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The social network campaign

Governor Perry won’t show up at a debate, but he is a presence on the Internet.

The list of things that Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Bill White, his Democratic opponent in November, disagree upon is long. But on the subject of social media as a tool to reach voters, the candidates are in harmony. Although the campaigns differ in their online tactics, both say they began to buy into social media in a big way early in 2009 and they’re each giving it unprecedented time and resources.

Perry and White both use smart phones to keep followers updated via Twitter and Facebook (White has an iPhone, Perry a BlackBerry). Their staffs tote equipment to send videos, photos, status updates, e-mails and blog posts from the road. Sometimes, the messages aren’t entirely earth-shattering. On Twitter, Perry posted a photo with teen stars Joe Jonas and Demi Lovato. And a recent Facebook post from White reads: “Andre Johnson does it again for the Texans. Can the Texans go 2-0?”

But the campaigns believe that their efforts — everything from off-the-cuff updates to more substantial efforts such as reactions to news stories, responses to voter questions and online videos — are giving Texans greater access to the candidates and delivering their messages to where the eyeballs are.

“They’re both very proficient,” said Mike Chapman, a partner in Apogee Campaigns, a nonpartisan consulting firm that’s closely following the campaigns. “Texas is getting a good representation on both sides of the aisle in terms of all the latest tools.”

[…]

The @GovernorPerry account has about 29,797 followers compared with about 4,621 followers for White’s @billwhitefortx.

While Perry tweets enthusiastically, White has taken a liking to Facebook, where his official page had been “Liked” 137,871 times compared with 43,227 times for the official Rick Perry Facebook page as of Sunday evening.

All of this is very interesting, and I’ve no doubt that both campaigns use social media proficiently. But there’s this little nagging voice in the back of my head that wonders just how much effect any of it really has. There were about 4.4 million votes cast in Texas in 2006, and it’s safe to assume there will be at least that many cast this year. Adding up all of the Twitter and Facebook friends and followers and you get less than 5% of that total, and that’s before you weed out duplicates, journalists and others with professional interests in the campaigns, out of staters, and phonies. The real story to me is not the numbers themselves but the metrics the campaigns themselves use to try to measure what the numbers mean. We all know that the 2008 Presidential election showed the immense potential of social networking in this context, but let’s be honest here, the 2008 Presidential election was sui generis. What do campaigns in 2010 and beyond aim to get out of their Twitter and Facebook and whatever the next hot new app is devotees, and how do they intend to determine if they’re getting it or not? That’s the story I want to read.

UPDATE: See also this Trib story.

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