Frontrunners Romney and Obama intensify their social media efforts

It has become clear to virtually every individual that breathes oxygen that more and more citizens have found the Internet and venues like websites, Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere as their primary medium for insight, opinion and research. Data continues to show that network and cable television viewership is in decline.

Nevertheless, political candidates and their affiliates will spend billions of dollars between now and Election Day on those conventional advertising venues in a vain attempt to shift the mindset of a group of folks that are probably more likely to be on the Internet than watching a 30-second spot on their local affiliate.

What’s also clear from looking this week at the social media landscape, is that there is a new level of intensity and focus on social media by the true front runners in this race–Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama. What is also readily apparent is that all of rhetorical jousting being done by the remaining candidates–Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and to a much lesser degree, Ron Paul—is taking away from any real opportunity for momentum to be generated by the GOP standard bearer.  It’s clear that President Obama’s machine is kicking it into higher gear as its views the inevitable winner of this prolonged primary season, Mitt Romney, in its cross hairs.

Despite a range of issues that should be negatively impacting the President and his re-election campaign, re-election candidate Obama is experiencing a surging and/or solidification of the base that won him the White House in the last election.  It’s very clear from this week’s data that the guys in Chicago were told to put the pedal to the metal and let’s start cranking up our strategy online. 

After weeks of steady growth, President Obama surged this week.  A performance that could be a precursor to the fall campaign and an early warning shot to Republicans to end this overhyped media love affair and get down to the business of winning the White House. Here’s this week’s round-up.

Facebook Friends

Mitt Romney – 1,541,160 – UP 13,618
Ron Paul – 916,723 – UP 10,039
Newt Gingrich – 296,296 – UP 501
Rick Santorum – 184,068 – UP 8,434
President Barack Obama – 25,732,604 – UP 192,177

•    Mitt Romney – Mitt is looking much more like the ordained candidate of the Party. He continues to see strong growth week in and week out while others are fading. Mitt’s page is much more engaging. One day last week he showed his human side, asking friends to wish him and his wife Happy Anniversary.  Mitt continues to miss an opportunity though in stating his clear and concise vision for leading the country on these pages. As we head toward fall, he must clarify his views; attacking the other side will only get a candidate so far.

•    Ron Paul – While Ron continues to run a solid online campaign, my sense is that his message is losing steam even though his friends number rises each week. Right now his Facebook page is gushing about his appearance on Jay Leno last night.  While doing a guest slot on the Leno show might be a good thing for a actor or starlet; right now…Ron needs to figure out where he will wind up after the nominee is selected. Paul’s camp has had a very strong effort online and the Romney camp would do well to join forces if possible.

•    Newt Gingrich – Cover blurb on Time magazine this week “Quit Newt Quit” says it all. I don’t hear anyone “don’t count Newt out just yet”. Newt’s performance on Facebook is the weakest one week total increase that I have seen since we started monitoring this race. There may be a lot of bark still left in the dog, but it is readily apparent that no one is listening. From a marketing and brand standpoint, the race is over for Gingrich.

•    Rick Santorum – There is little doubt that Rick is a solid competitor with a strong message.  This may be a case that the candidate has run out of time. No one believes that the process need drag out to the Republican Convention. As challenging as Santorum feels a Romney candidacy would be, his attempt to delay the inevitable may result in further damage to the Republican challenge. Rick’s friend base does grow each week; just not enough to matter. 

Twitter Followers

Newt Gingrich – 1,449,576 – UP 4,982
Ron Paul – 409,772 – UP 17,345
Mitt Romney –  385,992  UP 23,701
Rick Santorum – 174,677 – UP 19,659
President Barack Obama – 13,143,775 – UP 292,604

•    Newt’s Twitter Followers have grown modestly. Once again this week his increase lags the field putting him at the bottom of all candidates in terms of growth rates.  Strong out of the gate; his brand and message isn’t resonating with the audience any longer.

•    Ron Paul – Candidate Paul knows the Internet and despite not getting any serious attention or credibility from the mass media, Ron’s online followers continue to grow each week, placing him in second place behind Gingrich in total number of followers.  Ron is ascending to the Gingrich decline. It’s time for the Republican brass to take a hard look at the Ron Paul message and follower base and start figuring out how to bring them along to the bigger party in the near term.

•    Romney out front – Big week for Romney campaign on Twitter this week. Candidate is making a move on Ron Paul’s second place slot and leading all others in growth week over week. Promising sign here is that Romney’s message seems to be gaining the momentum required to make a significant stand within the Twitter platform.  Little doubt that after the Illinois win, Romney’s standing will only get stronger in the weeks ahead.

•    Santorum up again – Rick continues to benefit from press coverage around some of the more controversial topics on the campaign trail. He is most definitely looking for signature issues that will garner strong factions and segments amongst the electorate. This week’s stance on pornography is a case in point.  Like the modest growth in Facebook, Santorum’s Twitter standing  (in fourth place) shows that while the media may love the message, it hasn’t garnered the support in the electorate required to be meaningful in a race when tens of millions of votes are required to win the prize.

As you look at the numbers for President Obama, the only conclusion that one can reach is that the race has started in earnest.  The growth in both Twitter followers and Facebook friends is crushing the Republican challenger field. While GOP candidates continue to be baited into a false sense of media security through weekly visits to Face the Nation, Meet the Press & Fox News, the campaign online has ramped into high gear.  Based on what I continue to see each week, there is no chance that anyone is going to catch Barack Obama online.  The Republican Party and its leadership continue to tease folks like me saying that they “have a plan” and “wait and see”. Based on what I have observed online, the only surprise that awaits this fall will be how large a win the President will achieve.

Those that have read this column and commented along the way can be portioned into several groups. There are some that take this data and analysis and discount it as not being relevant to the election. They argue that the online audience doesn’t represent the “true American”.  Still others worry like I do that the leadership within the Republican Party is tragically out of step with the insight and expertise required to leverage the modern day interactive tool kit.  Regardless of what camp you belong to, it should be crystal clear to both camps that there is a problem. A big problem.