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9/11/2012
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Social Studies: Obama vs. Romney

Social networking was not yet a mainstream campaigning tool in 2008. This election year, we can compare the social media presence of the presidential candidates for lessons in what to do and not to do.




If the 2008 presidential race was the first in which social networking played a role, then the 2012 presidential campaign has had social written all over it. During the 2008 race, then-Sen. Barack Obama made extensive use of technology, but social networking had not yet become mainstream.

In January 2008, a study by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Internet & American Life Project on campaign news and political communication showed that one in five Americans overall (22%) used an online social networking site, and that "these sites may be playing an important political role for some people, especially the young." The study noted that the use of social networking sites for political activity was far less common among older voters, "even those in their 30s."

In the four years since, Facebook and Twitter have become household names, and new social networks--including Google+ and Pinterest--have not only risen up but gained significant ground.

In a study conducted at the beginning of this year, the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project found that 36% of social networking site users say the sites are "very important" or "somewhat important" to them in keeping up with political news, while 25% say the sites are "very important" or "somewhat important" to them in finding other people who share their views about important political issues. In these and other activities the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project queried subjects about, Democrats who use social networking sites are more likely than Republicans or independents to say the sites are important.

In the battle for the Oval Office between President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, social networking has played a key role. President Obama, for example, recently hosted a Q&A session on Reddit. Social networking platforms are spreading news, gaining followers and swaying opinion--about the candidates and their positions, but also the people, places, and things in the candidates' orbits. Clint Eastwood's now-infamous chair bit during the Republican National Convention, for instance, generated a high of 7,044 tweets per minute, according to Twitter.

Social networking is gaining similar influence and application in businesses from all industries and sizes. The BrainYard examined the social media presence of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in a bi-partisan way--not to declare a "winner," but to look for lessons businesses can learn from the candidates' campaigns in the effective use of external social networking platforms. Although the candidates have presence on a variety of social networking platforms, we focused our attention on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest. (Site-specific stats are current at press time and will likely have changed, at least a bit, by the time you read this.)


Obama's Twitter account (@barackobama) is run by the Obama 2012 campaign staff. Tweets from the President are signed -bo. The Obama account has racked up more than 6,000 tweets, is following more than 673,000, and is being followed by almost 20 million. Obama's Twitter presence, no matter who's tweeting or retweeting, is active and robust.

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Reddit Struggles While Hosting President Obama

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Romney (@mittromney) has more than 1 million followers. His account has tweeted 1,141 times, but is following only 269. Social networking is all about, well, being social--and that should go both ways.

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Reddit Struggles While Hosting President Obama

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Romney's Facebook page is liked by far fewer people than Obama's page, but Romney has about the same number of people "talking about this." Like Obama's page, Romney's clearly is not updated by Romney himself. But although Obama's includes a mix of media and messages, Romney's is filled mostly with pithy sound bites. As with Obama's page, Romney's updates tend to get thousands of comments and tens of thousands of likes.

RECOMMENDED READING:

Reddit Struggles While Hosting President Obama

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Barak Obama's Facebook page, run by Obama for President, is liked by more than 28 million people. More than 3 million people are "talking about this." There is no attempt made to make it sound like it is the president updating the page, but it includes a good variety of media types and information that supporters and potential supports likely will find useful. He also makes good use of Facebook's Timeline, providing a quick and pithy history of who he is and what he's done. Obama's updates typically get thousands of comments and tens of thousands of likes.

RECOMMENDED READING:

Reddit Struggles While Hosting President Obama

Obama, Romney: Send $$-thx

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Obama's Google+ Debut: Lessons Learned


Both Obama and Romney seem to be less sure-footed on Google+ than they are on other social networking platforms. Or maybe it's that Google+ does not lend itself to the kind of thing presidential candidates need to be doing. It's a good lesson for businesses: Don't jump on every social network just because. Instead, pick the one or ones that your customers tend to use and that have features that best fit with your business goals. On Google+, Obama has almost 4,000 users in his Circles, and more than 2 million users have him in their Circles. Obama also has made use of the platform by participating in a Hangout around this year's State of the Union address. However, the content on his Google+ site is mostly promotional videos right now.

RECOMMENDED READING:

Reddit Struggles While Hosting President Obama

Obama, Romney: Send $$-thx

Big Sites Filter Election Noise For Facts

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Obama Beating Romney On Facebook

Obama's Google+ Debut: Lessons Learned


More than 900,000 people have Romney in their Google+ Circles, but he has only one--running mate Paul Ryan--in his Circles. Ryan, who has a more robust and authentic social presence in general than Romney, has participated in Google+ Hangouts.

RECOMMENDED READING:

Reddit Struggles While Hosting President Obama

Obama, Romney: Send $$-thx

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Obama's Google+ Debut: Lessons Learned


As near as we can tell, Romney does not have an official Pinterest profile, but fake Mitt Romney pages abound. There was a bit of buzz when Romney's wife, Ann, joined Pinterest. Often called Mitt's "secret weapon," Ann has created boards for July 4th Recipes, Inspiration, Patriotic, and Family.

RECOMMENDED READING:

Reddit Struggles While Hosting President Obama

Obama, Romney: Send $$-thx

Big Sites Filter Election Noise For Facts

White House Innnovation Fellows Tackle Federal IT Projects

Obama Beating Romney On Facebook

Obama's Google+ Debut: Lessons Learned


Obama's Pinterest page is run by the Obama for President organization. Good use is made of Pinterest's visual nature: Obama's boards include In His Words and Just the Facts, both stylized in poster and infographic forms; The First Family; and Faces of the Campaign. First Lady Michelle Obama also has a Pinterest page, among her other social networking presences.

RECOMMENDED READING:

Reddit Struggles While Hosting President Obama

Obama, Romney: Send $$-thx

Big Sites Filter Election Noise For Facts

White House Innnovation Fellows Tackle Federal IT Projects

Obama Beating Romney On Facebook

Obama's Google+ Debut: Lessons Learned

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