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OFA Gets @Barackobama Back Into the Twitterverse

BY Micah L. Sifry | Tuesday, November 10 2009

There was a time when Barack Obama was the number one most followed personage on Twitter, back during the campaign season, but after getting elected his staff seemingly let the account go fallow, to be overtaken by celebrities like Ashton Kutcher, Britney Spears and Ellen Degeneres. Over August for example, at the height of the townhall battles, the account was only updated 24 times, less than one tweet a day, according to the Twitterholic tracker, despite his having more than 2 million followers at the time. But in the last week, President Obama's new media minions at Organizing for America have punched out 24 tweets, more than three a day.

Natalie Foster, OFA's new media director, confirms the shift. In an email to me, she wrote, "Yes, we've been tweeting regularly on both BarackObama and DemocratsDotOrg." She added, "We're growing steadily on both accounts, some weeks we're growing by 40-60K a week on BO." Indeed, he's now at more than 2.6 million followers, a 40% increase since the beginning of August.

That's not the only interesting new wrinkle in OFA's evolving new media strategy. In addition to setting up Twitter accounts for state OFA offices, the group has also launched a more aggressive push to get members to tweet their representatives and senators in support for health care reform, something we first reported back in July. The group has set up a nifty visualization that enables anyone to see tweets as they are written, mapped according to zipcode and state. (There's a Senate version too.) Call it Twittervision for politics, if you want, it's both a great way to reinforce a simple social media organizing move AND an intriguing window on OFA's grassroots strength.

The tweets shown are live, or, should you be reading this at 2:00 am in the morning, the most recent 100-200 tweets, Foster said. "The idea came up during a brainstorm on a visualization process for Twitter, and how we can start using Twitter for direct advocacy," she told me. "We've had tens of thousands of people tweet from the tool." One nice touch: OFA's tool automatically looks up a user's House member based on the user's inputted address an zipcode, and appears to even autogenerate a tweet with the Member's Twitter handle when one exists.

Of course, when a campaign uses social media, it also opens itself up to more scrutiny as to the impact of that media. In this case, since OFA is urging people to tweet using a couple of preset hashtags, we can get a reasonable sense of the volume of activity the group is actually capable of generating. Below you see a screenshot from Trendistic, showing the surge in tweets using the hashtag "#hc09" last Friday/Saturday, when OFA was pushing out its call to supporters to step up their lobbying of House members. The @barackobama account sent out five tweets in a row, in fact, between Friday afternoon November 6th and Saturday night, urging people to contact and tweet their representatives. I've included the "#tcot" (top conservative on Twitter) and "#p2" (progressives) tags as well for comparison. Looks like OFA still has a way to go to catch up to the right overall on Twitter, but this does show a real burst of activity when it was needed most.