For weeks, Mitt Romney’s campaign had boasted that its newly minted application would announce his vice presidential pick before anyone else. Had you downloaded the app that first broke the story, you would be just one of millions, and unfortunately for the Romney campaign, that app is named Twitter, and not “Mitt Romney’s VP app.” Although this mishap is comical, it underscores many problems that both the Romney and Obama campaigns have had in regards to navigating the relatively new and difficult terrain that is social media.
Obama’s campaign is well-versed in social media and proved that in 2008. Obama was able to harness the power of Facebook and other social media in order to engage voters far more than his opponent, John McCain, although in 2012 Obama has not dominated the social networking arena as many may have suspected. It appears that both campaigns could be doing more to exploit the potential of social networking.
When looking solely at the numbers, it is clear that Obama’s presence on Facebook is leagues ahead of Romney’s. On Facebook, Obama has nearly 28 million “likes” while Romney has a paltry 1.6 million. Jason Beckerman, contributing writer for Forbes, points out that Obama may not have such an enormous advantage in Facebook outreach. Beckerman argues that numbers are not nearly as important as engagement. Due to changes implemented by Facebook, which now operates primarily on PTAT (People Talking About This) scores, Romney has far greater engagement with his followers. Only 4% of Obama’s followers are actively engaging with posted content on Facebook, as compared to 38% of Romney’s. Across Facebook, Romney’s fans are 65% more engaged.
Obama has done significantly well in fundraising through social media. Obama raised nearly half a billion dollars through internet fundraising in 2008, and while exact figures regarding internet fundraising for the 2012 campaign are not yet definitive, it is likely he will, once again, raise a considerable amount of money via the internet.
Although fundraising is essential to any campaign, it should not be the single most driving factor. Both campaigns and the media spend extensive amounts of time and energy on fundraising and often neglect the importance of voter engagement. In order to maximize their clout on social networking sites, Obama and Romney will have to take two distinctly different approaches. Obama will have to focus on engagement while Romney will have to increase his reach by expanding his presence on both Twitter and Facebook.
For either campaign to fully take advantage of social media they will likely have to undergo comprehensive changes. Obama’s campaign arguably has an easier problem to fix. By making small changes to how the campaign posts content, like making it more digestible, he could activate substantial engagement from his 28 million fans. On the other hand, Romney may have a near monumental, although not impossible, task ahead of him in his attempt to attain the amount of reach comparable to that of Obama.
This election will be quite the spectacle, although it is likely that we will not see the true potential of social media for another four or even eight years.