Romney needs to market himself on Facebook, Twitter

Not many hours left before all the votes are counted in both Michigan and Arizona and every pundit on a broadcast channel seems to be licking their chops about Tuesday night’s primary results.  As we have said many times, mass media thrives on drama and intrigue. The Republican field continues to provide the networks and others with a reality show beyond compare. 

Who would have thought that the very important process of selecting the Republican candidate for the President of the United States would be covered like American Idol.  Many of us will be glued to our television sets watching each network battle over who will announce the winner in both of these “pivotal” states first.  As for me, I can’t wait to see which network anchor or “panel of experts” makes the determination that Mitt Romney is “in trouble” just in case he loses his home state to Rick Santorum.  The bigger question for my money is where Newt Gingrich finishes after all of the votes are counted.  From where I sit, he seems to have the most to lose in Tuesday’s primaries based on the online data we have been collecting. There is little doubt that the level of social media debate and politicking is reaching new levels of intensity.

Here’s this week’s view of the data:

Facebook Friends
Mitt Romney – 1,497,245 – up 14,551
Ron Paul – 882,912 – up 17,580
Newt Gingrich – 288,652 – up 4,790
Rick Santorum – 159,669 – up 15,541
President Barack Obama – 25,382,819 – up 120,153

•    While Mitt Romney continues to maintain his strong leadership amongst all GOP candidates within Facebook, I continue to wonder if his campaign has forgotten the need to market himself within this venue. His page remained unchanged again this week. Based on the competitive field and their level of engagement in refreshing content within Facebook; Mitt is not connecting in the way that he could and should here.

•    Ron Paul had a big week on Facebook. The candidate generated more friends than any of his fellow counterparts. Paul is making a big deal about the recent Rasmussen poll that indicates that he could beat Barack Obama in November. Unlike Romney, Paul is pushing his supporters in both Michigan and Arizona to get out and vote Tuesday.

•    Likewise Newt Gingrich is running a banner unit on the left side of his page urging his supporters to go to the polls. The petition and “bowing” oil barons are still prominent on his page.  For the last two weeks, Newt has been crushed in terms of gaining friends. Despite a gallant fight; it seems that this horse has run his race and will finish out of the money.

•    Rick Santorum has had big weeks back-to-back. Second only to Ron Paul, Santorum’s social media strategy seems to be working. The Santorum page hasn’t changed in the past week and neither has his relative standing in terms of the other candidates. While polls and media have put Santorum in the spotlight, it appears that his online strategy hasn’t come close to building a strong foundation here as yet. Could a win in Michigan stimulate even more activity? We shall see.

Twitter Followers
Newt Gingrich – 1,442,724 – up 3,398
Ron Paul – 387,420 – up 11,244
Mitt Romney – 351,669 – up 9,421
Rick Santorum – 147,062 – up 13,043
President Barack Obama – 12,744,960 – up 131,414

•    While Newt has a strong and loyal Twitter following – Gingrich’s rate of growth here has slowed considerably. It seems that the fire and passion around the posts has left as well. We may be seeing the end of one of the stronger players within the field online.

•    Ron Paul had another strong week as his followers continue to grow. Paul continues to defy the odds as the only true outlier in the final four. His message continues to resonate with a growing base. The Paul camp is tweeting proudly about the Rasmussen poll and his chances of beating Obama in the fall. Paul continues to “rise” each and every week that we have been tracking.  Don’t count him out as a factor in the race.

•    Romney rising – Mitt continues to show vitality within Twitter; up close to 10,000 new followers this week. However, like his Facebook, Mitt’s tweets lack the real zing and punch of a competitor. It would be well advised for the Tweet Team in the Romney camp to start leveraging some of those stump speeches in a place where the rest of us outside of the primary states can hear them.

•     Santorum the Big Winner again – Rick continues to have new energy online based on the high level of broadcast exposure he has received in recent weeks. Once again, though, while his weekly increase is the best of any of the candidates, he still has the smallest base of any of his competitors in the field. The online audience hasn’t warmed to Santorum as yet and it doesn’t seem as though the candidate’s camp is all that concerned at this point.  Would Rick benefit by a potential Gingrich endorsement? My sense is yes, and dramatically so.

President Obama continues to ratchet up the volume and intensity of his online platform. His team is holding a clinic on leveraging the immediacy of the medium to be relevant in real time. Today Obama’s Facebook page touts a speech that he gave at a convention of United Auto Workers Tuesday in Washington, D.C. in which he defended the auto bailouts.  Under the banner of “Placing bets on the American Worker” and in front of one of the most powerful unions in the country, Obama reminded the audience that Mitt Romney once proclaimed “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”  These comments directly attacking the Republican front runner are highlighted on both his Facebook page and within the Tweets on Twitter.  There is little doubt that Obama re-election team is watching every word spoken by their potential adversaries  and using online media to strike back instantly and aggressively. With a gargantuan audience of followers and friends online, there is little doubt that this message is being received in a big way.

Each week, we can debate the validity of the numbers listed above.  We can act as if what is happening online is truly immaterial to the final results of the election in November. There are some that would like to discount social media and the profile of folks that comprise it as “left leaning” or not in the mainstream of the American voting public.  While wishful thinking may lead you down those paths; my view is that they all lead to the same dead end.

Will every Twitter follower and Facebook friend vote their online preference in November? There is really no way to guarantee it.  Like the poll information based on microscopic sample size data that we are fed each day by mass media as gospel, we must look at voter behavior and preference information from a 360 degree viewpoint. 

Ten years ago, online data could be viewed as skewed based on specific demographic and geographic parameters. In 2012 that potential bias has been totally removed.  The online universe represents the people of America. It is truly a viable and increasingly important channel to study and understand.

It appears that those running the Obama campaign understand it all too well. Can the Republican field gain that understanding in enough time to make a difference in November?  Anybody want to bet?

Related link: According to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press’ 2012 campaign news survey, fewer Americans are closely following news about the presidential campaign than four years ago.