#StandWithWendy: One Texas Senator’s Incredible Social Impact

#StandWithWendy: One Texas Senator’s Incredible Social Impact
By Anthony Gutierrez

On the morning of June 25th, Wendy Davis had 1,200 followers on Twitter and wasn’t particularly well-known outside of Texas.

As that day proceeded, the State Senator would put on a filibuster in an attempt to derail a bill championed by Governor Rick Perry. In order to accomplish her goal, Davis would have to begin speaking around mid-morning and stay on topic until midnight without ever sitting down, leaning against anything, eating or drinking.

The filibuster, though virtually ignored by cable, captivated the digital world.

Before the sun would rise on the next morning, Davis would filibuster for around eleven hours only to be stopped by some questionable parliamentary maneuvering by Texas Republicans. With her filibuster stopped and around twenty minutes left until midnight, the fight appeared to be over and the bill would pass.

That was when an eruption of yelling and chanting came from the Gallery that overlooks the Senate floor. For those against the bill, this was a “People’s Filibuster” that heroically rallied to kill the legislation. For the bill’s proponents, this was an “angry mob” that kept the legislature from conducting business as usual.

What no one could debate was that this became a digital phenomenon without precedent in the political world.

The filibuster was essentially ignored by the 24-hour media cycle of national cable news and only viewable live either via the Texas legislature’s feed (which, amazingly, still utilizes RealPlayer) or the YouTube livestream that was hosted by the Texas Tribune.

With no national cable TV coverage, powered almost entirely through digital means, the YouTube livestream had as many as 180,000 viewers and #StandWithWendy was trending worldwide on Twitter.

Within that hashtag you would find tweets from celebrities ranging from Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and Sarah Silverman to Joss Whedon and Mark Ruffalo.

As for Senator Wendy Davis, her Twitter followers exploded from 1,200 to over 140,000, her Facebook Politician page had over 241,000 Likes and she became a fixture on national cable news. In the week that followed, Davis would be on Sunday morning political roundtable shows, receive coverage in celebrity entertainment magazines and the shoe she wore during her filibuster became a best-seller for Mizuno.

While some of the factors that contributed to this phenomenon can’t be easily replicated, there are certainly some takeaways we can all use to be more effective on social media.

First, this episode proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Twitter is the place to engage in events as they unfold. The originator of the hashtag still utilizes it better than anyone. Twitter is your place to find trending topics, immediately engage in them and watch live as events unfold.

Whereas Twitter is perfectly suited for your rapid-fire tweeting during an event, Facebook is continuing to move towards a timeline that favors visuals over text-based content. Facebook is the better destination for sharing fewer posts that have a more macro-viewpoint. Think news stories, photos, videos or memes.

While Facebook, Instagram and Vine all use hashtags, no one does it as well as Twitter. That said, many people on Twitter could still use some help with hashtags.

On the night of the filibuster, #StandWithWendy trended worldwide. As the fight over this legislation continued, various organizations on both sides of the fight started trying to push their own hashtags including variations on #StandWithWendy, bill numbers and other variations.

None of these later hashtags ever trended as widely as on the night of the filibuster.

If the goal is to sustain a movement over a long period of time, the best way to do that is to stick with the hashtag that originally brought in your audience. Alternatively, if your goal is simply to draw attention to your cause, don’t dismiss the idea of using a hashtag your opponent will also be using. Obviously this only works if the hashtag is fairly benign but a good example in this case is #TXlege. Watchers of the legislature have used #TXlege for years and it’s followed by the vast majority of political reporters in Texas.

Inventing a hashtag is only a good idea if one doesn’t already exist that will help you accomplish your goal.

A few final lessons: private Facebook groups have become an excellent way to utilize Facebook’s digital infrastructure to organize behind the scenes. Instagram and Vine are both becoming extremely useful for breaking news. Take advantage of these by seeking out visually interesting content and making good use of hashtags the same way you would on Twitter.

You might not be trying to kill a piece of legislation or elevate a State Senator to a national celebrity, but applying these lessons will nevertheless prove worthwhile for your social media.

Anthony Gutierrez is President and Founder at Cadre Media and the former Deputy Executive Director of the Texas Democratic Party.

Photo Credit: Do512.com via Photo Pin | Creative Commons