of the age of online politics -- and I am not certain that we should -- let's say we've lived through the Blog Era (2001-04), the YouTube Era (2005-08) and now we are in the Twitter Era (2008-?). This screen shot of a blog post at Media Matters (of all places) juxtaposing tweets from Newt Gingrich and Matt Cooper -- proof alone that everyone in Washington is using Twitter -- provides a useful snapshot of the how Twitter works alongside the blogosphere (rumors of its death still exaggerated) in moving political messages online:


So the Right had a vibrant 'sphere in the post-9/11 Warblogging Period, which drifted after the 2004 election, as frustrated soon-to-be-ex-Pajamas Media bloggers can tell you. The Left owned the YouTube era, which happened to coincide, not coincidentally, with President Bush's second term. Their political blog infrastructure was developed largely on the participation of bloggers and blog readers, not anyone using Twitter yet, most of the time because Twitter did not exist or see any significant usage until SXSW 2007. (You know who I can't find on Twitter? MoveOn.)

For at least a year now, the Right again has been leading the way on an Internet-based communication platform. So far it's to organize for Conservatism somewhat broadly as a unifying cause. Top Conservatives on Twitter is not quite a MoveOn for the Right -- a whispered-of but ultimately mythical animal not unlike the "Party-in-a-laptop" idea popular with some Neoliberals -- but it could have more value as a list than Gingrich's own Drill Here, Drill now efforts and even the (also short-time) #dontgo message it spawned last August. These new conservative projects are often built around Twitter itself. Sometimes this results in really annoying tweets, but at this point the right is doing more interesting things in this space. Twitter is smaller than Facebook, but makes up for it in volume of press hits (hopefully someone with Nexis can back this up for me) and news reports that its traffic is about to go all hockey-stick. Maybe it will go Galt as well.

Conservatives also have other, much older infrastructure whose blogging component counts a few successes but still relies on decidedly Web 1.0 websites, and so hasn't taken as big a hit in the Great Blog Crash of 2008-09. And like companies of the dot com crash (including Google itself), the concepts and websites that clawed their way out of the rubble did not and will not bring back substantial returns in the short run. Twitter, by its sheer simplicity, is kind of a Long Tail product in that we can (and often seem to actually do) use it in spare moments between the day, which means its audience could approach that of e-mail (especially since, you know, you need an e-mail account to join Twitter). Either could build that kind of reach, depending on who experiments more through the rest of the arbitrary era proper.

Using #TCOT vs. No Hashtags Whatsoever:

According to Internet marketing blog Hubspot, the right's #TCOT momentum means it vastly outnumbers the hashtags left-leaning Twitter users and bloggers... er, aren't listed as using, not here at least. Hmm. So which hashtags do the left use?

    Pause for dramatic effect.

Turns out the left-verse doesn't do hashtags at all, that I could see from checking these accounts over the weekend:

My question for the Left is whether the port side of the Twitterverse will adopt the same habit of hashtags that moves stories -- and if it does, whether it will even be led by the Kos-Greenwald-Marshall-Hamsher-Klein-Stoller-Yglesias Netroots movement. (Note: In the comments at Blog P.I. a fellow Twittizen points out there is a website collecting progressive hashtags: Tweetleft. And as she observes, organized hashtag use lies beyond "'the usual' accounts.")

And my question for the Right is whether they know any of the Top 5 Conservatives on Twitter, because I haven't got a clue.

Benchmark note: As of Sunday afteroon, Markos Moulitsas (2,411) has 7,288 fewer followers than John Culberson (9,699).

Adapted from a post at Blog P.I.

The Rightroots Needs Less Meta and More Purpose

Aaron Marks asks if we are on the verge of a rightroots movement. The answer to that question depends on what we're organizing around: new tools or specific political objectives?

The last couple of months has seen a flourish of conservative organizing on Twitter. Now, we have DiggCons, complete with hashtag.

As someone who just crossed 3,000 followers on Twitter while writing this post, I'm just as thrilled as anyone about these developments. But I feel compelled to add a caution.

If these new movements don't evolve beyond efforts to colonize insert-Web 2.0-property-here, reacting to perceived liberal dominance of these spaces, we will not move the ball forward. That's because strategy must always precede tactics. A unifying goal to organize around is inevitably more compelling than cheerleading for specific tools. The end goal should not be to dominate, or keep ourselves from getting buried on Twitter or Digg. The goal should be to (eventually) dominate the American political system through the strategic use of all the tools at our disposal, including e-mail lists, fundraising, blogs, social networks, Twitter, or tools that don't even exist yet. In terms of how we communicate to the outside world, blog / Twitter / Digg triumphalism should be kept at a minimum, and a statement of our ultimate political objectives -- delivered in clear, non-technical language that even late adopters can understand -- must be in the foreground.

If you want a great example of goal-based online political organizing, look no further than Chris Bowers' call to his readers to pressure Democratic members of Congress to support no-name liberal legislation that would normally die in committee. This is actually a useful and serious political objective the realization of which just happens to be made easier by technology. But there is no tech-triumphalism in this -- just a hard-nosed political goal.

In many ways, the Open Left example mirrors the initial development of the conservative and liberal blogospheres. Conservative blogs in their early days featured a lot of blog-triumphalism, with "Carnival of X" serving as the precursor of a hashtag. This self-referential activity was good at building lots of interlinking between blogs -- but meanwhile, the left was beating us by organizing around concrete political objectives outside the political blogosphere. Raise Money for Candidate X. Defeat Bill Y. There is a lesson there. Anyone, whether an existing user of the tools or not, will be drawn to the goal, and will eventually latch on to the tools as a way to achieve the goal. The netroots was not self-consciously about dominating blogs. It was about routing around existing failed power structures to achieve concrete external goals, and blogs just happened to be the readiest tool in the arsenal.

People like Justin Hart are working to convert the right's energy on Twitter into dollars for candidates and organizations. And #TCOT has a whole slew of action projects, including a campaign to realize the 435 District Strategy and pressuring RNC members to get on Twitter. Given that Twitter is best used as a person-to-person medium, this is actually not a bad way to personally influence the 168 who elect the next Chairman to make sure our concerns are heard.

As someone who conspired in the creation of a hashtag around the wedding of one of The Next Right's founders last night (Congrats, Soren!), I know what great fun they can be. But if our goal is to exert real-world political power and convince the late adopters to follow, we might want to think about organizing our movement around things that are more serious, and less meta, than another hashtag.

The Case Against Blogs and Twitter

Okay, I'm being facetious. The other explanation that I'm self-hating, as a blogger going on seven years and an avid Twitter user with a network of 2,451.

There is a serious point to this, and one that should be dramatized for the candidates running for RNC Chairman: the Internet is not just blogs and Twitter. New media is a big world -- from websites, to e-mail lists, to fundraising, to online advertising, to search engine optimization, to GOTV applications, to internal databases, to APIs, to YouTube, to mobile, to emerging platforms like iPhone/Android, and yes, to social media. Done wrong*, creating a Twitter account and holding a few blogger conference calls is the lowest cost form of engagement and can be a fig leaf for continuing business as usual in other parts of the organization. The hard part is integrating new media in everything the organization does, using it to transform volunteer recruitment, or open a new eight and nine figure revenue stream. Those are the big challenges the next RNC Chairman needs to be worrying about.

To understand where the growth markets are, let's look at how many people the Obama campaign had in each of its online programs, according to recent media reports:


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