If you were trying to strike up a conversation on Twitter about the merits of extending the payroll tax cut, what hashtag would you use?
The White House New Media team considered several options last month as the debate intensified, including #notaGame, #100dollarsbuys, #40dollarsbuys, #40addsup and #40dollarsmeans.
Eventually, they settled on #40dollars.
Speaking Monday at the What’s Next D.C. conference in Washington, Kori Schulman, White House deputy director for digital strategy, said her team chose #40dollars based on a prominent White House talking point: That eliminating the tax cut would have cost a family earning $50,000 a year about $40 per paycheck.
At about 4:15 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 19, as Obama made a final push for the tax cut, Schulman’s team began asking the 2.6 million @WhiteHouse followers “What Does $40 Mean to You?”
By 5 p.m., #40dollars was trending worldwide, Schulman said, and the hashtag was generating about 6,000 tweets per hour. At the height of the push, WhiteHouse.gov received about 5,000 responses per hour to the question.
“#40dollars helps my son keep studying since we can’t afford college, it keeps him reading #Books,” one user said.
“#40dollars means my grocery budget for the week,” added another.
“We kind of proved it in a very clear and public way that this money was significant to a lot of people,” Schulman told conference attendees. “This was sort of a make or break moment for us, and we kept reinforcing that this was important and kept at it.”
(The Federal Eye attended Schulman’s presentation Monday after moderating a panel at What’s Next D.C. with new media directors from the departments of Agriculture, Energy, Health and Human Services and Interior. They agreed that user metrics and data generated by their Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts help prove to skeptical colleagues that engaging Americans through social media is critical to the future of governing.)
#40dollars proved so popular that Obama appeared a few days later with people who had shared stories about why they supported the tax cut after hearing about it via Twitter. On Tuesday night, he invited one participant, Amber Morris, of Virginia Beach, to sit with first lady Michelle Obama during the State of the Union address.
“Forty dollars a pay check means that I’ll be able to pay my bills, but most months it’ll be a tight squeeze. It means that I’ll have no spending money which means I can’t do my part in encouraging my local economy,” Morris told the White House. “Forty dollars a paycheck may not seem a lot, but it could mean a steady job for me and my coworkers or unemployment.”
The low-rent, low-tech, high impact campaign not only helped secure passage of the payroll tax extension, but Schulman said it also generated 70,000 tweets, 46,000 submissions via the White House Web site, 10,000 related Facebook posts and contributions from 126,000 users
“You can look at a number like that and say, well, shear number of participation may not mean much,” she said. “But what we found is that a majority of participation that was happening here -- through Twitter and the web forum -- was in the spirit of the campaign. There were people that were talking about issues that we hoped they would discuss.”
“We know the power of a Tweet and a hashtag and that it can totally change the conversation in Washington, and that’s a really powerful thing,” Schulman added.
The White House’s critics seem to agree. On Tuesday, in the hours leading up to the State of the Union, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and other Republican and conservative critics marked the 1,000th day without passage of a federal budget by using #1000days.
“1,000 days since Senate Dems passed a budget — America deserves better. #1000days,” McCain said through his account.
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost