HH: During this month of December, as part of the effort to resurrect the fortunes of conservatives and Republicans, I’m spending a lot of time on technology and the communication gap. I wrote a new column for Politico.com about it, and joining me now to discuss the Twitter aspect of this is Michael Patrick Leahy. He’s a conservative author, he’s a Red County editor, he’s founder of www.topconservativesontwitter.org, and Rob Neppell, who has been here, he’s the founder of www.kithbridge.com, often a tech wizard here on the program with me. Welcome, gentlemen. Michael Patrick Leahy, why is Top Conservatives On Twitter important to us?
MPL: It’s a rallying point for conservatives.
HH: And explain how it works.
MPL: Well, it’s very simple. It’s a very simple list. It lists conservatives on Twitter by the number of people that follow them. And so the conservative with the most people that follows them is at the top of the list. And by the way, Hugh, I want to tell you that you are the number one conservative talk radio host on Twitter.
HH: Ah, well that makes sense. Probably I’m the only talk radio show host on Twitter.
MPL: There’s one other. Gordon Liddy is also on, but you’re way ahead of him.
HH: Well, I need to get to the top of Top Conservatives On Twitter, and Rob Neppell, how do I do that?
RN: Well, basically keep doing what you’re doing and keep letting folks know that you’re actually out there and how to follow you. And also another thing you can do is actually reach out and follow people yourself. Basically, when you follow a person on Twitter, they get a notice that says that so and so has started to follow them, and they generally reciprocate and come back and follow you.
HH: Let me illustrate the advantage of this in terms of a tech tool. Today, I got a note from Bobby Jindal. He didn’t send it to me, he sent it to people who follow him on Twitter. He said he’s going to Texas for a fundraiser. I thought to myself, that’s very interesting, Jindal is out there really working the ropes. He’s going to be a major force, and that’s exactly how Twitter is supposed to function, isn’t it, Michael Patrick Leahy?
MPL: It is indeed, and in fact what you should do, Hugh, yourself, we can move you way up the charts on Twitter, on Top Conservatives On Twitter. Go to our website, which is www.topconservativesontwitter.org, and you’ll see a list of about 182 conservatives. Just go and follow each one of them. That’s the first thing…if you do that, Hugh, you follow each one of them and just send them an at reply that says hello, I’m Hugh, they will be thrilled.
HH: Oh, that’s a good idea. I’ll do that. I’m shameless in loving rankings and things like that.
MPL: Well, and a lot of this is about engagement, and what a lot of people make a mistake in doing, a lot of people from the old press like some television guys or some media guys, they’ll go on Twitter and they’ll think it’s like the old style. And really, all the folks out there just want to hear what I want to say, but I don’t want to hear what they want to say. The whole point of Twitter is to engage. And so a key thing you need to look at is what’s called your following to follower ratio. You want to follow about the same number of people that follow you, otherwise it’s kind of insulting.
HH: Won’t that overwhelm, Michael Patrick Leahy, your inbox?
MPL: Well, the beauty of Twitter, it’s such a great, great, simple concept. A Twitter is basically, the communications can be public or private, limited to 140 characters. You know it’s sort of like Strunk and White’s Element of Style?
HH: Right, brevity is beauty.
MPL: It’s wonderful.
HH: I made that up, actually.
MPL: Well, very good, Hugh.
HH: I made up Pitter earlier today. Did you hear that?
RN: No, you didn’t.
HH: Pitter is a Twitter feed that’s done out of pity, and Duane’s got lots of those. But go ahead.
MPL: Exactly. Well, and the point is that you can look at the scroll, everybody you follow, you’ll see what they, they call these messages tweets, you can see their tweets, but you can just kind of scroll through those. The key is to look at your right hand menu, and you can click on an area called @reply. And if somebody wants to send you a public message but they want you to see it, they put an @sign in front of your name, and then you can see all of your @replies. And then you can see direct messages, which are private messages to you. And that’s the way to manage it. Don’t worry so much about the scroll. Look at your @replies, and then look at your direct messages. And it’s very easy to manage followers that way.
HH: All right, Rob Neppell, in terms of political applications, because you were on with David All and Patrick Ruffini talking about this last week in what is now a much remarked upon conversation, a lot of people have read that from the Republican hierarchy, where’s Twitter fit into that?
RN: It’s a way for candidates and for the party apparatus and for people already in office to actually make direct contact with votes. You know, where you would be knocking on doors ten, twenty, thirty years ago, now you’re knocking on their Twitter feed, knocking on their e-mail inbox. It’s a way for the communication to go two way, and for candidates to get out there and make personal contact.
HH: Now it doesn’t make anyone any money yet, though.
RN: It doesn’t even make Twitter any money, and that’s much remarked upon in the technology community of what is Twitter’s business model. And in fact, the major competitor to Twitter, a company called Pownce, which I’m probably mispronouncing, just went out. They just shut down.
HH: Collapsed, yeah.
RN: But thus far, they seem healthy, and I think one way or another, they’ll figure it out.
HH: They’ll have to do advertising. Michael Patrick Leahy, why did you start www.topconservativesontwitter.org?
MPL: Boy, what a great question, Hugh. Well, you know, I’d been very interested in what the Republicans were doing wrong, as you are, and basically I’ve written a couple of books, one about Barack Obama, one about Sarah Palin. I think we talked at the Republican National Convention on radio row.
HH: Yeah, yeah.
MPL: And I have a new book coming out in January called Rebuilding the Republican Party Despite The Brain-Dead Luddites Who Run It.
HH: Well now, you’re going to compete with GOP 5.0, which is a new book by me, but we can cross-promote each other’s books.
MPL: Well, you know what, Hugh, I’m sure you have got the right answer as well.
HH: I do, but that’s okay.
MPL: But basically the right answer is the Republicans just did such a terrible, terrible job at using technology. They misunderstood it completely. They didn’t get the desire of people to be part of something greater than themselves, using technology to do that, to be part of a higher calling. And that’s really what we’re trying to do here with Top Conservatives On Twitter.
HH: You know, I also concluded in the Politico column today, which is sort of the summation of GOP 5.0, is that the failure to communicate is a systemic one, and one that will get worse if it does not get corrected earlier, because every generation of college kids and high school seniors that comes up, they’re all doing this.
MPL: You are so right. That is exactly the point. And here’s the thing. What we’re doing is, we’re using Top Conservatives On Twitter.org to self organize action projects that can change things. One of our action projects is to get all 168 Republican National Committee members on Twitter. We started the project two days ago, there were zero on. Today, there are eight.
HH: Oh, that’s quite a growth mode. And my guess is before the end of the year, with this exposure, with Top Conservatives On Twitter.org and the columns that follow out of this and people Twittering around, Republicans will start to get it. It’s a freeway to talk. You don’t have to use TV ads, you don’t have to…you know, the people who are against this are consultants, Rob and Michael.
MPL: Of course. And Hugh, here’s the thing. There’s a different model for America. Ronald Reagan’s vision of America as a shining city on a hill was great for 1980. Here’s the modern model. Netison warriors and community servant leaders, thousands of them, all pulling in the same direction to return America to limited government. And we have an action project going on, and we’re going to do a new one which is pretty interesting. And it’s not…I’ll announce it here on your show.
HH: All right, you’ve got to do it after the break.
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HH: Michael, how’d you get to know Rob?
MPL: You know, we were just on Twitter. I put up the list, I put up the list November 28th, okay? So that was the beginning. That was seven days ago. And Rob joined. And we, I put out a request for project servant leaders, that’s what we call project managers for our action projects, and team members to help us automate the rankings. And Rob volunteered. And we started talking, and the great thing about this way of organizing, Rob is so smart and so sharp, we were able to…
HH: You haven’t known him very long, have you?
RN: Humble, too.
MPL: We were able to get a lingo going back and forth, almost at lightning speed, and literally turned the operation of the automation of the rankings around, literally overnight.
HH: Now let me ask you, what is superior to this than massive e-mail lists? Is it the 140 character limit?
MPL: No, no, no, no. It’s not that. You’re instantaneously connected to everybody in your network. I mean, you can talk, you send out a public message with 140 characters, everybody that follows you can see that.
HH: Oh, that’s true. Rob, is that a huge advance over e-mail in your view?
RN: It’s a lot faster. It’s a more dynamic medium that…I find Twitter’s most interesting and most useful when it’s connected to some real world event. For instance, right now, if you go and search on the hash tag #TCOT, which is the hash tag of this movement, you’ll see everybody who’s talking about us talking right now. And they are including themselves in the real world event of Michael and Hugh and Rob talking on the radio.
HH: Shouldn’t they be doing that for every radio show I do?
RN: Absolutely, absolutely.
HH: And the Hugh Hewitt Radio Show listeners can always sit there and slag on the show or applaud.
RN: Mostly the former.
HH: For example, the discussion we had on Canadian politics today probably did not generate much applause, even though Mark Steyn was leading it. I got a note from David All, another tech wizard, saying he is listening right now, and of course, he has a Twitter guide. David All did one which I would recommend to people.
HH: Do you guys have that linked over at Top Conservatives On Twitter.org?
RN: We definitely should.
MPL: We will have it shortly. David is a very smart guy, and he and Patrick Ruffini are really the cutting edge of what’s going to take the Republican Party and the conservative movement to successes very shortly. The action project I want to announce today, right now on your program, is Operation Conservative Republican Majority 2010. And we’re going to use this network to organize a majority in the House of Representatives in 2010. And we’re going to start today.
HH: Well, I applaud that. And how do people follow that?
MPL: All you need to do is go to www.topconservativesontwitter.org.
HH: And then they’ll find it there?
MPL: And then go to action projects at the top. And in about ten minutes, it will be one of the action projects there.
HH: Now your colleague at Red County…
HH: Scott Graves, the editor of Red County…
MPL: Oh, Scott is a very sharp guy.
HH: I have to apologize to him publicly. I mocked him at the Republican National Convention for Twittering. So I just said this is going to be a fad, and you know what, one of the most important things to learn if you’re a late adapter, or late adopter, I always say late adapter, some people say late adopter, I’m always right, so it’s late adapter, is that you’ve just got to get over being wrong, because lots of technologies come up, and you can be wrong. Duane’s (@Radioblogger) been wrong about a lot of things. Duane didn’t believe in talk radio (Duane, typing this, disputes this quite strongly). And so I think it’s important for people to get over being wrong.
MPL: Let me explain how this action project will work. There are 435 Congressional districts out there today. If you live in one of those 435 districts, especially if you’re in one that wasn’t contested, join Top Conservatives On Twitter.org right now, and we’re going to start an action project for your Congressional district.
HH: You know, that’s actually a brilliant idea. Bring together every Twitter user by Congressional district. Pretty soon, the National Republican Congressional Committee will be paying attention, Rob Neppell, and saying how do I raise money from this, how do I help candidate recruitment. Now some of these networks can be misleading in that they’re ferocious and they’re loud, but they’re not numerous. But I think with Twitter, at least you’ll have an objective calculation as to how many people are represented per district.
RN: Absolutely. You can actually identify who’s coming from where, and just to emphasize what Michael said, if you go to the site right now, you can actually sign up to be on the list, and just go to the Get Added link at the top, and just put in your information, and then we’ll start bringing you into the list.
HH: I want to thank you, Michael, for doing this. Question, is anyone anonymous on Twitter? I love the fact that most people are not, but I’m just wondering if anyone is.
MPL: I think there may be some people that are anonymous. I don’t think we would probably put them on the list, because you want to know who they are.
HH: I applaud that so much. It’s one of the reasons I do not care about anonymous e-mails, anonymous comments, anonymous anything. You don’t know if they’re a 13 year old in the basement.
End of interview.