Hillary Clinton joins Twitter, sounds human


(Kevin Lamarque/Associated Press)

Hillary Clinton officially joined Twitter Monday with what may be the best bio ever ("Wife, mom, lawyer, women & kids advocate, FLOAR, FLOTUS, US Senator, SecState, author, dog owner, hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, glass ceiling cracker, TBD . . .") and a perfect opening tweet ("Thanks for the inspiration @ASmith83 & @Sllambe - I'll take it from here... #tweetsfromhillary"). Within 24 hours, the former Secretary of State and potential 2016 contender had amassed more than 360,000 followers.

A day later, everyone has a take on what's behind Clinton's Twitter debut. Some saw a play for younger voters. Others saw her embrace of the hair jokes and running fashion commentary as a "21st-century form of self-actualization." The Washington Post's Philip Rucker writes that by making her avatar the photo of herself made famous by the "Texts from Hillary" Tumblr and having her bio read (in part) "hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, glass ceiling cracker," "she is defining herself not as a staid politician but as a witty, self-effacing and almost hip neti­zen."

What's hard not to see is a politician who stands alone among her potential opponents as showing even a glimmer of personality on a social media platform that is designed to showcase just that. Just for kicks, I took a look at all 32 of the Twitter bios for the candidates listed in The Fix's Sweet 16, a bracket that breaks down the possible presidential candidates in the next election. To a person, the bios are official, dull, brief, and nearly completely devoid of humor or humanness.

Most do nothing more than show an official portrait and list the elected office in the bio line. A couple include campaign boilerplate (Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick: "Committed to the values of generational responsibility and the politics of conviction"). Only a few include avatars other than political photos (Newark Mayor Cory Booker uses the Human Rights Campaign's marriage equality sign) or mention roles other than their current jobs (Ohio Gov. John Kasich's bio says he's a husband and father. Of course, Rick Santorum's does too.)

Granted, Clinton has more freedom to define herself as she wishes, given that she's not currently serving in elected office and hasn't yet identified what she's seeking next. But even those possible candidates who aren't currently governors or senators have relatively flat avatars and bios. Jeb Bush, for instance, calls himself only the "43rd Governor of the State of Florida," with a picture of himself reading the children's book "The Snowy Day." (An interesting choice.)

Twitter may have verified these as bona fide accounts. But the bios associated with them are anything but authentic looks at the leaders behind them. In its own small but unique way, the Twitter bio gives today's leaders a chance to reveal something personable, even vulnerable about themselves in the midst of such a carefully orchestrated media world. Clinton (or at least her advisers) get that Twitter is a place to expose the person behind the professional veneer -- at least a little bit. She gets that many women define themselves not only by their professional role, but by their passions, their families, and the chapters in their lives -- making her Twitter debut not only a play for young voters, potentially, but for female ones, too.

In other words, she understands that voters want a human connection with the people who lead them, and Twitter offers a simple -- and if done right, credible -- way to create it.

Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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Lillian Cunningham · June 11, 2013