Five Questions With Twitter's Political Guru Adam Sharp


ABC News: How will Twitter continue to shape political discourse?

Adam Sharp, Head of Government and Non-Profits at Twitter: For candidates, Twitter has marked a return to retail politics. The best way to ask for a vote today is no different than it was a century ago - that outstretched hand, that look in the eye saying "Can I have your vote?" That doesn't scale well when you have over 300 million people. We have kept devising these mass media approaches like TV, radio, billboards, robo-calls, direct mail and the list goes on and on. What has been lost is that one-on-one contact. Twitter allows for the return of direct one-on-one meaningful contact between candidates and voters.

With a mobile device you can participate in the process wherever you are on your schedule and at your convenience. You can ask a question of your elected representatives or voice an opinion in a community form. Twitter is bringing people closer to the political process and closer to that traditional model of the town square where we meet to discuss the events of the day. Twitter allows for personalized replies and direct messages allowing for the voter to feel connected to the campaign in ways that voters had not had in presidential races for several years.

ABC News: What role will Twitter play in the 2014 midterm elections?

Sharp: As we approach 2014, the more interesting comparison is to look back at the last midterm election in 2010. When that Congress was sworn in in January 2011, only about one-third of the House and Senate were actually on Twitter. Now, all 100 Senators have Twitter accounts and 97% of the House of Representatives. In 2010, there was a use of Twitter that was very much by the challengers. One-fifth of incumbents had a Twitter account and almost all the challengers had Twitter accounts. Twitter was a domain for challengers to get access to the bully pulpit. As we move into 2014 it will be interesting to see how that dynamic changes. We can expect more of a back and forth and potential for real substantive debate.

We saw this back and forth dynamic play out a year ago during the fiscal cliff. These negotiations were taking place completely behind the scenes until White House Press Secretary Jay Carney made a statement referencing Congressman Justin Amash. Congressman Amash responded to Press Secretary Carney on Twitter, generating a public debate over the fiscal cliff. Individual voters and others who were watching this play out started asking questions themselves. After weeks of no direct engagement publicly between the White House and Republicans we were seeing a real debate play out in real time. We can expect to see this more going into the 2014 midterm elections.

ABC News: What have been the most tweeted moments in politics so far?

Sharp: On Nov. 6, 2012, President Obama tweeted a photo of he and Michelle hugging tweeting "Four more years." This tweet still holds the record for the most retweeted tweet in Twitter history with just under 1 million retweets. It was retweeted in more than 200 countries and territories and in more places than there are countries represented in the United Nations - just in the first day. On the right, Sen. Rand Paul's filibuster of John Brennan's nomination for the CIA in March 2013 generated over 1 million tweets.

ABC News: Tell us about the largest "political movement" seen on Twitter.

Sharp: The biggest movement on Twitter in an organized way was probably the tea party in 2010. The tea party used Twitter to make up for that lack of infrastructure of the major parties to connect supporters across multiple states, communicating the message at a large scale at low cost.

ABC News: Will we see campaigns buying trends as a form of advertising on Twitter?

Sharp: Yes. Campaigns will embrace this tactic because of the real-time conversational nature of the platform. There were 10.3 million tweets just during the first debate about the debate itself. When Mitt Romney had his infamous "binders full of women" remark, the Obama campaign quickly responded with a promoted trend referencing that comment in less than one minute. The Romney campaign also bought trends against Obama referencing things he had said during the debates. Twitter has given campaigns a rapid response mechanism in real time.

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