Teaching Politicians About The Power Of A Tweet

Although you might not have heard the name Bridget Coyne, you've probably seen her work on Twitter. As a senior manager on Twitter’s Government and Elections team, she serves as a sort of tweet expert for government agencies and politicians, including the 2016 presidential candidates. Four years ago, as the 2012 presidential candidates trended on Twitter, people were just beginning to understand how the microblogging service could impact politics and elections. While Twitter has always proved a useful communication medium, this year’s presidential primary has seen the candidates use the social media network for campaign outreach and voter engagement at a level not seen before. Someone has to teach these politicos the power of a tweet.

That's where Coyne comes in. Coyne advises policymakers throughout Capitol Hill, in government agencies like NASA and the Department of the Interior, and the full roster of 2016 presidential primary candidates on how to effectively use all of Twitter’s tools and resources to create engaging content.

"Twitter has been a daily part of my life, I’d say for the past eight or so years," Coyne tells Bustle, crediting an old boss at NBC with turning her on to the social media site. "I got hooked pretty early, and it sort of just evolved from there." While working as a press secretary for congressional representatives, Coyne had relied on Twitter. The site allowed her to stay on top of the day’s biggest news stories and tap into constituents’ concerns.

But as she logged in more and more, Twitter began to play a larger role in her life: "I moved to D.C. and took a press job, because that was the natural fit between news and politics. And then Twitter just became a bigger and bigger part of my life. I suddenly came to be using Twitter in my personal life to follow TV shows, and I was teaching friends how to use it.

In fact, it was Coyne's near-constant presence on Twitter which pushed her career in a new direction. "Then, lo and behold, a tweet was posted that said 'Come work for the Twitter Government Team and help teach people how to use Twitter.'" That was about four years ago, and she made the move to Twitter’s D.C. team as a result. It seems only fitting that she landed a job at Twitter through a tweet.

"We just really want to empower folks in government and politics who are great on Twitter to continue to be good."

Twitter's Government and Elections team was launched in 2010 by one man: Adam Sharp. Over the years, the team has continued to grow and evolve along with Twitter’s role as a platform for civic debate. Early on, the aim was to get government agencies and policymakers to sign up for the social media site and start tweeting. But with 100 percent of the Senate and 99 percent of the House now using Twitter, her team's objective has changed to ensure that those in Washington know more than how to tweet, but how to tweet better.

"A lot of people understand how to use Twitter, but they have a lot of specific questions about how to do different things, like running a Q&A or using additional tools like Vine," Coyne says. To address some of the ways folks in Washington might better connect with Twitter users, the team released the Twitter Government and Elections Handbook in 2014. "Many people even say it’s like the AP Style Guide of Twitter."

The 136-page guide aims to help agencies and politicians "tap into the power of Twitter" to better connect with constituents. "We just really want to empower folks in government and politics who are great on Twitter to continue to be good," Coyne explains. "We're tasked with working with them and making sure that they know how to create interesting experiences."

For the 2016 presidential primary, that meant making sure every candidate was aware of how to efficiently and effectively use Twitter's various tools. Although many of the candidates certainly weren't new to Twitter, their earliest tweets were proof enough that they likely benefited from some insider tips. For example, in his first tweet back in 2008, former Republican presidential candidate John Kasich let everyone know he "is using Twitter for the first time." The Ohio governor now tweets sassy GIFs and Star Wars-themed campaign videos.

To be fair, a lot of us had little idea of how to best express ourselves in 140 characters or fewer during Twitter's early years. According to Coyne, the site has transformed people's ability to stay on top of election news by bringing them a new perspective on the process and allowing them unprecedented access to primaries, caucuses, and campaign events across the United States.

"Look at the 'Birdie Sanders' example," Coyne says. "That was tremendous. It happened on TV in Portland, and then it trended worldwide. People were showing GIFs and photos and videos of this really amusing moment, all pretty much in real time." And as Twitter matured and grew, acquiring new applications like Vine and Periscope, it began to change not only how voters communicated with government figures, but also how they interacted with the entire political process.

Coyne worked to make sure candidates in both parties were well aware of how Periscope, one of Twitter's brand-new tools at the start of the 2016 election, could add another dimension to their presence on Twitter. She assisted Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina's campaign in using Periscope to live stream a Twitter Q&A shortly after the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard announced her campaign. The team has also worked with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on using Periscope to bring voters behind the scenes on the campaign trail at Roosevelt Island.

But Coyne and her team aren't just teaching Washington, D.C. how to tweet. Although the social media network gladly rocked the "Twitter Election" nickname bestowed upon the 2012 presidential election, it's clear the platform is still learning the full extent of its potential. As conversations on Twitter expanded, so too did its role in politics. "This is an evolution of Twitter being a daily part of the political and news world," Coyne says.

As a result, Twitter's Government and Elections team has begun to look for new ways to engage users and bring the conversations happening there into national debates. To help users commemorate special moments, like Pope Francis' U.S. visit and Super Tuesday, the team created special emojis. To celebrate National Park Week, they moved a 3D "Find Your Park" hashtag around D.C.'s national parks. To bring Twitter users' voices deeper into the political experience, they teamed up with CBS for the second Democratic primary debate in November.

"Our team worked with [CBS] to utilize Twitter tools and know how to find those meaningful experiences that might articulate what viewers at home are tweeting about and thinking about as they’re watching the debate," Coyne says.

It's no easy feat to follow each and every tweet, even when it's your job. (There were a reported 20 million tweets on Election Day in 2012.) "There’s a lot of my time spent reading Twitter and catching up," Coyne says. "It’s hard to follow everybody who I'd like to and see everything."

But if anyone can tame the Twitter timeline beast, it's Coyne. She was recognized as one of 100 Top Tech Titans in Washington by Washingtonian Magazine in May 2015, and was named a media influencer by Forbes Magazine's 30 Under 30 in Media in January 2015.

If you’ve ever retweeted (or at the very least appreciated) a star-studded photo from NASA or a Vine of a cute animal tweeted out in celebration of the weekend by the U.S. Department of Interior, you can thank Coyne and the rest of Twitter’s Government and Elections team.

It's not that politicians and government agencies need to have their hands held while tweeting. (Clinton uses GIFs better than any other presidential candidate, while Donald Trump’s conversational, off-the-cuff style has made his Twitter one to watch.) But Twitter, and Coyne, have a few ideas about how politicians, policymakers, and government agencies can really utilize the social media network's latest tools. Tools that can make the experience those users put out into the Twittersphere all the much better for you and me.