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Jon Huntsman Throws A Hail Mary Pass On Twitter

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Thursday, January 5 2012

Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman has spent the past few months blanketing the tiny battleground state of New Hampshire with town hall appearances, in effect almost taking over the state as his rivals duked it out in Iowa.

Now, he's trying to take over Twitter.

The campaign has been running a social media initiative that encourages supporters to send out canned campaign messages with specific hash tags on behalf of their candidate. The goal is to have supporters send out at least a thousand tweets a day containing the terms "@JonHuntsman," "Jon Huntsman," "#Jon2012," and "#JointheHunt."

According to the tracker on the campaign's site, supporters are currently dispatching more than 5,000 tweets everyday.

The initiative once again raises the question of when some forms of organized mass-public relations campaigns are worthwhile forms of engagement, or whether they amount to spamming — in which case they would hurt rather than help a campaign.

When informed about the campaign, one staffer at Twitter, who asked not to be named, said "that is getting generally close to the line for spam investigation according to Twitter standards."

But Rob Quigley, the Huntsman campaign's senior new media adviser, argued that the campaign is a success.

"The organizational benefits are real, and I would absolutely do this again," he told techPresident in an e-mail. "Jon Huntsman came into this campaign without a social media presence, whereas you find most of the candidates have been growing their social media presence over the past 5+ years in running for President or holding other elected offices."

He added: "In an election many supporters will simply wait for the candidate to tweet and then retweet that content. Having a tweet center approach frees up and empowers supporter to take action on their own. This one-stop shop has propelled our campaign mentions to meet our daily goal of 1,000 tweets on all but the days surrounding Christmas and New Year's day."

Others aren't so sure of the utility of focusing on the number of tweets being sent out.

"This is like having one person in America screaming into the wind on your behalf everyday," said Michael Turk, a partner and founder at the Republican digital media strategy firm CRAFT in Washington, D.C. "There may be a few friends standing around to wonder 'What on earth was that about?' but nobody else is going to notice."

The life of a tweet is ephemeral, he noted, and the assumption behind campaigns that focus on numbers like this are that supporters' friends are paying attention every single moment of the day.

"It's a problem that a lot of people in politics have," he said. "It's all a numbers game, and it's all they understand."

Turk argues that a better strategy would be to craft interesting messages and pay for sponsored tweets.

To be fair, Huntsman did generate a huge amount of media attention earlier this year when he he tweeted his belief in evolution and humans' role in global warming.

But on Thursday, the Huntsman campaign's tweets read like a stream of Twitterized media alerts and press releases that are usually sent out to reporters during election season: they contained news of latest endorsements, poll numbers, links to positive news stories, and links to the candidate's positions on the web.

Still polling at an average of nine percent in New Hampshire (compared to Mitt Romney's 40 percent,) according to Real Clear Politics, it's understandable why the Huntsman campaign is looking for creative ways to get the word out on as many platforms as possible, as widely as possible.

But at this stage of the game, the real question is whether the candidate can entice, and then organize people to actually come out and vote for him on Tuesday.

Immediately before the Iowa caucuses, Mitt Romney's team was instead calling supporters into action.