When the Candidates Speak: Part 1 of a study in social media politics

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Election Day is getting closer and closer, and both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are going full steam ahead with their presidential campaigns. Odds are, you’re seeing evidence of the election everywhere; stories on the news, ads during prime time, signs in your neighbor’s yard, and, yes, posts popping up on your social networks.

Social media became a major player in a presidential election for the first time in 2008, a race that Businessweek called “the first social media election.” 2008 was the first time a massive number of people took to social networks to discuss the presidential race, and the major platforms (chiefly Facebook and Twitter) have experienced explosive growth in the last four years. 2008 may have been the first social media election, but 2012 dwarfs it in scope.

Which, of course, begs an obvious question: Just how much of an impact does social media campaigning have on voters?

We’ll be looking at this question from two perspectives. Today’s post examines the social engagement of the presidential candidates. Next week, we’ll look at the same question through the lens of the general voting public and how they engage in and share social media politics with their social circles.

Part 1: When the Candidates Speak…

It probably comes as no surprise that both major candidates have large social media followings. Here are the numbers, as of today:

President Obama’s social media fans and followers fairly dwarf Mitt Romney’s, though this, too, probably comes as little surprise. Obama is widely renowned for attracting younger voters, which speaks for some of his large margin, and, according to Pew’s  September 4th “Politics on Social Networking Sites” report, 60% of Liberals use social networks, while only 49% of Conservatives use them.

Of course, social reach isn’t all about followers. It’s also about engagement, and today’s engagement numbers show a more interesting story. Obama does currently have a higher Klout score than Romney, which suggests Obama garners more interaction on social media than Romney. According to Facebook, though, there are more people engaging with and sharing Romney’s Facebook content than Obama’s. As of today, there are 1,940,437 people talking about Romney’s posts; there are only 1,418,969 people talking about Obama’s. The margin between these two numbers is especially interesting when you consider that Obama has more than three times as many Facebook fans as Romney does. It appears that even though Obama’s social media followers may be overall more active when it comes to their favorite presidential politician, Romney’s Facebook followers represent a pretty strong force.

A quick look at each candidate’s Twitter numbers quickly shows why Obama enjoys a higher overall Klout score than Romney, despite Romney’s high percentage of Facebook fan engagement. According to Klout, Obama’s most influential tweet from the last 90 days resulted in active interaction from over 52,000 people. By comparison, Romney’s most influential tweet from the same time period engaged just over 10,000.

Both candidates’ social media followings are growing every day. A look at each candidate’s fan and follower growth between September 6 and today gives some possible insight into why Romney’s Facebook fan engagement is higher. His number of fans has increased by over 19%, while Obama’s increased by only 2.8% in comparison. Obama gained 787,606 followers in that time span; Romney gained almost twice as many.

Twitter follower growth statistics reaffirm Obama’s reign over Twitter engagement, however; even though Romney had a larger jump in terms of percentage, Obama increased his Twitter followers by 1,010,595, while Romney’s following increased by just 165,429.

So what does all this mean? The candidates are taking social media seriously, and so are their constituencies. The 2012 Democratic and Republican candidates are experiencing more social media interaction than ever before, and both parties are making strong efforts to connect with voters in the social realm. The Obama camp is the undisputed champion of Twitter, but Romney’s making a strong showing on Facebook and is more successfully motivating his fans to engage.

The candidates are speaking, that much is certain; but that’s only half of the equation. No matter how much engaging content they post, it won’t mean much in November if that engagement doesn’t motivate the public to action. And that’s exactly what we’ll explore next week with the second part of this series, “…Is the Public Listening?”

(Update: Part 2 is now available! http://blog.gremln.com/2012/10/11/%E2%80%A6is-the-public-listening-part-2-of-a-study-in-social-media-politics/)

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