Political strategists criticize Pawlenty’s Facebook presidential exploratory committee roll out
Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty announced that he was forming an exploratory committee Monday afternoon, the first step toward a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. Pawlenty has come under some criticism for announcing via Facebook, though the method has certainly earned him a large amount of media attention Monday.
Around 11 a.m. Monday, Pawlenty told his fans to come back to his Facebook page around 3:00 p.m. for a special announcement and linked to a page with a countdown clock in a post on his Facebook wall. At 3 p.m., a video went up announcing the formation of his exploratory committee.
Ben Smith posted an e-mail on his blog from Democratic media strategist Sam Graham-Felsen criticizing the nature of the roll out:
“The whole point of launching a campaign on Facebook is to give your supporters the exclusive over the press … By leaking the Facebook launch to the press many hours ahead of time, Pawlenty is undermining the whole idea of a ’social media launch.’ You can’t have your grassroots cake and eat it too,” he said.
The timing of the announcement — 3 p.m, when most people are at work, and many of them in offices that block Facebook — also seemed somewhat odd. But Patrick Ruffini of political media firm Engage, who is serving as an unpaid adviser to Pawlenty’s campaign, explained that 3 p.m is the time when traffic on Facebook peaks.
He disputed Graham-Felsen’s criticism. “He’s [Pawlenty] obviously built up a loyal following over the last year,” Ruffini said, “and he just wanted to say thank you to those people who were there at the very beginning.”
Steve Elmendorf of the lobbying firm Elmendorf Ryan said the important thing was that Pawlenty announced an exploratory committee, not how he did it. “They’ve got to get out of the gate, and how you get out of the gate is not that important,” he said.
The announcement certainly garnered traffic. Only people who ‘Like’ Pawlenty on Facebook had access to the video, and just between 2:30 p.m. and 5:10 p.m. on Monday, he had gained just under 2000 more fans. The video is also available on Vimeo and has been reposted in numerous places, giving everyone else access to it.
But Amy Brown of Harris Media LLC argued that the roll out was nowhere near as effective as it could have been.
“They didn’t even collect any email addresses, which I think is an epic failure on their part,” she said. “I would expect that an event like this would give them a huge boost in people who like his Facebook page that are interested in seeing the announcement, and with all of that traffic to the Facebook page, it’s a perfect opportunity to collect people’s data so you can follow up with an email.”
“It doesn’t break any sort of tech barrier,” she said, pointing to freshman Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio announcing his campaign for Senate on Facebook via a live streaming town hall. She said that she had expected Pawlenty’s announcement to have been live.
“I think besides the quality of the video, some teenager could put up a video of a Facebook page,” she said.
“This announcement seems to lack the gravitas of running for president.”