Consultants, particularly digital experts, need to be active on social media. If they’re not using it aggressively, they’re mocked.
Stuart Stevens was routinely criticized for not tweeting during the 2012 cycle (even though he had an account). But Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's break with GOP consultant Liz Mair showcases the new dilemma facing campaign staffers: navigating an online culture where the tone is casual, opinions are dispensed in real time and oversharing is the norm.
Mair credited the Iowa Democrats or DNC for digging through her popular feed and pitching stories about her tweets concerning Iowans growing up “government-dependent” because of ethanol subsidies and questioning the state’s leadoff position in the primary calendar. Iowans, as expected, reacted angrily when contacted by reporters. “I find her to be shallow and ignorant,” state GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann told the New York Times, “and I’ll tell you, if I was Governor Walker, I’d send her her walking papers.”
Mair resigned late Tuesday and told the AP: “The tone of some of my tweets concerning Iowa was at odds with that which Gov. Walker has always encouraged in political discourse.”
That statement goes to the heart of consultants’ social media pickle. While they’re free and even incentivized to share their opinions online, those views get lumped together with their bosses' positions the minute they contract with a campaign — at least in the minds of voters.
Twitter, says JR Starrett, a veteran campaign manager, “breaks down the barriers between operatives and voters.”
“I look at it as a valuable tool to ensure that a campaign narrative or strategy is striking the correct tone with a constituency,” he says. “But operatives have to keep in mind it's still a public forum and that personal opinions aired on the service reflect their bosses just as they would if they were speaking on the record."
Mair, who declined to comment, is a known commodity on the right, which makes Walker’s decision to part ways with her one day after she was officially on staff puzzling. Mair's tweets came out months before she was officially brought on.
In the recent case of Ethan Czahor, who was brought on as chief technology officer for Jeb Bush’s PAC, the offensive tweets that led to his resignation were from years earlier.
The question for campaigns is whether they need to now scroll through the entire social media history of every prospective hire going forward.
“I actually don't really know what this all means, yet,” says Bret Jacobson, a GOP digital consultant. “Still working through it myself.”
Meanwhile, Mair used Twitter Wednesday to expand on her opinions about Iowa, ethanol and Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), but that didn't stop a torrent of abuse from being directed her way.
"It's a sad commentary that self-described Iowa Rs are emailing me calling me things like 'pig,' 'bitch,' and "dyke,'" she tweeted. "I know I offended some folks with my tweets, but I never used that kind of insult. Nor would I. These Iowans are embarrassing the state."