Governors Finding Tweets Sweet
A growing number of the nation's governors are getting their messages across in 140 or fewer characters.
Thirty-two of the nation's 50 governors use the microblogging site Twitter for everything from alerting followers to storm and travel news to telling them what they just had for breakfast, a USA TODAY review found. Twenty-three of them began tweeting last year.
"What a governor can do (with Twitter) is shed some light behind the curtain," said Kathy Gill, a senior lecturer with the University of Washington who has studied Twitter since 2007.
California Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the Tweetenator of governors. He has been tweeting since January 2008 and has more than 1.6 million followers. Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal is a distant second with 37,147 followers, the review found.
Unlike typical Twitter users, governors often get tweeting help from their staffs. Aaron McLear, Schwarzenegger's press secretary, said that because Schwarzenegger doesn't carry a BlackBerry his staff often types the tweets, but the governor directs what is written.
Schwarzenegger's past tweets include a photo of his breakfast cereal, a photo of his plane after an emergency landing last summer and updates from the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.
"He likes the idea of being able to communicate directly with the people, which is really what Twitter is designed to do," McLear said. Governors' tweeting topics, like those of other Twitter users, vary from important to seemingly minor details.
"Caulked a window&a door at a home weatherization project in Lansing this morning," Michigan Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm tweeted to her more than 12,000 followers in December. Two days later, she tweeted that she'd signed legislation banning smoking in Michigan bars and restaurants. Granholm has sent more than 1,000 tweets since March 2008, the review showed.
"She's on it because it's a great way to get (constituents) up-to-the-minute information on what she's doing," Granholm spokeswoman Megan Brown said.
Tweeting is bipartisan. Republican governors on Twitter include Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Butch Otter of Idaho and Mark Sanford of South Carolina. Democratic governors include Steve Beshear of Kentucky, Ted Strickland of Ohio and Bill Richardson of New Mexico.
"It's another communication tool, it's free, and every politician wants to use every possible communication tool to reach their constituency," Gill said.
Charles Franklin, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the success of President Obama's election campaign in using online media convinced a lot of campaign professionals that there is real potential in social media.
"What I think is not yet demonstrated is whether Twitter itself is a successful medium for generating that kind of contact with voters as opposed to online blogs and websites," he said.
Gill said online communication tools like Twitter can be a double-edged sword for politicians. On one hand, it allows them to tweet details that can make them seem more real and authentic. But there's "sort of a new mind-set at being careful about what you say," Gill said. "Which, of course, is the opposite of being transparent and authentic and appearing real."
South Dakota Republican Gov. Mike Rounds isn't on Twitter.
"I guess we don't see the necessity," his spokesman Joe Kafka said. "My suspicion is the governor has better things to do."
Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle has yet to send a tweet, although he said he is considering it.
"You know, my natural instinct is: Why in the world would somebody want to know up to the second what I'm thinking, doing at a particular time," he said. "Having said that, maybe I have to get with it."