To: Kyle Plotkin
From: Remy Berinato
Re: Online Campaign Strategy
Date: October 31, 2018
As we enter the homestretch of this election cycle, we must increase our efforts, doing everything to propel Josh Hawley, the Republican candidate for the 2018 Missouri Senate race, to victory. It is my intention, in examining Hawley’s social media presence on Twitter and YouTube, to evaluate the strengths and weakness of Hawley’s online campaign, and thus be able to present recommendations that will be beneficial to his campaign in the final days of this election.
Beginning with Hawley’s Twitter account, we will start by analyzing the photographs. Similar to Dahmen’s discovery about Twitter profile pictures, Hawley used a family picture, featuring his two sons, for his profile picture. However, Hawley deviated from Dahmen’s findings with header images, using another family picture rather than campaign graphics or a landscape photo. Additionally, both images had good quality and sharp resolution, lending to the pleasing aesthetic quality also discussed by Dahmen.
Moving on to analyze Hawley’s Twitter images from a behavioral standpoint (evaluating the torso, arms, and face) as outlined by Dahmen, Hawley consistently scores favorably in all three categories. Concerning the torso aspect, Hawley is constantly depicted as standing or upright, which is deemed favorable behavior according to Dahmen (one digression from this pattern includes an image from October 22 where Hawley is kneeling to hold the hands of an elderly woman at one of his rallies). Concerning the arms aspect, Hawley is almost always depicted with active arms, either shaking hands with supporters, gesturing when addressing a large crowd, or holding/hugging his family, which is considered favorable. There were only a few deviations from this pattern, one being an image from October 10 in which Hawley is pictured with his arms hanging by his side. Concerning the facial aspect, Hawley is always either pictured smiling/cheerful or confident, which is favorable. However, a noticeable pattern can be seen with Hawley’s facial expressions – when he is with his wife, children, or a very small group of supporters, Hawley is always smiling, but when he is with a large group of supporters, Hawley is always depicted as serious, but extremely confident. For instance, in an image posted on October 21, Hawley is smiling with one of his sons, and in an image posted on October 12, Hawley is with a large group of supporters, and is more serious and confident. From the context standpoint also outlined by Dahmen, Hawley is also rated as favorable. In several of his images, the American flag and the colors of red, white, and blue appear extremely often – especially at Hawley’s meetups and rallies (for instance, Hawley’s campaign bus the color scheme of red, white, and blue, and appears in images posted on October 13, 15, and 23). Additionally, from the perspective aspect outlined by Dahmen, Hawley is once again viewed as favorable. The majority of the images posted are close-ups of him meeting supporters or engaging with his family (for example, the images posted on October 22, 21, and 20), and any images that depict him far away only do so in order to capture the number of supporters attending his meetups/rallies.
Progressing onwards to study Hawley’s Twitter feed using the criteria outlined by Lee and Xu, Hawley had varied results. Firstly, Hawley’s Twitter feed did align with Lee and Xu’s findings about a candidate’s tweets promoting issue agendas. Several of Hawley’s tweets, like one from October 19, address healthcare, specifically talking about the increase in premiums. Additionally, as also suggested by Lee and Xu, the majority of Hawley’s tweets dealt with his opponent’s (Claire McCaskill) problems, and attacked her character, her policies, and her beliefs (for example, Hawley’s tweets from October 19, 18, and 16). However, in deviation with Lee and Xu’s findings, Hawley’s attack tweets were not effective in drawing out voter reactions. While Lee and Xu found that voters were more likely to retweet or favorite attack tweets than positive/neutral tweets, Hawley’s number of retweets and favorites for positive, neutral, and negative tweets remained consistent. Additionally, in contrast to Lee and Xu’s study, Hawley’s use of hashtags (he only used one hashtag – #MOsen, which is neutral) and multimedia (images, links, etc.), did not have an impact on the number of favorites or retweets he received. Overall, Hawley’s Twitter account does not draw much attention from voters.
With Twitter, our candidate has a multitude of strengths. The patterns uncovered in his Twitter images – concerning favorable behavior, context, and perspective – are all strengths. When Hawley portrays himself to be actively engaged with his voters, surrounded by patriotic colors, or depicted close up and on the same level in the different images he tweets, he is giving himself an unfiltered, positive image that voters can refer to when evaluating him. This type of image is a strength to our campaign because it gives Hawley a positive public perception, which has the possibility of influencing voters. Additionally, his emphasis on his family, using them as his profile and header images, and posting images/tweets about them, is another strength. This specific aspect shows Hawley as a family man, which both personalizes and humanizes him to the general public. Furthermore, it sends the message that Hawley values family very highly, imparting that he will, as Senator, do what is best for families.
Concerning weaknesses, the only real weakness Hawley has is that his Twitter page doesn’t receive a lot of attention overall, whether that attention be in the form of favorites, retweets, or media scrutiny. For instance, the highest number of favorites Hawley received in the last month was 573, occurring on October 24. To remedy this weakness, I recommend that Hawley increase the number of people which he follows – the more people he follows, the greater the chance is that people will follow him back, increasing his follower count and therefore his potential to garner more favorites and retweets. I also recommend that Hawley begin to post more controversial statements – as we draw closer to election day, launching a Twitter attack on McCaskill will cumulate more attention from both the media and McCaskill herself, which will increase the amount of awareness about Hawley’s Twitter and give Hawley a chance to criticize McCaskill without giving her the chance to respond in time before the election.
Switching over to Hawley’s YouTube channel, I found that the channel only consists of 51 videos, a number which is obscenely low compared to the video sample Ricke studied in 2012 concerning Obama and Romney. Out of those 51 videos, around 30 videos are attacks on McCaskill, either in the form of negative advertisements (like “Claire McCaskill for Hillary Clinton”) or soundbites of McCaskill speaking and Hawley offering commentary on her statements (like “McCaskill calls Trump Presidency ‘incomplete’” and “McCaskill lies about legislative record”). Similar to Ricke’s findings about Romney’s YouTube channel, advertisements made up most of the videos available on Hawley’s channel, with the majority of them being negative (attacking McCaskill), and only a handful of them being positive (presenting issues, or introducing Hawley’s biographical information). The remaining few videos that aren’t attacks on McCaskill or advertisements are clips of Hawley on television – whether it’s his appearance on Fox News (“Josh Hawley on the Fox News Network”) or his closing remarks during a campaign debate (“Josh Hawley Closing Statement”). Overall, Hawley’s YouTube channel does not have a lot of variety in its content – its main focus is attacking McCaskill, so the majority of videos do just that.
However, the strength of Hawley’s YouTube channel lies in is his emphasis on attacking McCaskill. In relentlessly bombarding McCaskill negatively, Hawley may be forcing McCaskill to issue responses, therefore deviating her time and effort from promotion/campaigning to responding. Nevertheless, despite that strength, the many weaknesses of Hawley’s YouTube channel outweigh it. One immediate weakness of Hawley’s YouTube channel is that a voter cannot glean much information about Hawley himself. There are very few biographical or issue ads that present Hawley’s policies, future plans, or character to the general public, making it hard for a voter to gain any knowledge about Hawley as a candidate. Additionally, there are no videos that actively engage voters – Hawley does not make it a point to address the role of voters in elections, which deviates from Ricke’s findings about Obama’s YouTube channel. Furthermore, Hawley’s YouTube channel is not linked to any of his other social media accounts, like Twitter, which makes it difficult for viewers to share, therefore promoting, any of Hawley’s videos.
In order to remedy some of these weaknesses, I recommend that the Hawley campaign immediately release a five to ten-minute video that explains who Hawley is, his stance on current issues, his plans for the future, and a message to all Missouri voters about how he needs them to make Missouri better. This will help fill the absence of positive, biographical, and issue ads, as well as convey Hawley’s desire to connect and engage with voters. Additionally, I recommend that Hawley implement links to his other social media accounts/campaign website in all of his videos, making them readily available to share. Furthermore, I would strongly advise that Hawley offers a fundraising option in each of his videos and on his homepage – none of his videos address how voters can help support his campaign, so incorporating that information would be a method of educating viewers.