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With Congressional Transition: Who Gets the Twitter Followers? Pelosi Cedes Twitter Speaker Status to Boehner

There's a new "speaker" on Twitter. Nancy Pelosi passes the title to John Boehner with a touch of humor, setting a precedent for a digital age.

There's a new "speaker" on Twitter.

The Twitter handle stays with the office, not the person, according to a precedent being set this week in a series of Twitter handle swaps among elected officials taking new positions in the 112th Congress.

Elected leaders have taken heartily to Twitter and other social media since Barack Obama proved its campaign power in 2008. Now some new quirks are emerging in how to handle the etiquette and efficiency of official social media accounts in times of political transitions. Late Tuesday night, Nancy Pelosi ceded the Twitter title of @speaker now that she's officially no longer the Speaker of the House.

"I'm now @NancyPelosi - 2 characters shorter than @SpeakerPelosi. RTers rejoice!"


With that pithy declaration—which reveals a pretty admirable understanding of the medium—she set a noble precedent that even in the unregulated realm of Twitter, titles matter for our nation's leaders. As Politico's Jennifer Epstein points out, technically Pelosi should have done this at noon on Monday, but this is all new territory, so let's cut her some slack on that.

Two hours later, the new Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner donned the title @speaker, changing his handle from @GOPleader to @SpeakerBoehner with this tweet:

@SpeakerBoehner Now Live on Twitter As 112th Congress Set to Open


This kind of swapping happened all the way down the leadership line. @GOPLeader was quickly adopted by Rep. Eric Cantor, the new majority leader, for instance. Incoming Majority Whip, Kevin McCarthy, will be adopting the handle @GOPWhip from Cantor. According to a Congressional staffer for McCarthy who explained the process to me, all the leaders keep their own personal followers. Boehner has over 71,000 followers, Pelosi has a bit over 31,000. These title trades don't require closing one account and opening another, just changing the display name, anyone can do it. The accounts are already "verified" by Twitter.

It may not be charting a new energy policy but this isn't a purely trivial question. Social media is an increasingly important way for politicians to communicate with constituents, to publicly receive feedback from them, and, yes, also crucial in campaigning—a big twitter following can be harnessed for fundraising for example.

However, Twitter accounts thrive or flounder in obscurity based the personal writing style and the individual choice and personality revealed in the selection of news nuggets and personal musings shared over the course of a day. This Congressional Twitter transition of the 112th session is setting a precedent for the digital portion of the perpetual power shifts in our government.

Now we know, the Twitter handle stays with the position but not the followers—those are your own—and you have to earn them with solid writing, keen insights, and useful news, even if you are @GOPLeader.

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