I voted for Romney, but I will not begrudge giving Obama and those involved in his campaign props for their very successful use of social media. I am not going to say social media won Obama the election, but I do believe it gave him a bit of an advantage when it comes to having a meaningful connection with many of his constituents.
I am going to compare the use of social media by the Romney and Obama campaigns in our recent election cycle. I’m not going to delve too much into Obama’s use of social media for his first presidential term, but the significance of this should not be understated. Observing the influence social media had on the 2008 election results undoubtedly secured the prioritization of its use in Obama’s 2012 campaign. We should also understand that given the social media presence and experience Obama’s campaigners already had, it seems fair to assume that continuing the presence and building it further gave the president a bit of a ‘head start’ advantage. Best practices were developed and established from the previous experience. As you will see in the infographic below, Romney didn’t surpass Obama in any measures displayed, except for his speed in gaining Facebook ‘likes’, which seems understandable since Obama would have already had a strong foundation of likes from the 2008 election and would only be adding voters that hadn’t already ‘liked’ him.
Overall Social Media Impact
Just to give a visual understanding of how significant social media was in the last election, look at the image below. Social media coverage of politics was exponential to that of mainstream media.
In the age where many people channel surf or simply fast forward through commercials (with the aid of DVRs), TV spots do not seem to be as effective as they once were (and yet, you can still spend an arm and a leg on this). In walks social media. Did we mention social media is FREE? You can pay for extra help in your promotion and targeting, but the basic use of the platform itself is still free. After social media played a big part in the 2008 election, more attention was garnered in the recent election. You will see in the graphic below that though many candidates did not flourish on social media, they were no longer ignoring it.
It is obvious from the popular vote count that social media ranking did not translate directly to polling advantage. While Obama shows huge leads through social media ‘likes’ and ‘follows’, he only won the popular vote by 2.8%. Clearly Obama’s dominance in social media did not mean a whole lot in the grad scheme of things, but I will submit that social media–at least in our last election–continued to allow Obama to connect in a meaningful way with his constituents and possibly dispel the sour taste in many mouths over a discouragingly slow creep of progress during his first term.
The First Lady
This election saw a great deal of input from the potential first ladies. Both Ann and Michelle had a presence on Facebook and Twitter. It is very clear again that Michelle was much more popular. On Twitter Michelle blew Ann away and even beat Mitt by a over 500,000 followers.
Michelle again subdued Ann as far as popularity on Facebook (9 million > 400,000), though at Romney maintained a lead over her, gaining about 3 million more ‘likes’.
It is hard to say what all could have caused these disparities. Did the fact that Obama spent 10x as much on his digital campaign (video link at bottom) as Romney help? And the fact that Obama’s campaign made more use of the tools in hand (Michelle’s Twitter had almost 10x as many tweets as Ann’s)? You betcha. But beyond that it is a bit difficult to pinpoint cause and effect.
Trying to use the disparities of social media stats to predict an election outcome this year, however, seems to be like a bad poll which didn’t select a properly representative group of participants. Common sense and population age distribution can produce some good possibilities:
Not everyone is on social media.
Not every ‘follower’ on Twitter is actually a fan.
Not every person with a decisive political leaning wants to be involved in the conversation (many Right-leaning constituents were a bit hesitant to vote for a Mormon, voting against Obama makes you a racist, etc., etc., etc.).
We see in the end that while social media didn’t directly relate to a landslide Obama victory, it still correlated with a victory.
I will submit that through social media coverage, Obama’s humanity and likability seemed much stronger to me, even as a right-leaning voter. I don’t want to sound like I am belittling his victory, but hear me out: could it be that in the end, likability and the frequency of it’s appearance (social media activity) were the final additives that gained Obama 2.8% more total votes?
Watch Obama Spent 10 Times as Much on Social Media as Romney on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.
Obama spent over 3x as much money on digital campaigning as he did in his 2008 campaign. Romney spent only about a third of Obama’s first campaign spendings. This lead to quite a huge gap in spending for this year. See the video below for a better breakdown and more information.