Described by Twitter as "the most tweeted about event" in U.S. political history, the Oct. 3 presidential debate raked in an astonishing 10.3 million tweets during 90 minutes of air-time. After only 2 minutes into the debate, 2 million tweets on the subject had already bounced around the Twittersphere.

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Twitter is a platform practically made for keeping candidates honest, with real-time fact-checking already this election season's hot trend. It's interesting from a social media marketing perspective to note what inspired the most frequent and re-tweeted Tweets. In fact, picking up on the immense social media interest generated by the debates, Twitter released an interesting graph that tracks specific points of the debate based on activity across the Twitter network. No surprise here: politics alone were not responsible for spiking audience reactions. tracking debates

By now you must have heard the "Big Bird" reference Governor Mitt Romney used to illustrate his plan to cut spending. If somehow, you did miss it, the governor suggested cutting funding to PBS to help reduce the huge national deficit. By the end of the event, more than 250,000 Tweets mentioned "Big Bird", and @FiredBigBird - a parody handle created especially during the debate - had 17,000 followers. Twitter vs. Facebook for Real-time Conversation Twitter is a unique platform for real-time conversation - much more so than Facebook. Consider, for example, the difference in the Big Bird buzz between the two social networks: around 17,000 Tweets per minute were released during the debate mentioning the Sesame Street character; the parody handle @FiredBigBird boasts 31,000 followers at the time of writing. Compare this to the 8,661 "Likes" on the Big Bird for President Facebook page, even after a few days. So, if people are already paying attention to a popular event like the presidential debates, there is a prime opportunity to participate. To be perfectly honest, I'm guessing a lot of folks probably pay closer attention to the buzz on Twitter than the actual debate itself.

"If you're just watching on TV and not taking part in (or at least following) the simultaneous online conversation, then you might as well not even be paying attention at all"-The Atlantic.

Over half of all Twitter users follow 6 or more brands - 94% to receive special offers, and 79% for exclusive content. You can be one of those brands! Your goal can be to either attract new followers or just promote your brand as a savvy resource. How to Prepare for the Next Debates The next debates are:

  • Thursday, Oct. 11 (VP debates)
  • Tuesday, Oct. 16
  • Monday, Oct. 22

Here's what you can do to prepare:

  1. Get on Twitter if you haven't already! Setting up an account for an individual or a business is the same and follows the same easy steps. Make sure to include an image of your logo or product. You can also add a header image.
  2. Follow influencers in your industry or area. Find members of your target audience on Twitter with large followings. Keep tabs on what they're thinking leading up to debate day.
  3. Decide on a stance. Most brands don't want to make a political statement one way or the other at the risk of alienating customers. Middle ground is definitely fair game - but for some businesses it might actually make sense to declare a preference. For example, a breast cancer awareness non-profit (for tax reasons) will probably be more Obama-friendly, while a firearms producer is more likely to join the pro-Romney camp. Either way (even if you decide to remain neutral), decide this early on.
  4. Make a list of hot topics/points to watch out for during the debate. If you're staying neutral, this won't apply to you, but if your business is impacted by an area of the debate this will help you remained focus once the event begins.
  5. Send out 1 to 2 teaser Tweets the day before with engaging content/questions for followers relating to some aspect of the debate.

During Showtime:

  1. Stay alert - for your hot topics (see item # 4), controversial moments, zingers and opportunities to comment.
  2. Follow @gov - This is a great way to catch major trends in real-time. It is Twitter's own microblogging account.
  3. Contribute to the conversation
  4. Write a few unique Tweets of your own.
  5. Try quoting a candidate or posing a question.
  6. Respond to influencers' (see item # 2) Tweets that echo your brand's stance.
  7. Use a hashtag! Include "#debates" in your Tweet to make your comment appear in searches for that term within Twitter.

Bonus Ideas:

  1. Create a parody handle. If you create the next @FiredBigBird, you'll be in the spotlight.
  2. Create a viral hashtag. This requires less effort than a handle. The key is to strike a chord and get others to retweet it. This can be tricky, as you don't want to try too hard by creating too many tweets and coming across as spammy.
  3. Use Promoted Tweets. For the advanced marketers, this is best done with the creation of some type of content to link to, like an infographic or a contest.
Happy Tweeting!

So what do you think? If you have any other ways to leverage the massive amount of Twitter related chatter for your business,  let us know in the space provided below or Tweet us at @BFMweb.