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Diplomacy in Action

Making Noise or Speaking Volumes?: How U.S. Presidential Hopefuls Are Using Social Media

Mindy Finn, Digital Strategist and Founder of Empowered Women; and Joe Rospars, Founder and CEO of Blue State Digital
Washington, DC
January 13, 2016

10:00 A.M EST


MS REAM: So welcome to all of you in the room and also those of you joining us from New York. My name is Mary-Katherine and I am the information outreach specialist here at the Foreign Press Centers. Today we’re excited to offer you another in our series on the U.S. elections. This one will be focusing specifically on social media. And I can’t think of two better people to talk about that and examine that issue with us than Mindy and Joe.

So let me start by introducing Mindy Finn. She has worked at the intersection of media, politics, and technology for some of the world’s most well-known public figures and brands, including President George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, Google, and Twitter. She is a veteran operative of not one, but three presidential campaigns, and she is also the founder of the nonprofit organization Empowered Women.

And we also have Joe Rospars, who is the founder and CEO of Blue State Digital. In this capacity, he has helped advise some of the world’s leading brands, nonprofit organizations, campaigns, including EMILY’s List, the NAACP, and Google. Before that, he was the principal deputy – or principal digital strategist for President Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaign, where he oversaw the fundraising, communications, and grassroots mobilization efforts there. So, again, can’t think of two people who are better positioned to talk about this topic with you all.

So before we get started, I’d just like to set two ground rules. One, if you could all silence your cell phones. Feel free to use them throughout the briefing to record audio or take pictures or live tweet, but if you could just keep them on silent for the duration, that would be great. And secondly, I just want to emphasize that the views represented here belong to the speakers and are not those of the U.S. Government. So, again, speakers’ views and not those of the U.S. Government.

So without further ado, I’d like to introduce Mindy.

MS FINN: Thank you, Mary-Katherine, and thanks for having us here. In terms of social media and the elections, there are three areas I want to touch on briefly before we turn it over to Joe and take your questions.

The first is just the rise of social media usage and what that looks like from a voter perspective. The second is how candidates and campaigns have used social media for their purposes. And the third is – in reaction to the two – how it’s really impacting the process in a dramatic way. So first, I mean, kind of the last couple election cycles, there’s – the media narrative has tended to be that this is the, like, kind of a surprise – look how much social media is impacting the elections, this is not something that we expected, this is entirely disruptive. And the reality is that this is a force that’s been building for over a decade.

When I first started working in this area, it was over 10 years ago, and we didn’t call it social media as we know it today – Facebook and Twitter. But there was a robust blogosphere where people were able to start their own media platforms, as we would know it today, and cover the elections without any kind of credential necessarily, without any editorial process, and it was entirely disruptive. A lot of people may remember back in 2004 that Dan Rather – obviously, a renowned journalist who was – had the story about George W. Bush’s National Guard service and the fact that he hadn’t shown up and had all these documents to prove that he was basically absent at National Guard. And it was a blogger that surfaced that those were fabricated documents – just kind of an individual. So the talk then was about the kind of guys in their pajamas in their basement who were disrupting the election process and the media through the blogosphere.

Fast-forward to where we are today, and we have a majority of American voters who are turning to social media as a top news source – turning to Facebook in particular as a top news source – and then obviously, there are other platforms that they turn to as well. In that – and I’ll get into this in a little bit more too – is that most media sources are being forced to go social in some regard. And while Facebook and social media has been thought of as a young person’s platform, we now have a majority across all voting demographic groups – or close to, actually. The oldest generation isn’t quite a majority, but there’s still a significant number who are on Facebook. But across most voting groups, it is a top source of news. And among the youngest generations – the millennials, as everyone likes to call them – about 35 and under – it is the number-one source. Facebook and social media are the number-one source of where they get their news. And many in that generation aren’t turning at all to traditional news sources.

In terms of campaigns, what this has meant is overall – and Joe will obviously be able to talk a lot about the Obama experience – but overall, campaigns have been kind of resistant and slow to embrace the kind of social media revolution, you could call it, in that it’s quite frightening when you’re a campaign and you – and I’ve worked in a lot of campaigns – it’s about control. It’s about controlling the message. It’s about creating a particular brand that is very managed and scripted, and if it’s data-driven and you’re relying on polls, you know exactly who you need to be and what you need to say to win, conceivably.

And a medium like social media, that demands authenticity, that is ripe for mistakes but actually even more so, that if you – kind of thrives on humor and on controversy, is something that has been uncomfortable for many in the electoral process.

And so what that’s meant is that early on, when it was Myspace – going back to 2007, Myspace or Facebook or – and Twitter was starting at that point – while there was many individuals and early adopters that were using these platforms, it was not something – campaigns wanted to reach those people. They saw there were people on these platforms and it was important to reach them, but it wasn’t something that they embraced easily, and it’s taken time to figure out what is the best way to use it. And many of them haven’t.

And so we kind of come to this point where we are today, which every single campaign, not only – I think if you go back four years ago, there was kind of the famous news story, and a lot of people called it into question and discounted it, that said that Mitt Romney’s campaign had 22 people who needed to approve a tweet. So there was 22 people in an approval chain to approve a tweet. Their campaign – and I have worked for him; I wasn’t on that particular campaign, I was at Twitter – but they argue that that wasn’t true. But the point was that there was a lot of concern about content going out on Twitter from a candidate.

What they would do instead was rely on a select number of staff members, so the person who was with the candidate all the time, obviously their communications director, some of their field people who were anointed and given permission to actually post content on behalf of the campaign. And it was an expanded group from what you would have had pre-social media, where there might be just a few spokespeople. It was an expanded group, but it was still limited. And then most of the focus on these platforms was how do we, through our organic content or paid advertising, reach these huge, influential audiences on these platforms?

You fast-forward today, and every single – I think as we know, the Republican field has been – is very large and there’s 17 different candidates, none of them coming into this election cycle thinking that they could control social media. All of them looked at it as something that could be an asset for their campaign, and looked to it for how do we make it an asset. And so rather than having a very narrow set of individuals who are allowed to post on the platform on behalf of the candidate and spread their message, they encouraged all of their staff and advocates and people in the field to use the platform on behalf of the candidate, setting guidelines and ground rules perhaps in some cases, but encouraging and seeing the opportunity of turning social media – people who were on social media platforms as advocates for the campaign.

The other very – some campaigns, though, not comfortable with media like social media – let’s give an example, like Jeb Bush is a candidate who hadn’t run in over 10 years for office, not someone who would necessarily – while they try to use the – understood the power of the media, not as comfortable doing it himself as a candidate, like Donald Trump. Donald Trump – the story of Donald Trump – and many people write about all the free media that he’s gotten on radio and TV, but the truth is that he would not be where he is today, it would not have been as powerful without the amplification of social media. And social media, particularly Twitter, which we’ve talked – I’ve mentioned Facebook a lot. Facebook has the widest reach by far. Twitter has a much narrower set of users, but it has influentials and it has journalists. And what he’s understood is that – go to Twitter first, erupt a controversy, say something that’s very outrageous and is going to drive controversy, and then all of the media is going – will want to cover it. And then you dominate the news cycle for that 24 hours on that comment, and you have an opportunity to talk about other things. You’re not just answering to that comment.

And so on a near-daily basis since he entered the race, whether it was attacking news journalist Megyn Kelly on Fox News, whether it’s calling Jeb Bush “low energy,” whether it’s going after Bill Clinton when he started advocating – started stumping on the trail for Hillary a week or so ago and his sex life, every – nearly every single day, he turns to Twitter to erupt controversy that will keep him in the news cycle on radio and on TV and dominate it for the next 24 hours.

And we see the result of that, which is nobody has – he has gotten exponentially more news coverage than any other candidate, and understood that kind of very scripted and careful soundbites on a platform like Twitter wasn’t necessarily going to get the attention that was needed to dominate that news cycle.

He’s not the only one, though, that I think the – there will be many stories written about how Donald Trump is a master media manipulator and understood social media more than any other candidate, but they all have – have embraced the platform. And there’s aspects of social – we’re talking about kind of the public media piece, but there is – social is data-rich. It provides a lot of insights and data about users that allows you to target in very specific ways and map across the greater set – the greater electorate. And the story of a candidate like Ted Cruz, who’s the one who appears to be doing second best on the Republican side, is that he’s invested in that and understood that in a way that none of the other candidates have to the same level. It’s not that they don’t have operations to do that kind of targeting; it’s just they haven’t invested and embraced it and understood the integration between social media, data, field, and day-to-day driving the media narrative.

How is this – one thing that kind of broadly, and I’ll kind of end on this point, is I do a lot of – I’ve had a lot of conversations where, even well before Donald Trump, where the question was about social media and civility and if social media is ruining politics. I think I’ve been on two different – three different panels in the last year that is social media ruining politics, and before that – again, before Donald Trump, a lot about this question of social media and civility. And what we see now with Donald Trump – Bernie Sanders less of a – I mean, isn’t – is seen as not lacking the civility that Donald Trump is, but is obviously a surprise to many people how well he’s doing on the Democratic side.

This really could have been predicted. This is not – this is not the first time that we’ve had these surprise kind of underdog candidates do well in a process that many thought they could predict looking at a kind of patterns of – their conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom, patterns that are who’s raising the most money is the question you would have asked before 10 years ago, really. Who’s raising the most money, who has all the endorsements from advocacy groups and from party leaders. Who has the best staff and consultants, the most qualified staff and consultants. Who has – look at demographics. Who might be able to appeal because they have very strong inroads into an Hispanic community in the U.S. or an African American community or among younger women.

And all of those old rules have really – have been disrupted. It’s a cliché word, but have been disrupted. And we have could have tracked this going back to over 10 years ago when I first started getting – doing this work to Howard Dean’s success in the Democratic primary in 2003 and 2004. He didn’t ultimately win. That was kind of a candidate issue and fumble at the end, but also we didn’t have the reach across social that we see today – to, obviously, Barack Obama in 2008. Even 2006 was a year when Republicans lost many different races they didn’t expect because there were candidates on the Democratic side that were able to raise a lot of money from small-dollar donors and build support online that you wouldn’t have been able to do prior, and so they surprised Republicans. Obviously, Barack Obama and the Democratic primary and ultimately the presidency in 2008.

In 2010 was the rise of the Tea Party for Republicans and was mostly written about as a movement that was driven by kind of moneyed special interests who were playing on the kind of fears and anger of kind of grassroots supporters who were upset about Obamacare, but the reality was that it was a grassroots-driven movement and many of their candidates won primaries in 2010.

2012 was a little bit different, but if we remember the Republican primary, Mitt Romney ultimately won, so it was a bit of a snoozer, but there were many candidates, kind of what we’ve seen in this Republican primary, like Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum and others who kind of ping-ponged between taking the lead because they were able to on very little money get their message out and gain support and really upend the process.

So if we – all that history to say if we come to where we are today in 2016, it should be no surprise. I think from – generally, and I’m not talking about all of you here, but the U.S. press tends to always have this shock and surprise when the candidates that everyone’s talking about going into the process aren’t riding their – a smooth path to victory. But what we’re seeing today shouldn’t really be a surprise. And the reason, my belief, is that it’s social-media-fueled.

Even if it’s not the main source for every voter, there’s a sense of empowerment that comes with having as many – so many options to choose from to being able to get information at your fingertips, for knowing that you can make your own decisions, you have the control, the process, and the candidates don’t have the control. And that’s – there’s also with this great technological change an anger and a frustration by a government that seems to be less efficient than you are in your daily life because of what you have access to through social and the web generally.

So this shouldn’t really be a surprise where are today. And Donald Trump, who’s this great phenomenon, if we look back, he’s written many a books about how to manipulate the media and an – has a great understanding of media and the wild shifts we’ve had in media than any other candidate, and that’s a – the – a large driver, if not the sole driver of his success today.

MR ROSPARS: Cool. So I should start by saying I endorse most of what Mindy said, but I just want to add a couple of things with the caveat that I don’t understand what Donald Trump is doing in terms of his strategy. But we’ve worked with on the Democratic side with all three of the Democratic candidates and the party and obviously the Obama campaigns and elections abroad. And so I want to talk a little bit just about the mindset inside the campaign to add to what Mindy was saying.

And so a couple of things to make sure that you guys have the context on, is one is that social media in the campaign is just one part of a larger apparatus of reaching people. And this is what the campaigns, especially on our side, are obsessed with, is the reaching of individual, addressable people in a way that we can track through multi-channels. And so rather than social media as trying to create the biggest audience possible – which I think is a little bit of what Trump’s doing, right? It’s not – his media controversy and subsequent news cycle dominance is not really about a specific target or these 532 individual, addressable people that he’s trying to reach with a certain tailored message. It’s more about the size of the audience and how much of the oxygen can he take up.

On the Democratic side, our campaigns are trying to reach individual, addressable people through social media but also email, but also SMS, but also offline in conversations with their friends and neighbors and colleagues, and also still through the mail – like the postal service – and on the telephone. And so when the campaigns are at their best, they’re looking at these individual addressable people through the lens of as many possible channels as they can contact them through. And so when you look at the types of things that the campaigns are putting out, it can sometimes seem a little odd that they’ll be promoting a particular – organizing an event in a certain place or talking about an issue that isn’t really in the news that day, but is about something that a certain group of people care about. And that’s part of a broader strategy of making sure you’re covering off the contacts in a holistic way through your social media as well as all the rest.

And again, it’s also about the campaign contacting individuals, but also the campaign trying to mobilize people to go ahead and contact individuals. So part of the social media strategy in the Obama campaigns and what you see today is not just us trying to reach people through social media, but us trying to mobilize our army through social media and inspire them to participate in the campaign by showing up at a field office to make phone calls or to go out and knock on doors. And so the social media campaign is also about building your army of activists to go take other types of offline actions. And so that’s one piece of how the campaigns think about it.

The second one is that the platforms are evolving in real time, right. In 2007 we were sitting there and the iPhone came out for the first time in the middle of the campaign. In 2012 we had an opportunity to purchase tens of millions of dollars in media on Facebook that you just couldn’t do in 2008, right. Like, the tool wasn’t there. They weren’t open for business in that way. And fast-forward to now, just this week – the integration of Periscope into Twitter in a more seamless way reduces the number of clicks that people have to click from your following to see live content in their Twitter feed. That’s something that opens access to live content in a place where more people are that is significantly easier and more people will take up. That’s something that’s happening in real time right now, 20 days before Iowa, that the campaigns need to figure out how to deal with and if it’s useful to them.

And so that’s – the burden on the campaign inside is you don’t get awarded any delegates at your convention or any votes in the general election for being the first to do something, because that’s not really what any voter is particularly making their choice on. And so to be making smart bets about having been the first one on a platform that’s going to be really, really important five years from now doesn’t do the campaign any good, because win or lose, you go out of business in November – or in the case of many of the other candidates in the primary, quite sooner than that. And so trying to figure out as these things are shifting underneath you in terms of the paid media you can do in social media but also the organic and earned stuff that you can do with your own identity and platforms to figure out what can be most useful on the time horizon that matters. And that’s a little bit different than how, say, a brand or a media company in trying to build its audience would take a look at these things where they’re trying to build for a sort of indefinite future.

And so that’s a big filter on all of the decisions that get made about what a campaign’s doing or not doing in social media. And I think that was one of the hardest things on the two Obama campaigns, was to try to resist the urge to sort of be everywhere and do everything and try to get caught up in the news cycle of oh, we’re doing innovative stuff, look at us, rah rah, if it didn’t actually have a meaningful difference in our contact with voters, our ability to raise money, our outreach to undecided people or people who we needed to get into the process.

The last thing I’ll say is that the – in terms of the campaign mindset internally, I think as these platforms have grown in adoption, as Mindy talked about, but as the campaign organizations, these are all startups. They’re figuring out their process, they’re figuring out their balance of resources, they’re figuring out the things that they care about and what they can pay attention to on any given day, all in real time. They’re all making different sets of choices about how to solve the same problem, right. And so what you have – if you have 17 candidates in a Republican primary, you have 17 different sets of organizational culture and decisions about how to set up and address a campaign organization and a candidate to the challenge of not just social media but grassroots campaigning and fundraising and how to deal with the media and all of these things.

And so there is this case study aspect to how the different campaigns address these things, but I think one thing that goes broadly across as more people are paying attention to social media and especially as the under-45, I would say broadly, are getting more and more of their political impressions and campaign exposure through social media is that I think that the campaigns at times cannot understand just how much of their brand and people’s understanding of the candidate and the campaign and what it’s about is being interpreted through social media, in some cases exclusively. And so your feed of tweets or posts on Facebook or your Snapchat, these things can, in some cases for some voters who are making their decisions right now, be the entirety of how they’re judging you. And it’s not clear that the campaigns necessarily know who those people are who are being exposed that way or are curating that feed of content in as careful a way as they might.

And so you have a little bit of – there’s a saying from my old colleague David Axelrod that a national presidential campaign is like an MRI of your soul. And I think you can see some inadvertent revelatory things in the social media of these candidates because they’re not quite as certain about how they’re being viewed through these channels. And so you can see that people appear to be really engaged or really disengaged. You can see people who don’t really have anything to say or people who have almost too much to say. You can see people who behave like a troll, right? In the case of Donald Trump, is essentially – his campaign is trolling the Republican Party in some respects.

And so the sort of social media id of these campaigns is coming through in a way that I think is a special thing about 2016 and may not be the case in 2020 and 2024 as the campaigns have more experience and maybe more stable environment that they’re dealing with. And so it’s an interesting moment to be a practitioner of this stuff but also to be observing it as you see, because there just is so much change happening in real-time day to day, week to week in these platforms. And we’re getting a very unique view of our candidates and of our political process.

We don’t know what the next election is going to look like, but we do know based on the experience of the last three cycles that I’ve worked in here is that it definitely won’t look like this, right. And so to take the opportunity to both live in the social media and the richness of the campaign that’s happening online but also to go out and see how that pairs up with how volunteers get mobilized and what happens in speeches and live events and things like that, it’s a really special moment and I’m glad that you guys are all here focused on it.

MS REAM: Okay. And with that we’ll open the floor up for questions. Gentleman in the back.

QUESTION: Hi. A question for Mindy. You mentioned – sorry.

MS REAM: Here’s a microphone for you.

QUESTION: Sure, thanks. My name’s Alexander Panetta. I’m with the Canadian Press. You mentioned Trump and Cruz, and I’m just kind of curious about some of the observations you made about the two of them. You mentioned Trump’s success at using social media to generate attention. Just wondering, do you have any metrics or any numbers, aside from maybe Twitter followers, that would sort of illustrate what you’re talking about in his ability to capture an audience through social media? And about Cruz, you talked about sort of the back door, the stuff that the public doesn’t see, and the ability to generate data and identify voters. Any examples of the types of things that he might be using social media for that might be innovative and interesting? Thank you.

MS FINN: Sure. Well, yeah, so you touched on one. I mean, Donald Trump’s followers are greater – exponentially greater than any of the other candidates, and that’s by nature of him being – having entered as a celebrity and already having that footprint.

I don’t have the numbers off the top of my head, but a former business partner of mine actually has a new company that tracks this and calculated all of the free media coverage that Donald Trump has gotten and how that correlated with poll bounces. And essentially, whenever he has had said these most controversial statements and – about keeping the Muslims out – keeping Muslims out of the country, or initially about Mexican immigrants and building the wall, he – and he – and it creates – he dominates the news for several days, it has led to a poll bounce that correlates to how much extra additional earned media coverage that he’s gotten. I don’t have the hard numbers off the top of my head, but that’s just an example. I mean, there’s no question. And the media has responded to that by offering some of the other candidates free advertising time to be fair because of all the free media coverage that Donald Trump has received.

In terms of Ted Cruz, they’ve just been more methodical and it’s more focused on the organizing aspects that Joe talked about. They’re – I mean, the knock against Donald Trump and what many people say is that because it’s really about how do we get as much reach as possible and kind of suck up the oxygen in the room that he’s not running the type of campaign that’s targeting – that’s actually focused on mobilization, and he’s never done that before. And so will he be able to mobilize his voters to the polls? There’s a large portion of his coalition are low-information voters and less reliable voters or first-time, frankly. So there’s a big question mark there.

So Ted Cruz has taken the opposite approach, which is focused on the organizing aspects. And so where he has people who are leading particular turfs or neighborhoods – very local ground organizing – they’ve been organizing their troops via Facebook and using things like Facebook groups as a way to – as kind of virtual offices and doing that across social media. So it’s really about the orientation. And Joe talked about this, which is you have to decide what strategy – everything works together and you need to think about where are your advantages and what is going to be your path to victory. And for Ted Cruz it has been the mobilization or organizing piece. And if you were to look at – it’s always harder to observe this unless you’re inside a campaign, because when you are focused on local organizing, it’s not as public as going and pulling up Donald Trump’s Twitter feed and seeing what controversial thing did he say that day. But it’s an experience, if you’re somebody on the ground, that you would know that you’re in this cohesive Facebook group of people and your territory that needs to be organized – I was going to say county, but it’s not just by counties anymore; it’s precinct, and sometimes even broken up in different ways.

So that’s really the difference with Ted Cruz, and it’s harder to observe in the – as a kind of public bystander.

MS REAM: For the next question, the gentleman on the left. And please state your name and your outlet for the record. I neglected to say that.

QUESTION: Hi, I’m Andreas Ross with the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeittung, and I share my country’s obsession with privacy concerns. So I’m fascinated, among other things, by Ted Cruz’s app that seems to be pretty original in that it sort of invents a point system – it kind of looks a bit like computer games my son likes to play – and you get coins for opening all your contact list. And I don’t think you can really do anything with these points other than get a car sticker, bumper sticker with Ted Cruz on it or something. But still, people seem to like it, so if you could talk to the innovation. Is that a big – that app – a big a part of, would you say, or is that just a small part? And if Ted Cruz is so much better at this, is this just an idea they had that nobody else did, or is that just something that costs a lot of money and that they had the resources to do?

And if I may add a question for you, Joe, as well: It was said that social media needs a lot of authenticity. Hillary Clinton has been ridiculed a little bit for using sort of youth language that might not be completely authentic just because she’s on social media, that she has to sort of cater to younger audiences. Is that something you observe, something that is a danger if you have a team that’s presenting you in a way that isn’t really authentic, that isn’t really yourself? If you could speak to that, thanks.

MS FINN: So the kind of gamification – that’s what we would call it – with leaderboards and points aspect isn’t original. It’s been done by a – for a while, tried by different campaigns. I think the difference is you have a much – that it’s all mobile, because so many – there’s – mobile adoption has increased so much is really the aspect that perhaps makes it original, but the notion of using leaderboards and giving points has gone back at least over 10 years. We actually did it back in the Bush campaign when I was there in 2004.

The – why most campaigns don’t do that – it speaks a little bit of what Joe was talking about. When you have – when you’re talking about 17 Republican candidates and really a lot of uncertainty over how much they’ll ultimately be able to raise in such a divided field, and you’re kind of building the airplane while you’re taking off on the runway. And so to build something that requires any kind of technological sophistication and to determine that it’s worth making that investment is a decision that’s really – a leap that’s really hard to make by a lot of campaigns. And – but he’s had a lot of fundraising success from the beginning, and clearly prioritized it.

And it’s hard to know – look, if you look at Bernie Sanders’s app, for example, it was something that was built by volunteers and then the campaign was able to take it over. And so it isn’t necessarily as expensive as it might have been at one point. Whether that app is the driving force and what will mean the difference, I can’t answer definitively. But I think what it really speaks to is their prioritization of field organizing and their volunteers and how to get the most out of their volunteers and how to get the data that’s necessary to turn them out.

MR ROSPARS: Yeah, and on the authenticity question, I think that one of the things that was a relief and a smart thing that we did sort of relatively early in the Obama organization was to try to create a voice and a presence for the campaign that was different than the voice and the presence for the candidate themself. And so that afforded us the opportunity to create a kind of tone and language and visual identity and lots of things that could be broader and not necessarily have to track precisely to “well, would Obama say it precisely like that,” or “is this the kind of thing he would post or say,” that kind of thing. And so when our supporters and when voters would encounter the campaign, it was something different than what they would encounter when seeing a candidate giving a speech.

And I think that’s okay, because I think you want to have something that is accessible and feels owned by as many people as possible, and not a personal vehicle for a candidate. And I think that’s in the best spirit of sort of community organizing and a grassroots campaign, is that this is not necessarily just about one person’s ego project or making something precisely in their image, but rather something that is a whole bunch of people getting together where we all have a role to play and we all need to feel some ownership about it.

And so I’m actually in favor, as much as possible, of the campaigns developing that kind of editorial tone and voice that can be broader or different than the candidate’s one particular note in it.

MS REAM: And it looks like we have a question in New York, if you want to go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, hi. I’m Sandra Muller. I’m working – and I’m a director for La letter de l’audiovisuel, which is about media and strategy and internet. I have several questions – so I’m French. My first question: You mentioned that Facebook is really powerful. Why is it powerful? Is it because the message are much more longer than on Twitter, or is it because there are much more users? So it was my first question.

My second question, it was about Obama, or President Obama. I just saw that he just create a personal account a few weeks ago and a Snapchat maybe five days ago. I wanted to know why Snapchat now and why a personal account now. Is it because of the election? And is it much more efficient and important to create a personal account right now? Why this (inaudible)? And you mentioned Donald Trump interview, the (inaudible) or the commentary which was on air about Donald Trump. And she told me, and could you confirm, maybe you know that, that his team seems Twitter is – twitters in the daytime seems to be made by his team, but after maybe 12 o’clock or midnight he tweet personally. So do you know that? And do you know how many text he does – he do by himself? And it’s weird for a strategy, because he tweet by himself, and sometimes he tweet with his team. So could you make the difference between his personal text and the other one? Thank you.

MS FINN: I guess I could start with that last question. Well, first of all, I mean, in general as someone who used to work at Twitter and was an advocate for the platform, it’s kind of incredible to see a candidate and a candidate – a leading candidate tweeting personally on the platform. Most candidates don’t do that, and it isn’t something that we even necessarily push for, because obviously there’s a lot of demands for their time. It should be their voice if it’s them. The – as Joe would know well – I mean, Barack Obama, they kind of got past this, where there were some tweets that would be from him personally, so it’s – here’s the candidate’s voice. Whether he was the one typing it or not, I don’t think that matters. That would be signed B.O., and then the rest would be – it would be kind of clear that it was staff.

So Donald Trump hasn’t done that. I could probably tell you a couple that seem to be him, more so than others, because of some misspelling or maybe more incoherence. But they – I mean, I don’t think – so it’s hard to tell because they’re not designating this one’s – they don’t have their D.T. versus just the other tweets. But what’s most important, and this is clear, is that it is all the candidate’s voice. Whoever it is, even if it’s somebody else who’s typing them, it’s obviously things that he’s endorsed and he wants to put out there. And they’re very fast at times in responding in near-real time to something that’s just emerged in the news. And so I don’t think that would happen unless it was something he endorsed.

To the other question – I think going back to your first question on Facebook and Twitter, the question was why does Facebook have more reach and a more powerful – people turning to it for news. There’s a lot of reasons. It’s something to do with sort of how they built the platform and its intent. But the main one is that Facebook is the place that people rely on to connect to friends and family, and so it’s – has a greater value in their lives. It’s a platform that’s – and whereas Twitter has been – has grown up as a platform that’s more on news and media. And so it’s tended to be the place where – I mean, there are obviously a lot of regular, everyday people on Twitter, and it has a significant reach. Even if it’s less than 10 percent of adults that are getting – or voters that are getting their news on Twitter, that’s still a very large amount. But it’s more of a place for influentials and journalists and – who rely on it, and Facebook is the place where people connect to friends and family. That’s kind of the simplified way, and more people care about connecting to their friends and family than kind of obsessively tracking and commenting on the news.

MR ROSPARS: And I would just add to that I think the value of Facebook is that because of what Mindy just said, it’s – they’re far more grounded in an identity that you can tie back to the other ways that you’re reaching people, right. And so there are fewer sort of fly-by-night anonymous accounts and trolls and this kind of thing going on in the discussion on Facebook than there are on Twitter, and that means that it’s a more rich resource for campaigns to understand and be able to segment – track on your history of all the things you can – you’re being advertised at based on the things that you’ve liked and all of the things that you’ve done in your whole Facebook history, which for a lot of people goes back 8, 9, 10 years. And that’s a really powerful thing for the campaign to be able to do. That’s still on Twitter, I think, a little bit more in its infancy of how you can target and deliver that paid media especially.

In terms of the Snapchat stuff, I would just say I think that the White House has been really dogged in terms of trying to increase its reach, and that – and their mission is a fundamentally different one. It is about audience there. It is about trying to reach as many people as possible and in as many places as possible. They’re not worried about what the electoral universe in a primary is going to be, because that’s necessarily a much more targeted audience in a certain number of states for a certain number of people who are going to participate in a certain kind of way, whereas the White House is trying to get attention for his proposals in the State of the Union or for the political reform, campaign finance reform, all these sort of things. And so rolling out new platforms as part of those policy initiatives in order to tie together the process, story of oh, this is great, there’s this new platform, what does this mean, with a policy initiative or a big moment like the State of the Union makes a lot of sense.

MS FINN: I’d just add one note on the Snapchat thing, because that seems to be kind of the emerging platform of the election cycle. And it’s kind of what Joe said earlier, which is when you go into these campaigns, change is happening so fast that you can’t always prepare for what platform is going to be one that you need to be on and have a strategy for, and Snapchat is one of those examples. And many of the campaigns are on Snapchat. But at this point, I think if you were to ask a year ago, there would be a big question mark. In fact, there was a big question mark among strategists who do this – is it something worth spending time on? And now most of them have decided that it is just based on its reach, and particularly its young – reach into the youngest voters, who everyone’s trying to win over.

MR ROSPARS: And it’s a good example of the platform itself evolving and changing in order to make that more of an opportunity for a campaign than where it was a year ago.

MS FINN: Yeah.

QUESTION: Hi. Hello? (Laughter.) Hi. I’m Melissa Sims from the Singapore newspaper, The Straits Times. Just two things. Firstly, you talked about sucking up all the oxygen, and that seems to be distinct from mobilizing the base. And I’m just wondering, do the two overlap in any way? Has that happened before? Do you think it’ll happen this time?

The other thing is on the Republican side, you’ve mentioned Donald Trump versus Jeb Bush and the authenticity. I was just wondering, on the Democratic side, what do you think – who is doing the best on social media at the moment? And if not the best, then what are the strengths of each of the candidates? Thanks.

MR ROSPARS: So I’ll talk about whether organization matters in the Republican primary and you can talk about Democrats’ authenticity. (Laughter.) I think that in terms of the – it is a really interesting question of how campaigns and candidates in particular spend their time, whether that’s doing fundraising, or trying to suck up the finite amount of oxygen and sort of the elite conversation, or going and doing all this organizing sort of behind the scenes. And it’s fascinating.

I think there is – there are going to be consequences for however that plays out, that when we look back on whoever has won the primary and whether they win or lose the general election, in hindsight, we will always craft some narrative of why that happened. But there are real organizational decisions and choices that are being made that will affect that outcome that won’t fit into the story that we tell ourselves two years from now.

And I think it’s going to be very interesting to see – I think there’s a broader ideological question of, like, in the Republican primary, whose party is this, right. Is it the establishment side or is it people sort of who are trying to burn that down? And then if it – if the establishment is not in control of the primary process, then we will see if – it’ll be an experiment of whether organization matters or not in that process. And so if it’s the party of Bush and Rubio and some people like that, then there are a certain set of choices and decisions that will play out, and we’ll see campaigns measured against each other in how they deal with that environment. If it’s the party of Cruz and Trump, the question of whether organization matters and that kind of grassroots, behind-the-scenes, low-key sort of back burner stuff, or whether you can just march through that by having a whole lot of people plowed into the process in what is – what will amount to for Trump an inefficient way, versus Cruz maximizing more of that – more of a smaller base of support. And so I think it’s going to be a fascinating thing, but we don’t know.

And there’s also – it’s just a weird process, right. Like, the who can vote and how they vote and when they vote and where they vote and all this sort of stuff is different than in a general election. And that’s by no means to say that it’s better; in fact, it’s probably worse. But it’s – that also will have consequences and that probably costs Trump, right, if you have people who – if you don’t have the organization to go find your people and make sure they’re registered to vote, make sure they know where to vote, that – like, I’m obviously biased as I come from an organization where organization matters, but it may be that his group is so big that they can inefficiently still win.

MS FINN: Yeah. I mean, usually – I mean, obviously it helps to have name ID and to be out there and have the attention and have that kind of momentum that’s driven by being in the media all the time in terms of ground organizing, just because you start from a place where people already have a feeling about – they already know you and they already have a feeling about you. But in the past, we have seen those things, like – the reason that we’ve seen certain candidates who do really well nationally, in the national polls but then don’t win early states or don’t do – poll as well in early states is because that organizing is so important, because you’re not dealing with – you are dealing with more reliable voters and a much smaller set of voters than people who are going to be voting in a national poll about who they support.

What’s interesting this time is we see Donald Trump doing well on both fronts, so doing well nationally and doing well in these early states, but in no means having them locked up. And with a lot of question marks in the next few weeks, we’ll find out how much the organizing on the ground matters that other people have that he doesn’t seem to have at the same level.

I think one thing, just to kind of – I would note on that is candidates like Rubio or Cruz or even a Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina who gave the State of the Union response last night, is these are people who were able to win by being anti-establishment, and kind of heavily using social media or at least understanding how social media impacted all aspects of the process to kind of up-end the – or go around the establishment process, and they were successful. And so it’s not something – it’s not as simple as just kind of the establishment knows kind of all the levers to pull to win in a traditional way and then there’s Donald Trump. It’s that several of these candidates are actually really good about organizing on the ground and knowing how to turn out voters and not just rely on kind of a traditional process of getting kind of traditional gatekeepers to support their campaign or by just dominating the airwaves – thinking they’re going to dominate the TV airwaves and win. They are actually very good at ground organizing, and it will be really interesting to see how that plays out particularly with candidates like Cruz and Rubio in the next few weeks.

QUESTION: On the Democrats’ authenticity.

MS FINN: Oh, yeah, authenticity. Who’s being the most authentic? I mean, I think a great appeal of Bernie Sanders and why he is doing so well is because he is seen as just kind of this authentic, cool, down-to-earth guy. It’s his policies as well, but that aspect of his brand is something that’s really appealing and I think particularly to kind of younger voters who see politics as a lot of BS. And so that’s – it’s been a struggle for Hillary forever since she emerged on the political stage as – of how authentic – this kind of how well can she connect and kind of this question that she wasn’t really connecting. And I think she’s improved greatly, and we see her team making a lot of strides, not just through social. Obviously, there’s social to kind of make her cool, but also having putting her on Saturday Night Live and on The Ellen Show and these kinds of places where there’s an opportunity to see her more as a just kind of a regular person and be able to connect to her on an emotional level.

So I mean, I think you’ve seen great improvements over the last eight years since she last ran for president, but sometimes – I mean, she and Bernie Sanders are obviously very different brands and different people.

MS REAM: We’re going to go to New York. Sorry, the gentleman’s been waiting for a while.

QUESTION: Hi. My name’s Daisuke Nakai with Asahi Shimbun of Japan. Thank you very much for doing this. I’d like to ask a bit about how social media’s affecting so-called traditional media. And especially Twitter, there’s been mention about a lot of journalists on Twitter. I’m on it myself. Obviously, it’s a powerful tool. It gets out really quickly. At the same time, there’s been – it’s been pointed out there’s a lot of group think on Twitter that sort of tends to start. Peter Hamby did a long piece after the 2012 election saying – one of his recommendations was basically sometimes it’s good to back off of Twitter and think deeper. But how do you think it’s sort of affecting the media coverage especially concerning Donald Trump? I guess the media is being manipulated by Donald Trump because each time he puts out something controversial people write about that and it takes up the news cycle. I know a lot of – well, not know, but I guess a lot of other Republican campaigns are being frustrated because everybody just writes about Donald Trump’s tweets and doesn’t get to much substance. Do you have any thoughts about that and what might be a good way for the traditional media to react and how the campaigns view that?

MS FINN: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think social media’s impacted the traditional media in dramatic ways, everything from – it used to be more about the entity that you wrote for and not about your own personal brand. And now we see there’s a great kind of demand and hunger and encouragement of reporters kind of developing their own kind of personal brand because you have to have a personal voice when you’re on social. That’s just one way. The second way is just the shear speed that’s expected and – so the speed of coverage is just multiplied.

But the group think comment that you mentioned, I don’t really – I mean, I think, yes, there is a lot of group think on Twitter. When I worked for Twitter it was like the first time we really saw during these debates that there – the spin room was unnecessary because the spin was happening in real time on the platform, and there was already kind of the group decision of who had won the debate and who had done well before the debate ended and what moments were going to be important, and all that was being influenced by the campaigns and everyone that’s trying to influence the media. But there’s always been group think in political coverage, particularly reporters travel as a pack in covering these campaigns and they hang out with each other and they talk, and that still occurs. And so I don’t think Twitter is necessarily driving the force of that.

Although I would say that kind of the down side – the concern about things not being covered in substance and everyone focused on – like The New York Times – this is a perfect example actually. The story about Marco Rubio’s boots, people kind of caught – anyone covering this, how he had worn these boots with several inch heels and were kind of saying, I don’t know, that they were – they were trying to make him seem effeminate or something, I don’t know, or they were too fancy or effeminate. The campaign in New Hampshire – there were many stories about it. Obviously, there was a lot of other campaigns who were – it was in their interest for there to be stories. But The New York Times homepage at one point had three separate articles about Marco Rubio’s boots in a row, which is something that I don’t think would have been as much of a story before something like social media and isn’t – it’s, obviously, was taking up room that there could have been devoted to more serious policy issues.

But the celebritization and the entertainment aspect of politics has really been heightened, and that’s been a growing trend over the last several election cycles and we’re kind of at a peak right now. Advice for reporters is just it’s a balance between the duty that you have to your – it’s why a lot of media is struggling with their business models right now, because people that are gravitating towards entertainment and the headline-grabbing aspects and clicks are able to find a model, and it’s challenging to find a model for substantive reporting if there is a great need for it.

MS REAM: The gentleman in the second row.

QUESTION: Shane McKeon, Medill News Service. Ms. Finn, you mentioned earlier that Twitter is kind of a medium that demands authenticity. We’ve already talked about Donald Trump as kind of being very, very, very authentic on that medium. I think one of the examples of kind of the – using that idea, kind the antithesis of that was Carly Fiorina had a tweet before the Rose Bowl saying that she was rooting for the Hawkeyes despite having gone to Stanford, and that really – and it really did not go well for her in part because it didn’t seem authentic. I’m wondering if you can speak a little more about what Twitter demands. I think you also mentioned humor and controversy – all things that Mr. Trump has done really well on. Can you talk about how – kind of how Twitter is set up for a candidate like Donald Trump to do so well?

MS FINN: Yeah. So the authenticity piece – I think his – I mean, where in a way he’s doing kind of well, and I spoke to this sort of in the beginning, is that his turning to Twitter to seed a conversation has then been able to extend across all media. And the founder of BuzzFeed, Jonah Peretti, like talked about this is that as much as Facebook refers – they have more traffic for the BuzzFeed or they’re able to get more reach on their articles through Facebook, they’ll find that a story originates on Twitter. And so that’s something that he’s really mastered. I don’t know that it’s been the key to people seeing him as authentic or if that’s even – that’s only one aspect that people like about him because I actually don’t know how authentic he’s being. I think he’s kind of playing a role.

In terms of it setting up – what was the last part of your question – setting up people to be authentic?

QUESTION: Authentic, but also I think you also mentioned humor and controversy playing a very important role as well. And I think he’s also kind of – he has a very specific sense of humor and very sense of generating – I guess it’s just him not really wanting to mince words that goes over well on Twitter more than kind of a very calculated tweet from Jeb Bush, say.

MS FINN: Yeah. I just think it’s what – like, if you look at the things that most people focus on on Twitter, even today it’s not – it’s sports, it’s entertainment. The people who have the most followers are a Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga, a Kim Kardashian. And as much as in this room, and among us, politics is what we focus on and around elections, there’s massive engagement with Tweets about elections. When Barack Obama had his tweet after he won re-election in 2012 with Michele Obama, that at that point was the most retweet tweet that Twitter had ever seen. But other than that moment, the things that most people went to – the greatest audience – number of people on Twitter of people want to engage with is entertainment and celebrity. And so he’s been able to wade into entertainment and celebrity in a way that most other candidates are – first of all, would never even think about doing because it’s just not kind of in the fabric and DNA of them as a politician or something that they really considered as would be that – an aspect of running for office. I mean, there’s always been some – everything from Bill Clinton playing the saxophone on late night. There’s always these candidates going on late night and kind of stepping into the area of entertainment, but it’s not a major part of their campaign, where with him he’s – he just straddles both worlds.

MR ROSPARS: Yeah. I think it’s – I don’t think it’s authenticity that Trump is doing. I think, like, there – when you say to contrast what Trump’s doing with Jeb Bush, right, there’s a super-calculated thing going on with Jeb Bush, but also Rubio and other --

MS FINN: Yeah.

QUESTION: Like, that’s, like, the general political thing. Trump’s stuff is super-calculated. It’s just a different math, right? Like, it – and I think it is in that – it’s in that celebrity kind of tabloidy math, as opposed to the political math. And I think part of the reason it’s working is that the political math is pretty broken and solving for boring, right, and solving for saying nothing. And so Trump’s doing something different and calculated, but I wouldn’t – I wouldn’t call it authentic, I don’t think.

MS FINN: Yes. One thing I would just note is that candidates – so Jeb Bush, one of the reasons that – there’s a lot of reason that his candidacy isn’t doing well, but one is that he had slip-ups on key policy issues. He said things that – about the Iraq War and he said thing about funding women’s health and he said things in debates that were these slip-ups, and that’s really hurt him. And lots of people look at that and say, “Well, how could that hurt him when Donald Trump is out saying these things that other people deem crazy and insulting people and calling them losers, and he’s doing so well?”

And I think part of it is that – has for a while – is that social media, it – while a small thing can become a big thing very quickly, it can also – there’s more forgiveness now in this environment because – and there’s – and if you’re somebody who isn’t always so scripted and careful and boring, and then – and as playing – if your math is, well, we’re going to seem like the most solid and reliable and prepared candidate, so when you have a slip-up it’s a much bigger deal. But if you’re someone who is more akin to a regular human who says things that isn’t always super solid and consistent – and I’m not advising one way or the other – I mean, it depends on the candidate. But somebody like Trump or even going back, like John McCain in 2008, like with someone who does have a sense of humor and he can turn something that might for other people might seem like a gaffe into a moment of humor. Even Rubio has been able to do that well. The boots thing is kind of interesting, but like, the whole thing when he gave a State of the Union response and he took a sip of water, they kind of tweeted out a big picture of the water bottle after it and turned it into a joke.

And so while that’s not to the extreme of Trump, that’s kind of understanding that things that politicians before would be, “Oh no, this is a gaffe,” like, “What is our five-step plan for handing it?” Understanding that you can do in a quick response and kind of laughing it off in this environment is also understanding social media.

MS REAM: All right, we have time for one last question in the third row.

QUESTION: Hi, I’m Inger Arenander, Swedish National Public Radio. I would like you to say something about how the campaigns use the content of the social media contacts. You mentioned Facebook, for instance. If you get to know a lot of things about the people you’re contacting, how do you use it? Is this a voter who is interested in defense or religious questions, or how do you use it to target separate voters, target them separate subjects, talk to them in special ways, create special groups with special targets and all that – the content, the psychological content of the information you gather, how do you use that in the campaign?

MR ROSPARS: Yeah. So I mean, there are two – there are two different things going on there. One is the organic stuff, so you can create trade union members for Obama and people can affiliate with that and you can advertise that and people come and sort of opt into their own channel. But obviously, Facebook also has a very sophisticated paid media tool to do the type of segmentation that you can do, and it involves making sort of a guess and a bet on who you think is going to be responsive to this particular type of message. But looking at the information that Facebook has about you – right – the campaign doesn’t take – doesn’t have that information. It’s only using the platform that Facebook provides to place media in there. But it’s all the things that Facebook knows about, right.

So if you are trying to grow membership for a public radio station, you might say, okay, well, we know that people who are members for our public radio station also like these other media outlets, they follow them on Facebook, or we know that this particular demographic or this particular location, these types of things you can get in there and do your very – you can do very fine-grain segmentation to place media buy-in. And that’s a self-service tool that is not just for the campaigns, but for any business or any nonprofit or advocacy group can go in there and do it. And then – and you can go in and – you can go in yourself and see and look at – you could look at what it would cost and what the segmentation would be to place media against the attributes that Facebook has. It’s a pretty open platform and it’s very fascinating.

MS REAM: All right. Well, that’s all the time that we have for today. Thank you all for joining us. And a reminder, we do have a briefing with Ben Rhodes today at 1:45. If you guys want to come back, we’d love to have you. Thank you.

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