It's All Politics
5:50 pm
Wed October 17, 2012

Want Thousands Of Twitter Followers? Put A Meme On It

Originally published on Thu October 18, 2012 1:23 pm

It is now clear that we are living in a world of viral memes that take no sides when it comes to spoofing politicians or debate moderators.

So what's a politician to do as the target of a social media parody?

Run with it.

"By kind of winking along with the electorate, you're humanizing, personalizing yourself, authenticating yourself," says Rory O'Connor, author of Friends, Followers and the Future. O'Connor argues that social media will be critical to deciding who is elected as the next president.

O'Connor, a social media expert who also runs a blog about social media trends, says politicians should embrace the memes and the humor, to see them as an opportunity to engage with voters in a valuable way.

"We live in an ironic era. I would counsel the campaigns to actually participate more in a real way and try to have a conversation with the electorate. Talk with them, rather than ... talk at them," he says. "It's a more direct message to the electorate that, 'I'm just like you.' "

While President Obama's campaign drew praise in 2008 for shrewdly harnessing early social-media habits in a way that even users hadn't considered, this time around the politicians may be the ones with something to learn.

"We're at an interregnum at the moment where the electorate is ahead of the politicians in their actual adoption of the change that's happening," O'Connor says.

The latest example of this trend is the satirical Twitter persona @romneybinders, a reference to Mitt Romney's answer to a question about pay equity for women in Tuesday night's debate. That Twitter handle built on the virtual conversation surrounding the debates that began earlier this month with the sudden appearance of @silentjimlehrer, which spoofed Jim Lehrer, the longtime PBS NewsHour anchor who was seen as too passive in his role as moderator of the first debate. His Twitter evil twin gathered 9,000 followers.

And during the Republican National Convention earlier this summer, @invisibleobama popped up during Clint Eastwood's monologue in which he spoke to an empty chair and pretended Obama was sitting in it. The handle has nearly 70,000 followers and remains active with a recent tweet saying, "I've got 99 binders, but Mitt's ain't one."

"It's wide open and it's a meritocracy," O'Connor says referring to Twitter. "Someone who comes up instantly as these things happen with something that seems to capture what's on a lot of people's minds ... has an opportunity to really trend."

"Binders full of women" became Google's third top-trending query Tuesday night, according to Google Politics, inspiring a Tumblr meme as well. Following Tuesday night's debate, Romney Binders had more than 30,000 followers. While the meme pokes fun at Romney's remarks, others have created satirical personalities for politicians many voters may never meet.

"They help to personalize and hence to authenticate candidates in a way that let's say television might have [done] ... decades ago," says O'Connor.

He says it's a way for voters to ironically identify with a politician who they actually may not know very much about. Joe Biden's mannerisms during the vice presidential debate, particularly his laugh and use of the word malarkey, became the subject of twitter accounts, memes and plenty of gifs posted on Tumblr.

"At the heart of every parody is a sometimes cruel truth," O'Connor says. "Even if you look at the Biden persona online, there's a kernel of Joe Biden that they got right and that's what resonates."

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