If you’re not on Twitter, you probably missed the following details of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s life:
A little adventure just now when my plane made an emergency landing. All’s ok, though.
Having breakfast earlier at a local joint in Sac getting ready for another day of negotiations.
If I couldn’t find 1 hr for fitness, I would feel like a loser.
Schwarzenegger still delivers a weekly radio address and sends press releases. But he seems most obsessed with communicating in 140 characters or fewer via Twitter.
Since joining the social networking site last year, the governor has drawn 1.15 million followers. He visited Twitter headquarters in San Francisco last month and started a Web site that solicits ideas via Twitter. He even used it to wish his son Patrick a happy 16th birthday last week, calling him “a true stud.”
Schwarzenegger now ranks fourth in the Twitter world among politicians, after President Barack Obama, former Vice President Al Gore and Sen. John McCain.
Like many elected officials, Schwarzenegger uses Twitter to promote his official activities. He posts photos of himself meeting with firefighters or dining with former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. He solicits advice and sometimes acts upon it, as in the case of one follower who said he should autograph used state vehicles to turn them into collectors’ items.
Schwarzenegger is not actually doing any of this himself.
He does not carry a BlackBerry, the communications device through which most of his “tweets” are posted. Instead, he tells his personal assistants usually the tech-savvy Daniel Ketchell or Clay Russell to post what he wants, according to Schwarzenegger press secretary Aaron McLear.
While some believe the governor’s press office has more control over the Twitter feed than it lets on, McLear insists that is not the case.
“Every single post is directed by the governor,” McLear said.
As proof, McLear offered one incident from June 19, when the governor told his Twitter audience that his private plane had to make an emergency landing during his commute flight home to Los Angeles. The governor had an aide post a picture of his plane on the tarmac surrounded by three fire engines.
Schwarzenegger also uses video to display a mischievous side. One in particular landed on national news networks a 27-second spot of Schwarzenegger waving a giant knife in July before telling followers that they gave him great ideas.
The governor intended for the clip to be humorous, as if the camera caught him in the middle of his everyday big-knife-waving routine.
Of course, critics also use Twitter. Social-services advocates took offense as the video came during tense budget talks in which Schwarzenegger sought deep cuts.
Health Access, which represents low-income Californians, wrote: The video adds insult to injury, literally.
Days later, Schwarzenegger told reporters, “You’ve got to have a little sense of humor. That’s me. You sent a governor to Sacramento, not El Stiffo.”
David Burch of TubeMogul Inc., which tracks online data, said Schwarzenegger has more Twitter followers than all 49 other governors combined, mostly due to his celebrity status. (The Twitter leader is actor Ashton Kutcher, who has 3.65 million followers.)
“He’s using his celebrity in interesting ways, such as with the knife video, having fun with it and interacting with people,” said Burch, a self-described early Twitter adopter. “Compared to any other politician, I’d say he’s really savvy with it.”
Burch said that if he had any criticism, it would be that Schwarzenegger’s Twitter page “sometimes feels staged.” It’s considered a Twitter faux pas to have someone else write your posts and shoot your video, he noted.
“The whole thing is, it’s supposed to be you unfiltered,” Burch said. “If it’s your PR person, that’s lame. He sort of straddles that and makes up for it by interacting with people.”
University of Maryland researchers released a study last week of 6,000 Twitter posts by members of Congress and found that most information was self-promotional or just press releases in a new form.
“In many cases, we saw politicians thinking they can gain a way to get their message directly across to citizens,” said Jennifer Golbeck, a University of Maryland assistant professor of information studies who led the study. “I don’t know that it really works.”
She said one of the best uses of Twitter is to engage followers, as Schwarzenegger does, but most Congress members don’t do so.
When Schwarzenegger launched his Twitter-based Web site, MyIdea4CA.com, seven of the top 10 ideas had to do with marijuana legalization or reducing prison time for drug offenses. The most popular idea remains “legalize and tax marijuana, end the war on drugs.”
Barbara O’Connor, a communications professor at California State University, Sacramento, said that while Schwarzenegger has found a new niche, he must be mindful that it is only one segment of those he represents.
“Keep in mind who’s on Twitter we still have a digital divide and the age range on Twitter is younger than for other mediums,” O’Connor said. “We still have an extensive digital divide in California related to income and race. What you get in Twitter suggestions is going to be skewed accordingly.”
State legislators also have taken to Twitter. Many posts are brief statements of their views. And then there was what Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, noted during the budget vote: Just ate a healthy muffin … maybe 1000 calories.
Muffins might not be enough for Schwarzenegger, who recently posted this on his own diet: My favorite food is a good NY steak … It is also my favorite food to cook, normally on the BBQ.
Without Twitter, we might never have known.