Be a Twitter Genius: Lessons from John McCain
Although he came up short on votes in 2008, Arizona Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain isn’t lacking in “Digital IQ” points. As reported by Politico, a joint study of politicians’ “online competence” by George Washington University and NYU ranked McCain as a “Twitter Genius,” scoring significantly higher than fellow senators at utilizing the social tool. This may surprise some, given criticism of the septuagenarian from some quarters as being “out of touch;” yet, as he faces a tough reelection bid, McCain is relying on social networking to preserve his career. In doing so, this “genius” offers a model for professional advancement in 140 characters or less.
Establish yourself quickly. Following his 2008 defeat to Barack Obama (and candidate Obama’s superior command of social networking), McCain wasted little time adopting the format himself. Since 2009, he has tweeted frequently, drawing more than 1.7 million followers. Of course, those weren’t as hard to muster for someone who was already a prominent public figure, but the beauty of Twitter is that anyone can generate a sizeable following if they have something interesting to say. To get noticed, don’t be shy—alert friends and coworkers to your account’s existence, follow them, and branch out to their followers. As you build a network, maintain a steady stream of relevant content that invites discussion, spreads ideas, and shares your skills and accomplishments. Just describing your lunch probably won’t cut it.
Tweet outside the box. Anyone can tweet a few thoughts; it takes a genius to explore the potential of the format. John McCain exemplified this when he and George Stephanopoulos conducted an interview entirely via Twitter—the imposed character limit stripped down the political dialogue, allowing direct questions to be met with unadorned answers transmitted live to the world. With today’s workforce using social applications for job hunting and self-promotion, standing out from the crowd comes down to uniquely interacting with the community. For instance, try reaching out to fellow professionals about their careers and accomplishments, or asking for details of their company’s recruitment process—the discourse can be invaluable, both for the knowledge shared and the initiative displayed.
Attract powerful followers. The axiom “it’s who you know” is as true in politics as it is in business. But for an elected official, the goal is staying relevant. So when John McCain began exchanging tweets with Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi of MTV’s “Jersey Shore,” it was an unexpected twist that won him regard for connecting with a younger generation. For the rest of us, however, being followed by Kanye West might not grant a desired status boost. Instead, aim for the attention of leaders—buddying up with top brass or being retweeted by the likes of Richard Branson or Michael Dell will earn you notice as someone with eye-catching ideas.
It remains uncertain whether the displayed mastery of next-generation campaigning by Senator McCain (and, to be fair, his staff) will pay off in this election cycle. But regardless of one’s own political beliefs, the elder statesman’s resourceful embrace of technology is admirable and inspiring. As workers of all stripes wrestle with new challenges presented by an uncertain economy, it’s imperative to remain open to new venues for networking and seeking opportunity. Senator McCain, once thought to be down for the count, is an example of someone even late in their career finding a way to stay relevant in the information age.