How the Obama White House Won the Hashtag Wars
I’m trying to avoid saying that the hashtag “worked”. I’m not even sure what that would mean. Twitter even makes it difficult to measure the number of times a hashtag is used, unless you’re looking at trends in the last 24 hours. And maybe, that doesn’t matter: all e-activism is less a form of protest than it is advertising, and like advertising, one measures its effectiveness not in the one-to-one ratio of “ads seen” to “individual action taken”, but in the sedimentary accumulation of conventional wisdom or social norms. It’s less important that every voter on Twitter contribute a thought on #my2k than it is that the Obama administration has put another mark on the tablet of public knowledge that represents not just its policy goals but the kind of relationship it wants to have with voters: one of the most self-consciously interactive in the history of politics.
This is not to say that it’s a relationship of equals, or that internet users have as much control over the conversation as the White House does. They can always pull the plug. (Or, more ominously, see who else you’re talking to – and about what.)
Rather, the Obama communications team has, over time, recognized that they don’t control the conversation completely, and that attempting to excerpt control over it will limit its fruitfulness as well its unwelcome digressions.
Think about it: with the awareness that comes with a popular hashtag comes the risk – almost the certainty – that not everyone is going to stay on message. Encouraging conventional forms of voter pressure doesn’t carry the same kind of risk. Making sure voters have their congressman’s number doesn’t guarantee they’ll agitate for the policy you want, but they also can’t hijack the very message you want to send, turn it against you in a way that can make what the message intended just an afterthought.