08/09/2011 07:07 pm ET Updated Oct 09, 2011

4 Lessons About the Power of Twitter from the Debt Ceiling Drama

The Situation

Twitter played an important role in helping move Congress to finally pass the debt ceiling legislation.

The Marketing Takeaways

At several points over the past few weeks, the president called a press conference to repeat points that he had already made many times before. Why did he bother? Because each of these press conferences included a direct appeal to voters to email, call and tweet at the members of Congress who represented them.

Obama repeated those appeals on his Twitter account, which boasts 9 million followers. And each time he did that, Congressional offices were swamped with constituent communications in support of the president. Marketers should be curious about how the president pulled this off.

Whether we agree with his handling of the debt ceiling standoff or not, we have to admit that Obama and his team know how to use Twitter. Multiple mainstream media sources (including Federal Computer Week and The Register) have acknowledged the effectiveness of the White House's use of this powerful medium, and a few (including Media Matters for America) even seem to suggest that it might have been one of the turning points in resolving the crisis.

Obama used Twitter to mobilize his base of contacts and issue calls to action that people quickly obeyed. Here are four best practices, straight from the Oval Office:

  1. Act like the relationship matters and keep people in the loop. The difference between treating people like a record on a database and treating them like valued customers or supporters lies in keeping them updated on the issues that affect them. Obama's team did this, regularly keeping millions of followers up to date on the latest developments in the crisis, and explaining what needed to happen to resolve it.
  2. Engage using relevant content. The bigger the story got, the more interested Obama's core base of Twitter followers became in updates and other messages from the White House. Obama's team saw this need and positioned the White House as an alternate news stream on the story. Keep this in mind as you consider the power of relevant communications.
  3. Engage frequently. Twitter is all about speed and immediacy. If you are going to be effective in this space, you need to post new material regularly. Obama's team certainly did this, offering dozens of posts a day. Is it wise for your organization to try to hit that level, no matter what? Probably not. But you should get Voice of Customer feedback regarding the frequency and content of the messages customers and followers want to receive from your organization.
  4. Say "thank you." This is a huge part of good Twitter etiquette. In fact, it's almost an end in itself. It was impossible not to notice how often the President used Twitter to thank his followers over the past few weeks. Here, he thanks them personally at the end of the crisis, via a special video link embedded in a tweet. Thank people for following you on Twitter. Thank them for mentioning you. Thank them for anything you can credibly thank them for.

Big Lesson

To support your brand and build an engaged base of motivated followers, do these four things on Twitter -- whatever your politics happen to be.