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Abbott Twitter Town Hall A Rocky Step Into Social Media Campaigning

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Taking a step into the social media world, a tactic that has been deployed with success by Democrats in recent campaigns, Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott held a question and answer session live on Twitter yesterday evening.

In the two-hour one-hour window that he was answering questions, Abbott answered a total of 26 of the thousands that came through, meaning each answer took a little over two minutes to formulate and post, which isn't too bad of a response time in the living, breathing forum of Twitter that is constantly being updated and changing by the second.

*The initial story stated that the town hall was for two hours when it was in fact only one, cutting the reported response time in half.

To Abbott's credit, he entered the chat knowing full well it wasn't going to be all internet high fives and cheering, as people opposed to Abbott began filling the #askabbott queue with criticisms and cutting questions about his record hours before the 8 p.m. start time.

While there were both attacking questions and those that came from within his supporter network, there were a few that posed genuine policy questions about some of the big issues. Some gave Abbott the chance to separate himself from the current office holder, Gov. Rick Perry:

A few other posts that were answered also posed genuine policy questions, and asked Abbott about things like natural gas fracking, the rising costs of higher education and border security.

The attacks came fast and furious

There were plenty of attacking questions on everything from his lawsuits against the Obama administration and the Affordable Care Act to when he started hating women and even global warming, but one question that came from the opposition stood out.

Battleground Texas, the organization made up of former key members of President Obama's campaign team who are now in Texas to help push the Democratic cause, asked Abbott how he will communicate with the Latino community -- and did so in Spanish:

This exchange presses on one of the obstacles for the Republican party in this and all future elections, the Latino vote, but the Latino community is being swayed more by issues important to them than by a language barrier alone.

For all the gruff, there was plenty of fluff

Abbott supporters asked him about what he thinks about guns -- the word "firearms" is the third word in his campaign sign -- and asked him for one word to describe why he should be governor to which he replied "liberty."

Additional easy questions came about if he was related to a particular singer, would he attend a rally in someone's town, and one even brought a debate about boy bands into the mix:

By taking time to answer these types of questions in the short period of time he was engaging this large audience, Abbott further missed a chance to really engage voters being that he was only able to respond to a few overall.

What can we learn from this?

While the Twitter town hall experience was a rocky step looking at how relatively little he meaningfully engaged the massive audience at his fingertips, it does represent Abbott's willingness to reach voters in a different forum than, say, a political rally at a feed store in West Texas.

As Texas Monthly's Robert Draper so pointedly addresses in his recent article, the campaign game is changing and forcing both old guard Democrats and Republicans to adjust to the world of social media.

In the lightening-fast, back-and-forth of a Twitter chat, politicians and organizations don't have time to get a question, run it by a team for analysis, formulate the best response, and then deliver it a few minutes later.

The social audience can sense if a politician or organization is being genuine and sincere, and though it is a little bit of a political danger to be quick with your answers off-the-cuff, a little stumble in the wording of an answer actually makes you seem more real to social media users -- they are a lot smarter than they generally get credit for.

Abbott's campaign said that is was the attorney general answering each question during the hour.

  • The Abbott campaign has a recap of each of the questions he answered at gregabbott.com.
My journalism journey began with an idea for a local art and music zine and the gumption to make it happen with no real plan or existing skill set.