Big Bird, Binders, Bayonets: Debate's Social Lessons

Presidential debate memes prove that speed, humor, and relevant data all key to effective use of social media.

Debra Donston-Miller

October 24, 2012

4 Min Read
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Social Studies: Obama vs. Romney

Social Studies: Obama vs. Romney

Social Studies: Obama vs. Romney(click image for larger view and for slideshow)

The three presidential debates might have left us scratching our heads about what the candidates really stand for (and how far apart from each other they stand). But they did teach us at least three important lessons about tapping into the power of social media.

1. Be Quick.

There's no crying in baseball, and there's no waiting around in social media. As soon as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney uttered the fateful phrase "binders full of women," blogs, Facebook, and Twitter lit up with commentary, including video and images.

[ Read VP Debate: Twitter Users Call Malarkey Early, Often. ]

As reported by NPR's "All Things Considered", Veronica de Souza watched that second debate in a funk, having just been laid off from her job as a (wait for it) social media manager. Within a minute of Romney describing the binders used to facilitate a job search in the state he governed at the time, de Souza looked for and saw that "binders full of women" was free on Tumblr. She snagged the blog name, and posted her own images of women sandwiched in three-ring binders. After she opened up the blog for outside submissions, she had 3,000 submissions within five hours, she told NPR, including one showing Hugh Hefner leaning up against a rack of binders and another showing the iconic image of John Cusack in the movie "Say Anything," with the boombox held over his head replaced with binders.

This is not to say that businesses should be waiting with their figurative fingers poised over the keyboard, ready to grab related URLs whenever anyone utters anything that might take off virally on social media. But companies that are making use of external social media should be looking for opportunities to play off these memes.

And memes wait for no one: de Souza told NPR that she wasn't sure what she would end up doing with her Tumblr blog, but whatever it was she knew she had to do it quickly. "… this is going to live out its course," she said in the interview. "I know that it'll be mostly done in about a week."

2. Use Humor.

The reaction to the debates on social media proved yet again how important--and powerful--a sense of humor can be in the blogosphere. Text and images circulated widely across social media played off Romney's binders full of women bit, as well as off his vow in the first debate to essentially take down Big Bird, and President Barack Obama's third-debate comeback on military spending that referenced "horses and bayonets." The text and images not only were created quickly, many were also Letterman clever.

Humor plays well on social media, and it tends to get passed around. Office supply (and binder maker) Avery went with Romney's remark and posted an update to its Facebook page, saying, "We're hearing a lot about binders today! It's terrific to see so much passion this election season. And we're always excited to hear folks talking about binders." At last count the post was liked by 350 people and had been shared from Avery's Facebook page 54 times. (It can be argued that Avery also got a boost from the more than 1,000 fake binder reviews posted on, including, "I was originally going to rate this only 1 star. You see, I'm a big girl and I can only squeeze about 53% of myself into this binder. But then I decided that I'm not going to worry about the other 47%.")

3. Measure What Matters.

Social media analytics platforms can benchmark many things, but that doesn't necessarily mean all those things are worth being measured. We saw that here at The Brainyard from the plethora of quick-and-dirty infographics released after the debates and from the dozens of pitches we received promising "compelling metrics" from social media conversations about the debates. Some of those promised metrics would have mattered to our readers, some would have been interesting but not important, and some would have been neither.

Organizations tapping into the reams of data generated from social media likewise need to know that they can measure and analyze just about anything, but that doesn't mean they should. It takes time to do a meaningful analysis of any data point. It's best to pick a few key data points--the ones that matter most to your particular company and industry--and do a good job of analyzing those.

What have you learned to do (and not to do) from the recent debates? How will you apply it in your own social media work? Please let us know in the comments section below.

Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.

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