To follow or not to follow, that is the question. I am not misquoting Shakespeare, but referring to whether or not politicians should follow their supporters on Twitter.
Allow me to elaborate. Some politicians, including Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Senator Jim Demint (R-SC), automatically follow Twitter users that follow them. On the other side of the aisle, the Democrat’s Twitter aficionado, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), refuses to follow her Twitter supporters and has gone out of her way to explain her position. So should politicians follow or not? Let’s explore.
Congressman Issa is Congress’ third most active Twitter user with approximately four tweets per day according to tweetcongress.org. Issa has more than 13,000 Twitter followers and follows more than 11,000 Twitter users. Less than one day after following Issa on Twitter, a user is followed by the Congressman and receives a direct message. The message reads:
Do you want a government that saves more than it spends? I’m working in Washington towards that goal and want to hear what you think about.
Senator McCaskill is the leading Democratic Twitter user with more than 40,000 followers. Yet, McCaskill does not follow a single Twitter account. The Senator is adamant that all her tweets come directly from her, or are approved by her. As such, she refuses to follow others since it is impossible for her to respond to their messages directly. She explains her decision in detail here.
By automatically following other Twitter accounts, politicians open a new channel of communication with their constituents. Tools such as TweetDeck or Socialoomph allow Twitter users to automatically follow people who follow them, and send a welcome message similar to Congressman Issa’s. In addition, by following other Twitter users politicians can grow their account quicker and send direct messages to their supporters.
But it is impossible for a Member of Congress to respond to hundreds, if not thousands, of Twitter messages per day. Which means invariably their staff will be the ones directly responding to constituents. This is no different than other forms of communication such as form letters or e-mail, but it reduces the personal affects of Twitter and Social Media. Senator McCaskill may not maximize her following but she can ensure her Twitter account is personal and authentic.
Ultimately, politicians looking to increase their Twitter following as quickly as possible are best served to setup an automated following apparatus. Some of their followers will be spammers and advertisers but it will increase their numbers and give their account more credibility to the media and ordinary citizens. Politicians looking for substance over quantity are best served with the more personal approach of Senator McCaskill. It may limit their Twitter following, but that following will be more faithful and enjoy the personal connection.