Twitter: Smart Strategy or Electronic Press Release?

by Nathan L. Gonzales June 27, 2013 · 3:37 PM EDT

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee tried to turn up the heat on 28 Republican members by unleashing a targeted Twitter attack in their districts. But is Twitter an effective tool or just another way to generate free media attention?

Last week, the DCCC encouraged college students in 28 competitive House districts to tweet a simple message to their member of Congress with the hashtag #DontDoubleMyRate. Democratic strategists wanted to directly pressure Republicans to work with Democrats to avoid an interest rate hike but also get people to sign an online petition.

A DCCC aide declined to reveal how much the committee spent on the sponsored Tweets. But according to a Twitter spokesperson, the common minimum for a Twitter campaign is $15,000 to $25,000 over three months. The company spokesperson couldn’t comment on the specifics of the DCCC agreement.

So how does it work?

Unlike Facebook, Twitter doesn’t collect as much personal information about an individual user. Instead, Twitter can help a client target a specific demographic or geographic area using an IP address, the information in the user’s profile, and an algorithm that analyzes the accounts a particular user follows.

How do you measure success?

The DCCC Twitter campaign helped collect 400,000 signatures for its student loan petition. The committee also used paid advertisements in college newspapers and their websites, and other resources, to drive traffic to the site. Online petitions are one way campaigns and campaign committees gather information for prospective donors.

But another way to gauge success is whether a group or individual was able to start a conversation on Twitter. That can be done by looking at the use of a suggested hashtag. But in this case, some Republicans co-opted #DontDoubleMyRate and so it’s hard to credit a single source for driving the discussion.

This certainly isn’t the first time Twitter has been used by a campaign and won’t be the last. But party strategists will be looking to refine Twitter as a sharp weapon in their arsenal for next year.