One advertiser is hoping to sway web users its way by glomming onto a White House-driven meme, but it’s not the Republican National Committee or a GOP presidential candidate. It’s a lesser-known global news media firm. Hoping to raise awareness of its YouTube channel, RT America, part of RT Network, ran a Promoted Tweet that appeared in searches for “#40dollars,” a Twitter hashtag that’s part of a White House social media initiative gaining steam today.
The idea is to put the payroll tax cut debate into real terms for voters. If Congress does not extend the tax cut – which is the latest point of contention in an ongoing tug-of-war between Republicans and Democrats – the average family earning $50,000 per year would have around $40 less in their paychecks, according to the White House. Reports this afternoon indicate that the House Republican leaders have indeed agreed to pass the bill extending the payroll tax cut for two months, something President Obama has been avidly supporting.
To help drive the point home and spur a conversation about the subject, the White House on December 20 encouraged people to tell others what $40 means to them via posts to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and through a form on the White House site. Since then, the administration has highlighted select posts from people, and reported the number of tweets and form submissions generated by the effort.
The program presents an opportunity for Republicans to co-opt the #40dollars tag and message to communicate their side of the story. Some individuals appear to be doing that on Twitter and Facebook, employing the tag in opposition to Obama, or to poke fun: “Getting ballot signatures for Newt in Virginia is a good way to earn #40dollars a week,” quipped CNN reporter Peter Hamby on Twitter today. Others complained that the argument seemed disingenuous considering the high cost of the Obama family’s holiday travel to and vacation in Hawaii.
However, as the campaign drew attention today, the only advertiser that appeared to be taking advantage on Twitter was RT. Until around 5pm today, a promoted tweet that appeared in search results for #40dollars promoted a video from RT’s YouTube channel in which a reporter explains the “Word of the Day: Currency Peg.”
Yesterday, the White House touted success on its official blog, noting, “The response was overwhelming–more than 20,000 from all 50 states have people [sic] submitted their stories through our web site since yesterday afternoon…. Data is still coming in, but #40dollars has been used in over 1,000 tweets and counting. Based on the latest report from Hashtracking.com, those tweets have generated 7,425,833 impressions, reaching an audience of 7,288,208 followers within the past 24 hours.”
Another post stated that 18,000 submissions came in through the Whitehouse.gov form, “averaging over 1,000 an hour and coming in from every state in the nation.” It’s important to note the responses aren’t all supportive of Obama.
The White House also asked people to post video responses on YouTube using the title “This is what $40 means to me,” but a search on YouTube turned up just two videos using that title.
Whether the administration’s social media experiment had any impact at all on the political wrangling inside Washington is unclear, but the effort could be a sign of things to come from the White House as it straddles the line between campaigning for reelection and using the bully pulpit.