Twitter Secrets of the Obama Campaign: #4 – All Politics is Local

[For the background on this series, please see the Introduction]

For most of us, it’s hard enough to keep up with just one Twitter account.  But if you’re trying to engage a diverse group of people — or trying to engage multiple, distinct constituencies — you may need more than one.

Many candidates running for national office have two official Twitter accounts, the candidate’s and their staff’s. The candidate’s account is meant to be the official voice of the person running for office.  Depending upon the candidate’s time and inclination, the account can be used mostly by the candidate his/herself or mostly managed by staffers.  Like with the President:

It’s mostly tweets from his campaign team, with the occasional “-bo” tweet from the President. Still, if you want to follow just one account to read what the President is thinking and doing, this is the one.

But if people want to feel a connection to the campaign, not just the candidate, a staff Twitter account can be useful.  The account can discuss news and happenings within the campaign, giving a more of a nuts-and-bolts view into the organization.  Like this one for the Obama campaign:

It should come as no surprise that Mitt Romney’s campaign is set up the same way: @MittRomney is for the candidate and @TeamRomney is for the campaign staff. Both campaigns have additional Twitter accounts for various family members, high profile advisors, etc. At the national campaign level, the Obama and Romney accounts are structured roughly the same.

But that’s where the similarity ends and Obama starts pulls far ahead of Romney.

Obama’s campaign team has moved beyond just the small handful of national accounts to create accounts that target various constituencies.  Paying homage to Tip O’Neill’s quip that all politics is local, Obama’s team has launched a set of 51 state-level (including DC) twitter accounts:

... and on and on

These state-level Twitter accounts distribute state-specific news of interest, retweet pertinent general campaign messages, and promote volunteer teams.  Mitt Romney has nothing like this. True, there are a few local groups supporting Mitt that have independent Twitter accounts, but they’re nowhere as well done as Obama’s. 

Each Obama For America (OFA) state account is a “verified account”, meaning that Twitter has validated that they are who they say they are.  Additionally, the accounts all follow the same naming convention: OFA_xx, where the “xx” is the two letter state code. Any Twitter user, upon seeing the name and blue-circle-with-a-check, knows the account is a legitimate part of the Obama campaign.  This is a very important tool: when you search for somebody on Twitter — somebody popular — the number of fake/joke/criticism accounts can be startling.  Being able to easily spot the right account is critical.

Each state account is tied to a state-specific micro-site on; people can navigate seamlessly from Twitter into the Obama web site and land on the correct state’s page. There are state specific Facebook pages as well. All of this provides comprehensive “multi-channel” support for the state organizations.

As an example, here’s the @OFA_FL account (which I picked since I live in Florida…):

You can see that this is a very active account — somedays even more active than the main @BarackObama account!  The logo is well done and is in keeping with the over all style of the Obama campaign.   The Twitter profile page itself (not shown here, but you can see it at!/OFA_FL), is branded consistently with the rest of Obama campaign. For a state campaign Twitter account, it has a very healthy number of followers and helps drive support for the President in Florida.

You might think that, for such an important battle-ground state, Mitt Romney would have a state-specific account too.  But a search for “Mitt Romney Florida” in Twitter only turns up one south-Florida countywide group:

It’s not verified, it doesn’t have a dedicated web page, the profile page has the default Twitter look instead of Romney’s, and the account’s not very active.  For a normal user, it would be hard to know at a glance if this account real or not, especially given all the fake Mitt Romney accounts on Twitter. That’s not a criticism of this group’s efforts, but an observation of an omission on the part of the Romney campaign.  As far as I can tell, there are no state-level Romney for President Twitter accounts.  Romney’s team could learn a lesson on this subject.

What are the lessons for the rest of us, though, who don’t have an organization the size and depth of Obama’s (or Romney’s)?

  1. If you can get your account(s) verified by Twitter, do so.  The blue check mark stands out and will let people know that they can trust your account.  If you cannot get verified (which is likely, as Twitter is very selective about who it verifies), make sure that you use the same branding in Twitter as you use everywhere else.  This is especially important if you have more than one account.  Since fake accounts rarely spend the time necessary to do proper branding, you will want to make sure yours are thoroughly branded by:
    1. Setting a background image in your Twitter profile that looks clean and appropriate for your organization.  It should look like an extension of your web site, albeit transformed for the limitations of Twitter’s layout.
    2. Making sure your picture looks consistent with other pictures or logos you use.  For heaven’s sake, don’t use Twitter’s default egg picture!
    3. Making sure you include a link to your web site in the profile
    4. Stating clearly that it is the official account
    5. Mentioning your Twitter account name on your web site, Facebook page, etc.  This provides a double check for users.
  2. If you actually have multiple audiences that need to hear different (but never conflicting) messages, weigh the costs/benefits of setting up separate accounts for each of them (or for some logical grouping of audiences).  A business will naturally want to consider different Twitter accounts for (mostly) unrelated product lines, independent business units, or any other logical way they organize customer interactions.  Make sure all accounts are branded similarly (unless they truly represent different brands!).
  3. Finally, you’ll find that neither Obama nor Romney have separate “personal” accounts. I’ve seen some candidates who try to have a campaign account and a personal one that is unrelated to the race.  That doesn’t work too well.  If you lock the personal account (so only approved users can read what you tweet), people will wonder what you’re saying — and may assume the worst.  If it’s unlocked, you can bet the competition will be looking for something to use from it.  All public accounts are campaign accounts at the end of the day.

While most of what the Obama campaign does on Twitter can be adopted by smaller campaigns and organizations, the campaign’s spinning up 50+ accounts works only because of the size of Obama’s team and his popularity on Twitter. This is a scale most of us will never reach (although we might hope to).  But we can still keep in mind the best practices we’ve learned as we apply them our more humble efforts.

Keep up to date with future updates to this series by following me on Twitter and/or subscribing to updates to this website. To see all posts in this series, visit the overview page.

Random asides:

The Obama campaign has many additional communities it addresses on its web site that don’t have distinct Twitter accounts — perhaps they’ll roll out additional accounts over time?