Another addition to Clinton’s to-do list for 2016: Get Personal

A recent Politico article set up a to-do, and to-don’t, list for Hillary Clinton that ranged from “Don’t turn into Al Gore” to “Clean up the foundation mud-slinging.”

The item that grabbed my attention was “Do more with Twitter…please.” Perhaps it was the begging tone that caught my attention, or perhaps is was that I study how women candidates can effectively use Twitter to create online personas. I’ll let you decide.

Either way, this to-do item and its impact on the other items is crucial for Clinton as she continues to ponder her 2016 intentions.

The article points out that Twitter is about conversation, and Clinton’s tweets are often more asymmetrical and “have at times seemed tone-deaf, turning a larger story into something about the Secretary.”

After looking over her tweets, I don’t think the problem is that she focuses too much attention on herself. Rather, I think she 1. Needs to actually focus on herself more, and 2. Needs to draw that attention in a different way.

What I mean by this is that I think Clinton needs to repackage her tweet content in a more personalizing way. Personalization can mean revealing some aspect of your personal identity or connecting some aspect of the tweet to your life, lived experiences, etc. But the key to making that connection effective is to go authentically personal, or at least to appear that way. Personalization via biting humor or sarcasm doesn’t hit the right note. And unfortunately, Clinton’s latest tweets have either been devoid of personalization, or, if personalized, they have taken on too much of a sarcastic tone.

This misconnect is particularly damaging when taken into context with another to-do item from the article: “Don’t turn into Mitt Romney.”

Romney constantly struggled with trying to connect, to appear authentic, to display some empathy. The idea that he was essentially a rich kid who couldn’t relate was part and parcel of his undoing. And if Clinton thinks that this current form of personalization is connecting with people, it will be her undoing as well.

The public understands that all politicians’ communication is deeply strategic (okay, so maybe Bqhatevwr wasn’t quite as strategic). However, we are still willing to suspend some belief every now and then because we crave seeing the seemingly more human side of a politician. As humans, we seek that kind of connection, from each other, and from our politicians.

Mitt and Ann RomneyWhen Mitt posted a photo with Ann in the kitchen soon after the 2012 election, with his typically perfectly quaffed hair mussed a bit, in a loving embrace from his wife, many wished that this version of Mitt had made an appearance during the campaign. This was a person we could connect with.

That is kind of connection we want from Clinton. And at times, we get it. Yes, some revolted when pictures and video surfaced of Clinton dancing on some of her SOS trips. But for some, it was a more joyful, playful side of Clinton. It was a public moment, but it felt more personal.

And her current Twitter feed lacks that loving feeling.

At the time of this post, she has 52 tweets spread out over several months. Some say, including discussion in the Politico article, that she is still getting her sea legs on Twitter, and that this ramping up period is to blame for the lack of connection. But it seems like she was doing better, regarding personalization, when she started than she is now.

When you look at tweets within the last 100+ days, talk of issues ramps up, activity tweets increase, e.g., going to this banquet, talking at this event, etc., and any humor that is present is self-deprecating or has a bite to it.

It is actually her early tweets from the first 100+ days of being on Twitter that seem to ring more authentic and showcase more humanizing humor.

Hillary and Chelsea ClintonShe posts selfies with her daughter (The fact that she used the word “selfies” somewhat hurts my soul, but the awkward camera angle somehow makes up for it):

She flashes some humor and wishes the royal family congratulations:

She actually engages in an @reply (very rare for her) and mentions that she watches Downton Abbey:

Hillary Clinton

She even jokes about HP:

I wonder if the shift from the first 100 days to the more recent 100 days is because she thinks this is how politicians should tweet.

And my response would be no, it’s not.

Research has shown that personalization is beneficial to candidates. My own research has reinforced this previous work, and has shown that personalization abets candidates, regardless of whether they are Republicans or Democrats, or women or men. In particular, I found that when the public is exposed to personalized versus depersonalized campaign tweets, they believe the personalizing candidate is more competent at handling issues, more likely to embody desirable character traits, and they express higher vote intention for the candidate. Further, I find that personalizing candidates trigger a greater sense of social presence and parasocial interaction. Social presence is the extent to which virtual or mediated communication simulates face-to-face interactions, and parasocial interaction a one-way, nonreciprocal, pseudo relationship the audience forms with a mediated personality, often called “intimacy at a distance.” The heightened presence of both of these factors, and their  ability to “warm up” mediated spaces, is critical as retail politics gives way to more digital campaigning, a style of campaigning that is especially present at the presidential level.

Therefore Clinton’s shift away from personalization toward more issues and more biting humor is not one I would recommend. I recommend going back to that more humanzing humor and presenting her stance on issues, whenever possible, in a more personalizing style. After all, the entrance of greater issue discussion does not have to mean the exit of personalization. Rather, as my work has shown, politicians can embrace personalization and issues at the same time and be successful. Clinton actually demonstrates this combination. In those first 100 days, Clinton took this approach and tweeted, “As a mom, I made reading to @ChelseaClinton a priority every night. New studies show us the importance of words: .” The link takes you to a page discussing the importance of early childhood education and the Clinton Foundation’s Too Small To Fail initiative.

Clinton had the right idea in the beginning regarding how to infuse a more personal quality to her tweets, and she should go back to it because every time she tweets, her million plus followers heavily retweet it. Which means that every tweet is a discreet display of her building her self-presentation, and thus every tweet matters, and I argue it matters a lot. And not just because she is a woman or because she has been cast as too cold or hawkish in the past, but because personalization seems to benefit candidates in a multitude of ways, all which you need if you are seeking to become president.

Recent Ph.D. grad of the Department of Communication at the University of Washington. I am currently an adjunct in the Communication Department at Seattle University, and in the fall of 2014 I start as an Asst. Prof. at the University of Oklahoma. My main focus is political communication, gender, and news media. My dissertation examined how women and men political candidates communicate different presentations of self via their Twitter feeds depending on the sex of their opponent, and what the effects are of gendered communication on candidate evaluation.

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Posted in digital media, politics
One comment on “Another addition to Clinton’s to-do list for 2016: Get Personal
  1. sdresser32 says:

    Good stuff, I never knew you could get so in depth about someone’s tweeting! I agree with a lot of what you said, and maybe it’s just semantics, but you have to keep in mind that, going forward, it’s almost certainly not going to be “Hillary” in charge of the twitter account.

    More likely than not, it will be a lot of the same people that ran the Obama campaign, since they have already pretty much endorsed Hillary in ’16. Obama was known for revolutionizing the Twitter game in politics, so I would expect to see the Democrats continue to press their advantage online in ’16.

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