When Ashton Kutcher was on David Letterman last week, he sat on Dave's lap, snapped a photo with his iPhone and posted it immediately to Twitter. Letterman spent the rest of the interview mocking Twitter and the twits who use it -- repeatedly interrupting Kutcher with imitations of typical tweets. "Just dropped an egg," Letterman deadpanned in a dopey muppet voice. "Uh oh, my zipper's down again!"
Dave's not alone. Many people still view social media as digital dumpsters for brain drivel, which they often are. But they can also be powerful communication tools, especially when it comes to politics. Arguably, our current president would not be our current president without the organizing and mobilizing power of social media. Nor would the "grassroots" Tea Party movement be such a force. In 2010, candidates who ignore social media do so at their peril.
With the primary election set for Tuesday, we decided to analyze some local races to see how well the candidates have utilized social media -- Facebook and Twitter in particular. Will the results prove prophetic? Will the candidates with the most online followers also get the most votes? We'll find out, and when we do, we'll tell you about it in 140 characters or less.
District Attorney: The incumbent's Facebook page has the informative if cumbersome title "Paul Gallegos Humboldt County District Attorney 2010." As of Tuesday afternoon, 209 people have "liked" the page, meaning at the very least that they're keeping tabs on his campaign. Updates have been steady -- mostly dry event announcements and links to newspaper articles -- and the page includes plenty of photos and links to YouTube campaign videos. Twitter? Not so much. "Gallegos 2010" tweeted just once, announcing the endorsement of Del Norte DA Mike Riese on Feb. 16. Gallegos has eight Twitter followers.
Challenger Paul Hagen has 69 Facebook patrons and evidently no Twitter account. His Facebook page has been updated just six times, and the only photo is a studio head shot.
Allison Jackson, the other DA challenger, scores higher marks with an impressive 274 Facebook likers. Her page includes videos, event listings and candid photos, and her followers are engaged, often posting comments beneath Jackson's status updates. "AJforDA" is on Twitter and has 63 tweets (most generated automatically via Facebook). She has 16 Twitter followers, which isn't all that impressive, but she's following 26 herself, which suggests she's interested in what voters have to tweet.
Sheriff: Of all the candidates in all the county races, Undersheriff Mike Downey has accumulated the most Facebook followers: 544 of ’em as of Tuesday. Chief DA Investigator Mike Hislop, Downey's competitor, has a quarter that amount. Both candidates have posted campaign videos, photos and what appear to be self-authored messages on their respective "walls," so content-wise it's pretty much a draw. Neither candidate is on Twitter.
Assessor: Again, no Twitter acolytes in the field. Real estate appraiser Jon Brooks has the most Facebook followers (204) and a profile page that includes an extensive resume. Assistant Assessor Mari Wilson, meanwhile, has racked up 153 followers. Her first-person posts are genuine and engaging. (Example: "It was a beautiful evening in Willow Creek last night! Candidate forum went well. Just have to learn to deal with the nerves!") Former County Supervisor Johanna Rodoni has 97 Facebook devotees and plenty of photos but scant biographical information. (Her info tab contains only a link to her campaign Web site.) Bottom line: Wilson gets props for coming off as a real person, but numbers speak louder.
Fourth District Supervisor: If Facebook is indeed a barometer of voter support, then 24-year incumbent Bonnie Neely may be in trouble. She has been "liked" least in this race -- by 136 people -- despite some glossy videos and posts that reflect a playful sense of humor. (She posted her Q and A with Savage Henry magazine, in which she expressed admiration for Yoda, for example.) Her Twitter account, which automatically tweets her Facebook updates, has 16 followers.
Eureka Councilman Jeff Leonard, who has run a strong ground game in the Fourth, has also made a robust online showing by gathering 226 Facebook followers, though he has evidently shunned Twitter.
The largest online posse, however, belongs to Eureka Mayor Virginia Bass, who has assembled a whopping 364 Facebook acolytes and 38 Twitter readers. Her 14 tweets reflect a thorough embrace of modern technology, with tweets submitted directly via the Web, through an iPhone and on Facebook.
Fifth District Supervisor: Now, granted, the Fifth is a mostly rural district with spotty Internet connectivity in spots, but is that any excuse for two of the four candidates here to ignore social media entirely? Neither Harbor Commissioner Pat Higgins nor home builder Jeffrey Lytle felt the gravitational pull of the Twittersphere or Planet Facebook. Will this spell their doom?
Insurance agent and Trinidad Rancheria Tribal Councilman Ryan Sundberg writes heartfelt, personal notes on Facebook ("I have the best wife in the world"), and he signs them himself ("Have a happy rainy Tuesday my friends, Ryan"). Two hundred and fifty-one Facebookers are following him and expressing their support frequently. Sundberg appears to have tried Twitter once (his only tweet consisted of the word "test" on Jan. 27) then abandoned it.
Lost Coast Communications President Patrick Cleary's Facebook posts are written in the third person, suggesting he probably didn't write them himself. But he has more followers than Sundberg -- 333 -- and has tapped his 56 Twitter subscribers for help recruiting volunteers and distributing campaign signs. Judged solely on the social media front, then, Sundberg may have the edge on likability, but Cleary appears to be using technology more strategically.