How GOP Presidential Candidates Are Using Facebook

Despite Twitter’s rapid growth in the political playing field, Facebook still has the best track record for  mobilizing people toward a cause.

The game changed in the 2008 election when Obama led a successful social networking campaign and dominated the techno-demographic. According to Hitwise, an internet measuring site, Facebook is still the number one most visited site in the United States and it still holds the top spot for social networking sites worldwide.

In the 2008 election, McCain and the GOP did not harness the power of Facebook and other social networks, but Republican supporters seem to be flocking to Facebook this time around. Just as Obama fans changed their  middle names on Facebook to “Hussein” back in 2008, fans on the GOP candidates pages have changed their middle names to “Anti-Obama.” Many supporters have also used their Facebook profile picture to promote the message, “Defeat Obama 2012.”

Of the 2012 GOP hopefuls, Sarah Palin has the best Facebook fan base by far. She has amassed over 3 million fans, more than all the other candidates combined. Thousands of these fans actively participate on her page, posting messages of support for her potential candidacy. Some fans even sponsor their own giveaway contests, offering “Palin 2012” bumper stickers and other gear.

Mitt Romney has the second largest Facebook following of the 2012 GOP field with just over one million fans. Unlike Palin, whose fans have taken over the Facebook wall, Romney’s wall is covered in his own posts promoting his latest videos and offering campaign information. However, Romney receives several thousand “likes” and hundreds of comments on each post from supporters.

Michele Bachmann holds the next highest Facebook following with around 426,000 fans. Though Bachmann’s Facebook following is much smaller than Romney and Palin, her Facebook page offers more ways for her supporters to get actively engaged with her campaign. In addition to the wall, she has three separate sections on her fan page that allow users to submit their own stories regarding the debt ceiling, to join Team Bachmann and to donate to the campaign through a simple click.

Ron Paul falls just below Bachmann with his fans numbering around 421,000. Paul’s network is not as engaged as Bachmann’s. He primarily uses his Facebook wall to ask for donations and to promote his upcoming campaign appearances. Each post usually receives hundreds of comments from supporters, although the Facebook response to his announcement that he would not seek re-election to Congress received over a thousand cries of dismay.

The rest of the Republican candidate pool suffers from a lack of a serious Facebook following. Herman Cain holds the next highest number of fans with around 150,000. Cain’s page is set up similarly to Bachmann’s with separate sections for fans to donate and sign up to join Team Cain. However, Cain has added one other important section. His fan page also has a discussion board where supporters can write about the issues they care about most. The discussion page currently has 97 ongoing discussions and hundreds of active participants. In addition, in the section reserved for photos, Cain has images of his five economic principles, so these are the first images people see when going to his Facebook page.

Despite having over a million Twitter followers, Newt Gingrich falls short on Facebook with just over 140,000 fans. His supporters are also much less engaged than the other candidates. He rarely gets over 100 comments, potentially a result of his fan page taking viewers immediately to the original announcement of his candidacy instead of the wall. He also repeats posts on his Facebook, reposting his own “bully in the pulpit” quote four times in the past five days.

Tim Pawlenty falls below Gingrich with around 103,000 fans. Pawlenty’s fan page posts more videos than the other candidates, though these do not seem to elicit the desired response from fans. His Facebook network is not highly engaged; most posts receive under 50 comments. He also has a portion of the page dedicated to displaying his Twitter feed, an odd addition since a 140-character tweet is not what fans are searching for when on Facebook.

Rick Perry‘s Facebook page still looks like a part of his 2010 campaign for governor. It has several different sections (Get Involved, Welcome and General Election) that still center around the now outdated campaign. The page has around 71,000 fans and is primarily used to post new articles from his website. Perry’s posts usually generate around one hundred comments, many in support of a  potential presidential run in 2012.

Rick Santorum hasn’t quite figured out the Facebook platform. Santorum’s Facebook fan base is only made up of 23,000 followers. Most of his Facebook fan page is made up of his selective tweets, an option on Twitter where a statement gets posted on both platforms. Like Pawlenty, his Facebook audience does not respond as well to these. Posts usually generates less than 50 comments. Santorum also uses the Facebook notes section to repost articles about himself, instead of just using the section to write personal statements to fans. However, unlike other candidates, Santorum does make use of the Question option on Facebook asking fans, “What do you think should the most important issue be for the GOP Presidential Nominee?”

Falling behind Santorum, Thaddeus McCotter has yet to attempt to master the Facebook platform. With a fan base of 11,000, McCotter updates his page only occasionally and has no mention of his presidential candidacy available. Most of his posts garner only a few comments, though several fans expressed their support for McCotter’s presidential run even before the day of his announcement.

Jon Huntsman has the least Facebook fans of any 2012 presidential hopeful with just over 9,000 fans. Huntsman only uses the page to promote his latest blogs and videos without any way to spark a conversation among fans. His posts receive less than 20 comments a piece and most comments are questions for Huntsman which are never responded to. In fairness to Huntsman, he only began to put together a campaign organization just three months ago, when he resigned from his post as U.S. Amabassador to China.

A Pew Research Center survey found that 40 percent of Republicans turned to social media to get involved in a political campaign for the 2010 midterm election. Although social media campaigns do not yet have the vast reach of a television ad, they have the ability to reach the average voter on a more accessible level. The 2012 presidential candidates are faced with the challenge of maximizing this medium’s potential in a market than Obama has previously cornered.