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Des Moines, Iowa


The (lack of) Power of One Million Followers

Geoff Wood




I saw an interesting article the other day being passed around Twitter that was written by Douglas Burns, a columnist with the Carroll (Iowa) Daily Times-Herald

Burns took note of native Iowan and Hollywood celebrity Ashton Kutcher's recent win in a race to one million followers on Twitter over cable news giant CNN.
Many social media folks have blogged and micro-blogged about the recent celebrity onslaught to Twitter that most notably started with Britney Spears, continued to Ashton (or Chris, as friends in Iowa once knew him) and has recently moved on to Oprah. Most note their embrace of the technology as the beginning of the end of the platform's trendyness (a sign that it has gone mainstream and therefore is no longer "cool").
Burns looks at Ashton's feat through a political lens and suggests that Ashton should utilize his followers to help him get elected into Iowa's 5th Congressional District. Iowa, known for it's "first in the nation" status in vetting Presidential candidates every four years, would be the perfect state for another political first: a celebrity parlaying their social media following into Congressional office.
Kutcher wouldn't be the first to utilize the power of an online community to assist them in winning elections, President Obama did it throughout his campaign and you can be assured that many other politicians will follow that example in 2010 and beyond. However, Kutcher would be the first celebrity - who earned their following through their pop culture status rather than political agenda - to do so.
Burns pitches the idea here at the end of his column:
In the end, the best argument for Kutcher is what happened last week when he reached the watershed of a million followers on Twitter, a texting/blogging convergence tool that allows users to send information out in 140-character or less blasts to anyone interested in reading them.
In effect, Kutcher just built a muscular grassroots political machine that would be the envy of many a campaign pro.
He should now test it.
Setting aside Kutcher's personal politics and their match to those of his would-be Western Iowa constituents, there are flaws in Burns doesn't mention in his article about the power of this particular online community to put a person in office; namely the fact that the one million Kutcher followers are likely not voting-aged Western Iowans. As Burns mentions earlier in the column, they could be leaned on in a request for political donations, but most of them can't vote (either because of age or lack of residing in Western Iowa). That makes them far less than a "muscular grassroots political machine". 
Other flaws include the fact that many of Kutcher's followers only chose to follow him because of the race against CNN (as opposed to having done so out of true interest for what he has to say) and that he has no experience in getting such a group to organize for any actual purpose (other than simply "following him"), mean that the connections that his followers have to him is shallow and certainly not something to use as the base on which to take a political stand.
Image of Mr. and Mrs. Kutcher campaigning in Iowa for Obama in September 2008 courtesy of music999 on Flickr