How to use Twitter as a public policy tool

The Sunlight Foundation’s Capitol Tweets

[Note: In 2009, I’m going to write more posts about simple things any marketer can do with social media tools.]

Previously, I provided a practical way for retailers to use Twitter as a means to broadcast a text-message to customers.

Another thing you can do with Twitter is tracking messages posted on the service by a specific group of people or on a specific topic.

To track people, you simply set up an account and “follow” the specific people’s Twitter accounts.

To follow a topic, you go to Twitter’s Search page and do a keyword search. After you land on the results page, you will have the URL to a page that will provide continuous updates to any message posted on that topic. But what if you want to track several terms, or want to narrow your search? Twitter Search allows you to use what are called “search operators” to accomplish that. Here is a page that explains how to use search operators like the one I used to set up a Twitter search with several terms about the Tennessee Titans that looked like this: titans OR “tennessee titans” OR “jeff fisher” OR “vince young” OR “LP Field” OR #titans.

You can make links to those two pages — the one where you are following a certain group of people and the one with results to the keywords search and be done with it.

Or, with a little bit of simple, simple work that any semi-geek (I can do it, so there) can accomplish, you can take the content from those two pages and display it on your own website or blog. (As these posts are intended to be “simple things,” I suggest you may want to enlist the help of someone who is familiar with how to use RSS feeds or the “API” of Twitter. You, personally, don’t need to know anything other than how to ask the question, “Can you help me hack the Twitter API to display something on my blog?” In this case, “hack” is something good.)

Here’s a great example of what I mean:

The group Sunlight Foundation has used the Twitter API to create a service called “Capitol Tweets” that collects and displays every new Twitter message shared by any member of Congress who uses Twitter.

So here’s an idea for you: Do you follow a specific group of lawmakers or public officials — say ones from a specific state or region? You can easily develop a version of what the Starlight Foundation is doing.

You can even develop a widget that allows other people to display what you’re doing on their sites — like the one above that is shared by the Sunlight Foundation, but that’s another post for another day.

[via: Read Write Web]

See also:

More Twitter How-to Posts

Fill-in-the-blank memo: What our marketing team can learn from the Obama campaign

If you are a marketing-type, feel free to fill in the blanks and send this around to the folks in your “group.”

Subject: What our marketing and communications team can learn from Obama’s campaign

Date: [The sooner, the better]
To: [Name of your group here]
From: [Your name here]

In the coming days, you’ll be reading and seeing a flood of reports and “what we can learn” blog posts about the “marketing of Obama.” Those reports will break-down every media buy, every creative strategy, every direct solicitation and database marketing effort, perhaps every word of every speech the candidate made, etc.

Before you read all that analyses, I wanted to share with you a 30,000 ft. view of what I believe are the major lessons our [Name of ‘brand group,’ department, etc.] should look for when reading about the specific tactics or strategies of the campaign. In other words, this memo is not about the executions or technology used. These are major themes that will likely cause the Obama campaign to have a lasting impact on marketing “thinking” that comes after it — including ours.

1. The brand is a narrative:

Too often, the word “brand” is over- or mis-used. When we don’t know what else to call some marketing activity, we’ll say “branding.” We’re so fuzzy about the word brand that people — including some who are receiving this memo — will even start using the word “brand” when they mean graphics. The Obama campaign displayed what a brand is: It’s an overarching narrative. It’s the story that pulls everything together. The Obama “brand” was blessed with a great spokesman who personified the narrative. But the narrative was central to everything the campaign did: creatively, strategically or tactically — even when the spokesman wasn’t present.

2. Brand marketing and direct marketing and online marketing and social media marketing are all the same thing:

Somewhere along the way, marketing people like us decided we couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time — that there is something inherently different and distinct about writing copy for a :30 second spot vs. writing copy for a direct mail solicitation letter. Worse, we started believing a myth that one individual can’t think in “TV” and in “the web” or in video or social media — that each of those are somehow extreme specialties like brain surgery vs. dermatology. The Obama campaign proved that thinking wrong. It was “wholistic” marketing. While, no doubt, the greatest amount of money was spent on TV, there was never a sense that TV was “driving” the campaign and everything else was supporting it. Each medium used — including media not even around when the campaign began (iPhone Apps and Twitter, for example) — was utilized with the same intensity and priority and treated, not like an “extension” of the paid-media campaign, but as a critical component to the overall “brand” that, to at least some supporters, was more important than all of the other activities of the campaign.

3. Don’t focus on features, focus on the narrative:

One of the complaints most professional political pundits (and supporters of his opponents) obsessed over was the lack of specifics in Obama’s plans — that he was just a good speechifier, but not experienced in specific areas of foreign policy or national defense. Such are the complaints of professional political wonks. They, however, don’t realize that focusing on such nut-and-bolts minutae of public policy is like trying to market a computer by describing each and ever part inside the box. Effective marketing is all about the outcome. It’s the problem solved. It’s the need met. It’s about love and pride and hope. And yes, it’s about sizzle. Marketing that works is rarely about the stuff we wonks love to discuss.

4. Don’t let others define us:

While we at [your organization’s name here] would never resort to the type of attack advertising you see in politics, the lesson we should learn from the Obama campaign is this — don’t let any false information in the marketplace sit there without a response. We often think we should be above the fray or that responding only adds credibility to those who may say something about us. While I’m not saying we should respond to every anonymous forum commenter, I do believe we can learn from the Obama campaign that we should be on top of everything being said about us, and if we see something negative gaining any traction, we should respond in a way approapriate to mitigate the impact.

5. Great marketing is not about “I” or “me,” it’s about our [customers, members, users, readers, etc.]:

Going back to the primary campaign, Obama’s message focused on empowering his supporters. He positioned himself against his opponents in a way that reinforced theirs were campagins’ of self-centered ambition; his was a campaign that focused on the aspirations of his supporters. I’m just guessing, but if you compared all the times the candidates used the words “I” “me” “we” or “us,” his opponents would be off the charts on the “I” and “me” usage, while Obama would be at the other end of the chart with his use of the “we” and “us” words. It is a subtle thing, but everytime we try to market our [product, service, etc.] by talking about things that are important to us, rather than talking about our [products, services, organization] in terms of the wants and needs and passions and aspirations of the individuals we serve, we fail.

6. A grassroots movement is incredibly expensive — and valuable:

In the past, the terms “viral” and “grassroots” and “user-generated” seemed to indicate that a marketing effort was less expensive than traditional media — or, more naively, free. Yet the Obama campaign invested tens of millions into providing the “movement” the tools necessary for it to grow and flourish. If you were to show me a startup business that, in two years, could build a database of 3+ million individuals who will contribute more than $200 each online, I’d show you a startup ready to go public with a multi-billion dollar valuation.

One last thing. I hope that you’ll learn from the Obama campaign that anything is possible if enough people believe that, yes they can.

Have a great day.

Losers don’t vote – A guide to following some social-media enhanced election coverage

I shot the video of me
voting last week (or, if it’s illegal
to shoot such video, I found it
by the side of the road).

Of the 4 million registered voters in Tennessee, 1.5 million of us voted before the official election day. I was one of them. I don’t know who came up with early voting, but I salute them. The system is very accommodating — it starts 20 days before the election and lasts until 5 days before the election — and includes Saturday voting. During the early voting period, there are limited polling places and sometimes lines form, but the convenience far outweighs the hassles.

But still, there’s only one election day every four years. On the social media front, a lot has happened since the previous election, so there’s plenty of experimentation taking place this year. There are numerous ways to follow the activities, observations and reports of bloggers and users of Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and other platforms of self-expression. Here are just a few (and it will grow during the day on Tuesday):


A free cup of Joe the Coffee: If you haven’t done so already, go vote. Then go by any Starbucks and ask for a free cup of coffee. And then head over to Krispy Kreme and ask for a free donut. And then go to Ben & Jerrys and ask for free ice cream. No kidding. They’re all giving a way free stuff. Compare which line is longer.

WKRN’s Nashville is Talking & Nashville Post’s Post Politics:For my hometown friends, I recommend checking out what Christian Grantham, the blooger and Twitterist at WKRN’s Nashville is Talking, has mashed up on that site. There are several RSS-powered and API-enabled doo-dads that display on one page, lots of what Nashville’s talkeratis will be saying all Election Day. Also, as I’ve said before, the hardest working man in Nashville political coverage of the blogosphere is A. C. Kleinheider at’s Post Politics. [Later] I just noticed that the Nashville page of is also doing a good job catching and displaying Nashville-related blog posts, news and photos. If you want to get some form of Twitter vertigo, check out, an animated scroll of “tweets” related to the election. It’s a rather fire-hose approach.

Google’s Election 2008 resources: Tired of just two candidates? treats candidates from third (fourth and fifth) parties with the same search-powered features as McCain and Obama. Starting at 6 p.m. Eastern, the same URL will become home to mash-up maps that display precinct-by-precint voting data.

YouTube’s Video Your Vote page: Upload a video of your voting experience to YouTube’s Video Your Vote page.

Twitter Voter Report: Having problems voting? Via Twitter, report them here.

Memeorandum: Want to know what the political-bloggers are discussing? The “Techmeme” of politics is Memeorandum. (However, I’ve been a fan and friend of its founder Gabe Rivera for long enough to realize that Techmeme is the “Memeorandum of technology,” rather than the other way around.)

This list will continue to grow.

Should professional athletes get political?


Khoi Vinh thinks it’s inappropriate for members of the World Series-bound Tampa Bay Rays to be stumping for Barack Obama today. Says, Khoi: “Tampa Bay fans of every political persuasion have the right to root for their team without the messy encumbrances of politics.”

As for me, I don’t think fans really care about such encumbrances as long as a player keeps throwing 96-mile-per-hour fastballs. (However, as a Rays fan, I’d prefer the players stay home and rest up for tomorrow night’s series opener.)

Trivia quiz: Baseball players hanging out with politicians go way back. In the picture to the left, Babe Ruth is posing with someone who was once the Democratic Party nominee for President. Care to guess? No fair googling. (Also, I don’t think the photo was made when he was running for President.)

We have a winner: Martin Kennedy provided the correct answer, Al Smith, the New York governor who was the Democratic Party nominee in 1928 against Herbert Hoover.

[The photo is from the Florida State Archives, via: Wikimedia Commons.]