Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Column: My local congressional race, by the (Face)book

Here in Massachusetts, the Sixth District congressional race between Democratic incumbent John Tierney and his Republican challenger, former state senator and lieutenant governor candidate Richard Tisei, is certainly heating up. Press releases from the campaigns are coming fast and furious, and there’s no shortage of vitriol — witness Tierney’s response to Tisei’s latest poll claims, in which the words “deceptive,” “outrageous” and “desperate” all make early appearances.

But press releases are so, well, pre-Facebook: We all know the real electoral battle will be raged across the social media landscape, amidst the Farmville updates and videos of shark attacks. So how are the two candidates doing on that front? It’s subjective, of course, but here’s my evaluation of their campaigns’ respective Facebook pages.

Frequency: Both candidates seem to be posting about twice a day, and let’s face it, any more than that could get pretty annoying. Advantage: Neither.

Personality: Most of Tierney’s posts feel staff-generated, except for a few standouts like one marking the anniversary of same-sex marriage’s legalization in Massachusetts. Tisei’s feed, on the other hand, seems to have been handled for some time by the candidate himself, or at least someone who does a very convincing Tisei impersonation. Advantage: Tisei.

Cover photo: You can’t judge a candidate by his Facebook cover photo ... or can you? Tierney’s cover shot is a smiling, sunny campaign-trail pic; whereas Tisei’s moody, blue-tinted image, accompanied by text asking (in big block letters) “ARE YOU READY FOR A NEW DIRECTION?” is, frankly, a little scary. Advantage: Tierney.

Other photos: Tisei’s page has a mere 23 wall photos, many of them actually ads touting Tisei or attacking Tierney — along with the requisite picture of Ronald Reagan, accompanied by a note that Tisei interned in the Reagan White House. (One degree of separation!) Tierney, who of course has years as a sitting congressman under his belt, has 41 wall photos and 27 shots from “around the district.” Oh, and one of those wall photos is of a doe-eyed bald baby with a giant Tierney sticker on his arm. Jackpot! Advantage: Tierney.

Comments: Not all that many on Tierney’s page, and the ones that are there tend to be of the “John, you are a true leader” variety — one gets the sense that someone may be spiking comments that are anything but complimentary or bland. Tisei’s, though, offers a little more back-and-forth among his followers, and there are even some comments speaking out against Tisei’s particular stands — one post about fishing regulations has a multi-faceted debate that goes on for 10 comments. Advantage: Tisei.

Likes: In the post-Facebook world, doesn’t it all come down to likes? As of this week, Tisei had 4,120, and Tierney had racked up only 2,616. Advantage: Tisei.

The final analysis: Looks like Tisei’s got the edge in the social media campaign, at least as far as Facebook’s concerned. (We’ll save Twitter for another column.) The congressman better get his supporters clicking their “Like” buttons in addition to getting out their checkbooks. And playing Farmville, of course.

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