Kevin Lamarque/AP file photo

Can Twitter Solve Hillary Clinton's Relatability Problem?

The former secretary of state has sometimes struggled to connect with voters on the stump. Maybe 140 characters suit her better.

Since she entered the national spotlight more than 20 years ago, Hillary Clinton has struggled to connect with voters the way great politicians often do—look no further than her husband for a prime example of the dynamic, American pol. Well, Hillary has finally found a way off showing her softer side: Twitter.

In April 2012, a black-and-white picture of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sitting in a military plane, wearing sunglasses, and holding her BlackBerry went viral thanks to a Tumblr account called “Texts from Hillary.”The account, which was shared over 82,000 times on Facebook in one week, features the now-famous picture of the former first lady exchanging snarky text messages with celebrities ranging from Barack Obama to Meryl Streep.

"Brunch?" asks Meryl Streep. "Obviously," a stone-faced Hillary replies.

The main joke of Texts from Hillary is that the hard-edged, no-nonsense, steely-faced Clinton is the only adult in a world of celebrity toddlers. While we're laughing at the idea that Hillary Clinton actually texts with celebs, we're also laughing at the general incompetence of the people she's texting with. In this sense, Texts From Hillary managed to take had been one of Clinton's greatest weaknesses—her wooden, stern persona—and turn it into something positive and endearing: her no-nonsense competence and authority.

"She's going to love the new Justin Bieber video!" says a casually dressed Joe Biden, flanked by a smiling Barack Obama. "Back to work boys," Hillary replies.

The Texts From Hillary meme inspired national coverage, including a column by Maureen Dowd in The New York Times and articles in multiple other publications, from The Washington Post to BuzzFeed to CNN. Hillary even invited the Tumblr's creators, Adam Smith and Stacy Lambe—both communications professionals in Washington, D.C.—to the State Department, where she put on her signature sunglasses and snapped a picture with the pair. The Internet was laughing, and Hillary Clinton was finally in on the joke.

Shortly after Texts From Hillary blew up, Talking Points Memo's Benjy Sarlin wrote about the impact it had on reinventing Clinton's wooden public persona:

When she was running for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton was parodied as drab and calculated, especially compared with young and vigorous Barack Obama and winking and fresh-faced Sarah Palin. Now, she's fueling Internet jokes based on her own brand of badass cool.

Creating, or cultivating as Clinton has done, a brand of "badass cool" is not a small achievement for someone who has struggled to connect in more traditional forms of political communication over the past 20 plus years. During Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign in 1992, focus-group testing prompted pollsters to suggest that the public needed to meet “the real Hillary." When she was running for the U.S. Senate in New York State 10 years later, longtime media adviser Mandy Grunwald once again urged Clinton “to be real.” And in 2008, Clinton often looked stiff next to the charismatic, young Barack Obama.

While four years away from rough-and-tumble domestic politics helped boost Clinton's popularity—she left the State Department in 2012 with a whopping 69 percent approval rating—her relatability problems still haven't gone away.

Look no further than her recent and seemingly never-ending book tour, where Clinton was again derided for what were seen as out of touch comments that she and her husband were “dead broke” after leaving the White House. While the couple did owe upwards of $10 million in legal fees, they also walked out of Washington into millions of dollars in book advances and paid speeches.

Despite her struggles to relate in interviews and during months of book tours, Hillary Clinton has been able to project a relatable persona on social media. In June 2013—with help from State Department social-media adviser Katie Dowd and Obama digital strategist Katie Stanton—Hillary joined Twitter, where she co-opted the tongue-in-cheek tone of Texts from Hillary. Clinton’s first tweeteven credited the meme’s two creators as an inspiration:

What's more, Clinton's Twitter account employs the black-and-white “texting” picture from Smith and Lambe's Tumblr—the photograph was taken by Timemagazine photographer Diana Walker on a trip from Malta to Tripoli in 2011.

Since then, Clinton—or whoever on her media team is tweeting for her—has used Twitter to give her 2.27 million followers a glimpse into her personal life.

In June, 2013 daughter Chelsea snapped a photo of the pair while they were backstage at an event for the family's Clinton Global Initiative in Chicago:

Hillary responded, "Having so much fun with Chelsea, taking selfies back stage." Taking selfies with your mom? That's something even regular people can do.

When Prince George was born later that month—an event that captivated U.S. popular culture—Clinton poked fun at her 1996 book It Takes a Village:

In June, Katy Perry offered to write Hillary a theme song at a book event. Clinton responded with a not so subtle reference to her book, Hard Choices:

Taking selfies, talking about pop culture, and tweeting at young celebrities? While the 67-year Clinton isn't in the running to become the next Perez Hilton, there's something hilariously endearing about the fact that she's trying so hard.

So, why does Hillary come across as more relatable on Twitter than she does in interviews and on the campaign trail?

"I think her team has done a great job of giving @hillaryclinton a distinctive, down-to-earth voice," said Laura Olin, who ran social-media strategy for Obama's 2012 campaign, including the @BarackObama Twitter account. "It really does feel like they took a page from Texts from Hillary and embraced the opportunity to let her personality and sense of humor shine through."

By poking fun at herself and the daily circus around her, Clinton looks like she's in on the joke. Although some politicians, like Democratic Representative John Dingell, display a level of humor on Twitter, the average elected official (or former top diplomat) often tweets with the straightforwardness of a boring, carefully drawn line. @HillaryClinton's line is decidedly more entertaining.

Compare her Twitter bio (“Wife, mom, lawyer, women & kids advocate, FLOAR, FLOTUS, US Senator, SecState, author, dog owner, hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, glass ceiling cracker, TBD…”) with Mitt Romney’s (“former Governor of Massachusetts”) or potential 2016 presidential candidate Martin O'Malley's("Official Twitter account of Governor O'Malley. A way to connect, share thoughts and make our state government work for the people of Maryland") or family values apologist Rick Santorum's ("Husband to @KarenSantorum, dad of 7, fighting for hard-working Americans... ").

Jena McGregor wrote about Clinton's Twitter debut in The Washington Postwith the headline, “Hillary Clinton Joins Twitter, Sounds Human"—offering the clear implication that the former first lady can come across as, well, less than human. McGregor writes that Clinton's humanity, which has often eluded her in public, shines through in 140 characters.

Clinton (or at least her advisers) get that Twitter is a place to expose the person behind the professional veneer—at least a little bit .... Since her Twitter bio made waves in the news Clinton has continued this playful, human tone.

Can a relatable Twitter persona shine through in other, non-virtual forms? While her book tour shows that Twitter can't protect Clinton from old-fashioned gaffes, Olin noted that @HillaryClinton could positively affect the Hillary brand.

"Given how much attention the media seems to pay to Twitter and report out from it, that authentic voice could reflect how people beyond the Twitter audience thinks of her," she said. "Haters are gonna hate no matter what she does—so why not ignore them entirely, have some fun with her presence online, and probably reach a lot more non-haters in the process?" Olin added.

Clinton may not be ignoring her "haters," but she's taken the opportunity to poke fun at them like in this tweeted jab at Fox News during last year's Super Bowl:

The tweet went viral, reaching 56,085 retweets and making news across the web.

Eight months later, Clinton's Twitter flame shows no sign of flickering. Earlier this year, @HillaryClinton was one of only four political accounts to garner a coveted spot on Time's annual list of the best Twitter feeds of the year. What's most significant isn't Hillary's selection but the reason for her selection, whichTime cited as a mastery of the"power selfie" and a knack for making "tweeted zingers" go viral. Put another way, Clinton, who has struggled to connect with average Americans over decades in public life, is winning the social media popularity contest.

On April Fools Day, Bill Clinton parodied the Texts from Hillary meme by tweeting out the now infamous Diana Walker photograph with the former president photoshopped into the picture. @HillaryClinton retweeted:

It's safe to say that both Clintons, whose public statements (and tweeted zingers) are carefully wrought, know that they've got a good thing going. Should she run for president in 2016—and everything says she will—being able to connect with voters on a large scale will likely be crucial for her campaign. Hillary Clinton may still not have her husband's charisma on the stump, but @HillaryClinton has created its own brand of badass cool on social media.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.