Promoted trends, Twitter's splashiest -- and priciest -- ad product, made their political debut at the Republican National Convention last week. And though they've driven their share of negative conversation about Mitt Romney, his backers seem undeterred from using them in an attempt to undermine President Barack Obama's messaging during his week in the spotlight in Charlotte.
The Romney camp became the first political campaign to buy a day-long promoted trend -- Twitter's version of a national home-page takeover, minus the large rich media ad -- last Thursday when Mr. Romney took to the podium in Tampa to accept his party's nomination. It started the day as #BelieveInAmerica, but was swapped out to #RomneyRyan2012 in the afternoon.
His backers have continued the Twitter assault on Mr. Obama's record this week, with the Republican National Committee buying #AreYouBetterOff yesterday. Today, Super PAC Americans for Prosperity purchased #FailingAgenda.
It was reported last year that promoted trends were selling for between $100,000 and $120,000; that 's still in the ballpark, according to Twitter's political sales director Peter Greenberger. Due to the national scale of the buy, it's unlikely that campaigns outside of national ones would buy one, he said, and the Obama camp has yet to buy one.
Zac Moffatt, digital director for the Romney campaign, said that Thursday's promoted trends generated 47 million impressions on Twitter, but that engagement by users who clicked on the hashtag or tweeted it out was the more significant metric. That said, he won't necessarily purchase another promoted trend, since the value last week of the buy derived from the fact that a huge national audience was going to be glued to their TV screen to watch Mr. Romney's speech.
Mr. Moffatt added that he was undaunted by the volume of tweets that appropriated the hashtag to bash the candidate.
"It's a challenge on social media that you have to be prepared for not getting 100% feedback, because people are having conversations," he said.
Twitter's Mr. Greenberger noted that the campaigns and political organizations interested in promoted trends understand that the sentiment in the tweets they generate will be a mixed bag, and he pointed to today's Americans for Prosperity buy as an example of how they might look to thwart negativity. Clicking on the #FailingAgenda hashtag takes users to a page where a tweet reading "Obama's Agenda has brought us 43 straight months of unemployment over 8%. Are you #DoingFine or #NotDoingFine?" sits on top of results. But the group also bought promoted tweets that surface when a user clicks on either option, so that even if they click #DoingFine and essentially seek to reject the message, they'll view another tweet that says, "Even if you're #DoingFine, 13 million Americans are currently unemployed."
"What they're doing is using the platform very well to guide the conversation they want to have," said Mr. Greenberger.
However, underneath the Americans For Prosperity tweet that appears at the top of results for #FailingAgenda sits a stream of tweets mocking it, including one by actor Mark Ruffalo. But according to Tim Schigel, founder of the social-sharing and data company ShareThis and who's a top digital strategist for the RNC (which bought yesterday's #AreYouBetterOff hashtag), the short shelf life of political news makes the peril of Twitter hashtag-hijacking less severe for campaigns than for brands.
"The news cycle moves so fast that whether something worked well or didn't work well, the world will be on to something new next week," he said. "This is much less true in the world of brand marketing."