The big news in the online political world for the past few days has been Joe Biden's reemergence on social media. First, he started to tweet again. Then, he setup an Instagram account. People are excited to see what he has to say, since he always seems to have a lot. As someone interested in the role of social media in political campaigns, I wanted to take a closer look at why he's back on social media.
My initial thinking was that this resurgence is a clear sign he's gearing up his campaign for a run in 2016, wanting to be firing on all cylinders by the time campaigning starts. With it unlikely any future President will be elected without a strong social media presence, it would make sense for him to jump back into the game early. However, Biden's first tweet claims he's coming back to get the machine rolling for the midterm elections in 2014. I found that a little dubious; he's saying he sat out the intense healthcare-signup push, but now is getting back online just a month later for the midterms? However, a look at the graph below of his activity on Twitter for the past several years seems to back up the claim.
According to the graph from TweetStats, he also prepared for the 2012 elections by starting to tweet in April, the same month he began in this cycle. It would appear the party and his team thinks this month is when he should start hitting the virtual pavement and getting out there on Twitter. You'll see that his volume of tweets progressively increases each month leading up to the election, too.
It will be interesting to watch if he ramps up the same way in an election year when he's not on the ticket. Also, in 2012, his tweet volume fell off a cliff after the election; if he keeps tweeting at a high volume after this cycle, it'll be an indication he may be preparing for something else on the horizon in a way he hasn't been before.
With the stats showing how little he tweets between elections, you might wonder why it's worth him picking it back up. Well, that's because he has massive reach and is of big value to the party to get the base excited. Not only does he have over 500,000 followers, but they also really enjoy interacting with him. The graph below from Topsy shows the amplification he gets by tweeting. In one day of tweeting, his mentions on the network jumped nearly 400% from his previous high during the past month of no action. People are now talking about him in a way they weren't before.
In the world of social media, the rich get richer. That amplification leads to more followers, which leads to more amplification. It's a beautiful cycle where his following can start to really take off. In the Wildfire graph below, you'll see his follower count really start to grow once he started the 2012 push. From when he started in April up to election night, his following grew about 800% after having been relatively flat for the previous year.
All of this demonstrates the influence he has online, and why Democrats should be excited he's back engaged and a part of the conversation. It seems too early to know if it's indicative of a 2016 run, but the evidence would point to it if he keeps at it after election day.
The choice of Instagram is also an interesting one. For years, Flickr had been the photo sharing tool of choice for campaigns. What we've seen with our websites for political campaigns during this cycle is Instagram has clearly won the battle. It's more social, skews younger, and is more mobile friendly for a campaign on the move.
The campaign did well by choosing Instagram and Twitter to reintroduce Biden on social media, as they'll be easy to keep up to date, are closely followed by the media, and lend themselves to more innovative tactics.