Cheers erupted at the word “tweet.”
In the basement of Twitter’s office in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, dozens of Twitter employees and guests celebrated when Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton called out her opponent Donald Trump’s habits on the microblogging site.
“A man who can be provoked by a tweet should not have his fingers anywhere near nuclear codes,” Clinton said onstage at Hofstra University Monday during the first presidential debate.
It wasn’t glowing commentary for Trump, but it was the clear indication of the significant role Twitter has played this election that inspired enthusiasm inside Twitter’s office — as well as by executives, like Twitter’s Chief Financial Officer Anthony Noto, online.
Twitter has long been a home for politics, but never before has it had such a powerful place. Monday’s debate was not only the most-watched debate on TV — it was the most-tweeted debate ever.
That shouldn’t be a surprise given the first-time appearance of Trump and Clinton onstage for the general election debate and the fact that back in the first 2012 debate, Twitter had 170 million monthly active users compared to the current 313 million.
Never before had Twitter been so intimately tied to the election, with both Trump and Clinton campaigns live-tweeting the debate.
“People associate Donald Trump with utilizing Twitter for his personal communications with the world. That is really powerful, and I think it makes it a relatable thing, ‘I’m tweeting too!’ I think that humanizes them, for them to bring it to real world context,” Bridget Coyne, Twitter’s partnerships manager for government and elections, told Mashable after the debate.
Twitter had encouraged the conversation with a first-time official debate emoji.
In Twitter’s New York offices, top Twitter employees were in attendance as were politicians. Governor Gary Johnson, a third-party candidate for the presidential election, was live-tweeting, as was Governor Bill Welsh of Massachusetts, Johnson’s nominee for vice president.
For Johnson, who was not allowed on stage, the service gave him a voice.
“Twitter has become one of most effective tools for instant communication,” Johnson said in statement to Mashable. “The debate confirmed to a great many Americans, especially independents and young people, that the two-party duopoly is limiting their choices, and the tremendous engagement we saw on Twitter Monday night showed a real hunger for an alternative.”
Other politicians like Bernie Sanders were also tweeting, and the platform it served as a hub for fact checking.
Twitter declined to share specific numbers this year. The two candidates received 3.1 million mentions alone during the debate timeframe, according to social analytics company Brandwatch. Each of the 10 trends on Twitter Monday night was related to the election.
But it was an eventful night for Twitter for many reasons. It was the first time that the microblogging site hosted a live-stream of the debate, in partnership with Bloomberg Media, where viewers could tweet and watch on one screen. The feed also highlighted trending topics on Twitter, where economy was the most popular.
“We can experience and allow people to see [the debate] who don’t have access to a television, allow digital natives to tune in. Maybe this is the first time they’re watching one of the debates,” Coyne said.
More than 50 percent of those tweeting about the election are under the age of 25, suggesting that Twitter “isn’t just the second-screen companion anymore,” Adam Sharp, Twitter’s head of news, government and elections told Mashable last week. It can be the first.
Inside Twitter’s New York office, attendees gathered around Bloomberg’s feed displayed on a television. It was also shown on an Apple TV, where the stream and tweets can be viewed side by side.
Debate night arrived at an interesting time for Twitter. Last Friday, CNBC first reported that Twitter would soon receive a formal bid for a potential acquisition. Following reports have cited Salesforce, Google and Disney as among the interested suitors.
The idea of a sale was not discussed aloud at Twitter. Jeffrey Siminoff, Twitter’s vice president of diversity and inclusion, gestured at the screen when the column of news headline on Bloomberg’s stream showed a headline of Disney’s interest.
Twitter, again, declined to share viewership numbers, but put forth confidence in the quality and the engagement they received.
“This concept around the connected audience is amazing. It really takes advantage of seeing the moment live,” Twitter’s Chief Operating Officer Adam Bain said Tuesday, speaking at IAB Mixx conference in New York. “TV is absolutely still king. This is not meant to shift people off TV. We think this is more of an interesting opportunity with the TV broadcasters.”