Republican front-runner Mitt Romney doesn’t follow many accounts on Twitter — 235, to be exact — and at first glance, it looks as if the extreme message discipline his campaign is known for extends to whom he follows. It’s an array of conservative and mainstream media outlets, journalists, Republican politicians, and even some rivals, like Newt Gingrich.
But why does Mitt Romney follow the fast-food restaurant chain Carl’s Jr.?
Andrew Puzder, the CEO of Carl’s Jr.’s holding company, is a deep-pocketed Romney donor. According to OpenSecrets.org, he has contributed $100,000 to Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney super PAC. Puzder and his wife, Deanna, have each made the $2,500 maximum allowable contribution to the Romney campaign. Romney also follows Puzder’s Twitter account. The campaign says he’s one of Romney's friends.
Included is a photo of Romney eating at a Carl’s Jr.
The Twitter accounts that the 2012 Republican presidential candidates follow paint a picture that’s part strategy, part personality, and part intrigue.
For Jon Huntsman, his follows include music (Ben Folds, Foo Fighters), sports (the U.S. women’s national soccer team and the Utah Jazz), and Harley Davidson (Huntsman is a motorcycle aficionado). He also follows lots of media in New Hampshire and South Carolina, where he has staked his candidacy.
Newt Gingrich has the most followers of the GOP field, a debatable 1.3 million, but he follows 467 from his personal account. An animal lover, Gingrich follows the Georgia Aquarium and Zoo Atlanta. He also follows the Discovery and History cable channels.
Most intriguing though, are all the people that Gingrich follows who seem to be regular folks who have the word "Republican" or something similar in their biographies. It is not fair to assume these are campaign volunteers, as some indicate that they back others in the field.
Rick Perry’s personal account, @GovernorPerry, follows nearly 31,000 people. Some of his more recent follows include Rob Johnson, his campaign manager; Denver Broncos Quarterback Tim Tebow (Perry once said he hoped to be "the Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses”); and, interestingly, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., a prominent Romney backer.
When a politician is following tens or hundreds of thousands of accounts, as is the case with Perry and President Obama (@BarackObama), it is likely the accounts were followed en masse in hopes those people would return the favor.
“When you see numbers over a couple of thousand, you know they are following to gain followers,” said Jordan Raynor, client director of Engage, a firm that works with Republican candidates on digital strategy.
If a campaign follows only a couple of hundred accounts, it's likely that more care was taken in picking whom to follow. In that case, it's a good idea to be careful about those choices. “If you’re hand-picking, you better be sure that who you’re hand-picking is in line with your messaging,” Raynor said.
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