Within hours of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announcing his presidential candidacy on Twitter on Wednesday, participants in the audio event celebrated the achievement.
David Sacks, a venture capitalist who moderated the Twitter conversation, declared it is “by far the largest room ever held on social media.” After the event, Mr. DeSantis, a Republican, said in a podcast interview that he thought later that day “probably more than 10 million people” would have “viewed” the event, called Twitter Space, or a recording of it. .
They were wrong on both counts.
According to Twitter metrics, the audio event, which was initially marred by more than 20 minutes of glitches before restarting, peaked at around 300,000 concurrent listeners, or those who tuned in simultaneously when Mr. DeSantis made his advertisement. As of Thursday, a total of 3.4 million people had listened to Space or a recording, according to figures from Twitter.
Those numbers fell short of 10 million people and were also far from “the biggest room on social media” compared to previous live streams.
Consider that a 2016 Facebook Live event, in which two BuzzFeed employees put rubber bands around a watermelon until it exploded, drew more than 800,000 simultaneous viewers and a total of five million visits within a few hours of its conclusion. The 2017 livestream of a pregnant giraffe on YouTube drew five million viewers per day.
The event with Mr. DeSantis was even dwarfed by previous audio live streams on Twitter. Last month, more than three million people at one point simultaneously listened to an interview with Elon Musk, owner of Twitter, by a BBC reporter in a Twitter Space, according to company figures. TO recording of that space he said 2.6 million listeners eventually “tuned in”. (Twitter did not explain the discrepancy between the concurrent listener count and the “tuned in” number.)
“Getting a few hundred thousand people to do something for a number of minutes is not a big deal,” said Brian Wieser, a veteran media analyst who runs the strategic advisory firm Madison and Wall. “I’m not too sure that using Twitter to announce a presidential campaign has been the most impactful environment, although perhaps Twitter could become that.”
Determining the reach and audience of Mr. DeSantis’ Twitter announcement is important because the online event had been billed as a modern way to make political proclamations, bypassing traditional media such as cable news and network television. However, the initial numbers from Twitter raise questions about whether any presidential candidate can bypass the mainstream media for his big campaign ads.
Although television generally doesn’t get the same numbers as it did a decade ago, some political events that are broadcast live still draw huge audiences. When President Biden delivered his State of the Union address on February 7, for example, the speech was broadcast live to 27.3 million people on 16 television networks, according to Nielsen.
Representatives for Mr. DeSantis, who followed his Twitter Space when appearing on Fox News, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Sacks and Musk also did not immediately respond to emailed questions.
That’s not to say that using social media to make political ads can’t be powerful. Mr. Wieser said that with so much fragmentation of the media, there was no unifying platform and that audience quality was often a motivating factor for politicians. Perhaps, he said, Mr. DeSantis’ goal was not to reach the largest number of people, but to reach those who would be best convinced to donate to him or help spread his message.
Comparing the reach of social media to TV broadcasts can also be difficult. A “unique” view on social media represents each individual account that visits a post or other content, rather than the number of times it is visited. These views are not necessarily from humans because bot activity could be involved, and they do not indicate whether a viewer tuned in for half a second or half an hour. By contrast, TV ratings represent the average number of viewers over a longer period, Wieser said.
Twitter also doesn’t account for the difference in how it counts listeners to its live streams and those who have listened to Twitter Spaces recordings.
“Reach on Twitter is artificial — people tune in and tune out faster, they’re probably watching on a mobile device that just isn’t as effective at grabbing people’s attention as a big TV,” said Ross Benes, a senior analyst. with Insider Intelligence covering digital video, TV and broadcast.
After the conclusion of Twitter Space on Wednesday with Mr. DeSantis, the mainstream media mocked the event’s technical glitches. When Mr. DeSantis appeared on Fox News, Trey Gowdy, the host, quipped, “Fox News will not be blacked out during this interview.” The segment drew nearly two million viewers.
On Thursday, Mr. DeSantis also tried to downplay Twitter Space’s technical problems. His campaign sent out fundraising emails and displayed T-shirts saying the presidential candidate “broke the Internet.”
Nicholas Nehamas and John Koblin contributed reporting.