Twitter was only about two years old during the last presidential campaign in 2008. Facebook opened up to the general public only six months after the first tweet had been sent in March 2006, but by 2008 was already a factor in political campaigning. It’s no coincidence that Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes left that enterprise to run Barack Obama’s social media campaign and that Obama was the big online “winner” in terms of followers on Facebook. By election day, he had 2,379,102 supporters on Facebook compared to McCain’s 620,359.
Four years later, not only are Facebook and Twitter both bigger and more influential, there are other social-media sites that also have influence. Pinterest, for instance, did not exist in 2008.
How are the presidential candidates doing when it comes to drumming up interest and support through social media online?
The good news for Romney may be that he has been building his Facebook community at a more rapid pace from a lower starting point. Justin Lafferty reported on AllFacebook.com on June 20 (so there is a caveat that much might have happened since then):
Romney’s Facebook page shows quite the upward-tending graph, in terms of likes. SocialBakers, a social media analytics firm, notes that Romney has gained 11.8 percent more fans in the past 30 days. In contrast, Obama has grown by just 1.7 percent.
Romney’s best social network day recently? June 18, when he gained 24,665 fans. The best day for the incumbent president? May 31, when Obama gained 29,733 new fans. Both candidates have seen increases in mentions on Facebook.
Beyond mere counts of “followers” and “likes,” it may be useful to look at larger trends among users of social media.
Surprisingly, Twitter users have been found to be more right wing, and thus likely to vote for Romney, than their Facebook counterparts. In fact, the only major platforms whose fans are more right wing than Twitter are Amazon, Bing, Paypal, eBay and, uh, Farmville.
Engage put together a snapshot classification that revealed that potential Romney voters like to play FarmVille while potential Obama voters slightly prefer Angry Birds. For visual media, Obama voters prefer Tumblr and Romney voters prefer Pinterest. Obama voters like shopping with Etsy and Zappos while Romney voters like shopping with Amazon and eBay. Romney voters have a slight preference for Pandora for music while Obama voters like Spotify.
It’s clear from the numbers that Romney has to work very hard to improve his online presence and engagement. The Washington Post on Sunday reported that such an effort is underway.
For what it’s worth, I checked out the online numbers for the more prominent third-party candidates. Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein has 12,491 likes on Facebook and 5,105 followers on Twitter. There are numerous Facebook fan pages for Libertarian party nominee Gary Johnson, but the central (and earliest) one shows 182,386 likes. “@GovGaryJohnson” on Twitter has 55,852 followers. Former Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode, now the Constitution Party’s presidential nominee, has 1,727 likes on Facebook and — if this is his official account — 58 followers on Twitter.