Since we’re now just inside of a year until the 2012 Presidential election, I thought I would give my assessment of the strength of each of the remaining candidate’s social media presence. In a race that will likely go down as the most expensive presidential campaign ever, it is ironic that social media, arguably the most cost effective marketing tool available to the candidates may be their most powerful. Social media give the candidates access to millions of young voters, many of which may fall in the always coveted “undecided” or “independent” camps. Social media also provides the candidates their best chance to engage with supporters on a personal level and it gives candidates a chance to control their message and steer the online conversation. In years past, the power to control the messages and shape the conversations regarding the candidates was generally reserved for members of the media, but technology has forever changed the dynamic of how political campaigns are staged and how elections are won and lost. Incidentally, this also gives people like me one more campaign marketing component to critique.
So, here is my analysis of the current strengths and weaknesses of each candidate’s social media presence.
Barack Obama – For historical context, it should be mentioned that Obama and his team used social media masterfully during the 2008 election and as result created the blueprint for what all major candidates hope to accomplish through social media marketing. Closing in on 2012, I would say that the Obama has not lost ground in his social media efforts but approaching this election as the incumbent rather than a newcomer creates some unique challenges for the president. Most notably, Obama now seems to have a bit of an identity crisis in the social media universe because there are Facebook and Twitter profiles for Barack Obama, President of the United States and for Barack Obama, the 2012 candidate. It is understandable from both a marketing perspective and an ethical perspective why Obama’s team would choose to keep the campaign conversation separate from the presidential profile but to voters and and followers it may become difficult to understand the dichotomy and worse, by being forced to maintain two huge social media presences voters may feel overwhelmed by Obama information and may begin to disengage with the president and his campaign in the online environment.
Mitt Romney – Romney has a solid social media foundation but has more work to do. Romney has 1.17 million Facebook fans but only slightly more than 160,000 followers on twitter. The lack of twitter followers could be attributed to a lack of substantive content or could be an indication that the campaign is not resonating with younger voters. I would submit it could be a combination of the two as Romney’s content lacks personality and it clearly is generated by campaign staff as evidenced by a lack of personal anecdotes. However, when the Romney campaign isn’t using social media for mundane debate reminders and generic political speak they do a good job of using the platforms to identify directly how their candidate differs from President Obama. They do a nice job of providing specific, timely examples of issues they disagree with the president on and explaining how they would approach the issues differently.
Rick Perry – Several poor debate performances had derailed Perry’s campaign after coming on strong when he jumped into the race in the late summer. Perry’s social media presence echos echos the criticisms of lack of organization, rushing into the campaign that pundits have written about for the last few weeks. Perry’s Facebook page consists only of a campaign web aid with links to receive email updates and to make donations as a result of the serious lack of content the page only has 103,000 fans. I give Perry props for maintaining a Twitter feed that is informative, but not overwhelming and one that is timely. Perry’s twitter feed has an intimate feel and contains lots of anecdotal references. A casual observer could think that Perry himself is updating this feed (he may very well be). I think this speaks well to Perry, but just as with Facebook, Perry has only 103,000 twitter followers. There is a lot of work to be done for the Perry camp.
Herman Cain – Cain’s Facebook presence is as poor as Perry’s. The page consists again of a simple campaign web ad and nothing else. Despite that, the page somehow has gained over 400,000 fans. I give the Cain folks much higher marks on their twitter efforts. Cain’s twitter page is one of the most energetic and eye catching of all the candidates. The Cain logo is featured prominently along with a well placed photo and the colors used create a neat contrasts and really make the page stand out. As far as content, there is not as much policy and platform talk as Romney’s twitter feed, Cain’s twitter feed is more of a day by day account of the campaign. The feed sort of gives you the feels of being on the campaign bus without actually being there and while this doesn’t make for earth shattering, newsworthy content I do give Cain’s people credit for using multimedia effectively as almost every post is accompanied by video or pictures. Cain only has 106,000 followers, so more of an effort needs to be made to engage voters online.
Newt Gingrich – Gingrich’s campaign has been slow and steady, not overpowering any but slowly gaining momentum as others falter. I submit this may be in part to a solid social media presence. Gingrich’s Facebook is lacking in content, which is a minus, but the page does offer direct links to donate, volunteer, buy gear, Gingrich’s calendar and more. I would classify the Facebook page as a great resource for Gingrich supporters, but the lack of substance won’t do much to draw in undecided voters. Gingrich’s twitter feed is nicely put together. The design is simple but impactful with a good contrast of colors, and the logo is excellent as it has the Facebook, blog and YouTube URL’s integrated into the design. Gingrich is one of the only candidates that seems to interact with followers and fosters a back and forth dialogue which is promising. Beyond that, the Gingrich folks use twitter effectively in terms of promotion by telling people when and where the candidate will appear whether in person, on television or on radio. Gingrich has over 1.3 million twitter followers. I would think that is a strong indicator that they are using this tool effectively.
Ron Paul – I give the Ron Paul camp points for being active in social media, but I take points away for not using the tools effectively. Paul’s Facebook page is similar to Cain’s twitter feed, sort of a rolling record of happenings on the campaign trail. While it is reasonable to expect that most of these profiles are maintained by campaign staffers with little influence from the candidate themselves, Paul’s Facebook page is a bit too blatant in this regard. The page consists mainly of donation requests and begs for Facebook likes and Twitter follows. Paul’s twitter feed is basic and doesn’t give enough information in the profile or in the layout. Posts are frequent enough although less than almost all of the other candidates, but the format of the posts is ineffective. Most posts consist of a headline statement and a YouTube link, for example, “Leaving Iraq? (YouTube link)”. A simple statement accompanied by a link is not enough to draw in voters. Using YouTube as a tool to communicate policy ideas is a terrific idea, but you’ve got to give followers a taste of your content, a tease to draw them in otherwise the videos are an exercise in futility.
Michele Bachmann – Bachmann’s Facebook page may be the strongest of all candidates. The page contains links for supporters and a nice balance of content that outlines views and policy stances coupled with account from campaign events and promotion of upcoming appearances. Bachmann’s crew is employing multimedia well as they have included lots of pictures and have done a nice job of linking to media pieces in which Bachmann is profiled. This cataloging of print and online media could be a powerful tool for educating and swaying undecided voters. Bachmann’s twitter page is a bland, unassuming design, and the content is not compelling enough to draw in followers. The twitter feed is focused more Bachmann the congresswoman, and not Bachmann the candidate, and while this may be by design (similar to President Obama’s team, the Bachmann team may be trying to keep the campaign detached from Bachmann’s congressional presence) it may be a missed opportunity as Bachmann does not enjoy the luxury of having the bully pulpit and high profile of President Obama.
Jon Huntsman – Huntsman’s Facebook page is similar in its formula to Perry, Cain and Gingrich. Little in terms of content, but lots of links for supporters like volunteer info, donations and purchasing gear. Again, this strategy may be detrimental because while to may be enough to keep loyal supporters engaged it does little to answer questions or to start a dialogue with undecided voters. Huntsman’s twitter page has a straightforward design and is not overly memorable. Huntsman does use his feed to call out President Obama directly and identify some examples of how they differ on policy. The feed does a solid job of promoting upcoming events and appearances and an equally solid job of featuring video and pictures from high profile appearances. My main concern regarding Huntsman’s twitter presence is the profile calling followers to follow Jon2012HQ. The problem with asking potential voters to follow your “campaign” is that it defies traditional twitter wisdom. The success of twitter is built around the fact that an average person can connect, and potential engage in a dialogue with a high profile individual. Bottom line, potential voters want to connect with a candidate, not the candidate’s handlers. This is worth pointing out to all of the candidates and in the case of Jon Huntsman, he only has 47,000 followers, so dumping Jon2012HQ and consolidating as many followers as possible would probably be in his best interest.
Rick Santorum – Santorum’s Facebook page is in the middle of the pack. He doesn’t have links for followers to engage with the campaign but does have a lot of pictures and video and gives anecdotes from the campaign and promotes upcoming appearances and events. The Facebook page is light on content but does provide links to some op-ed pieces where Santorum lays out his policy ideas and vision. I really like the design of Santorum’s twitter page, it is built around a great, eye catching sidebar that includes large, easy to read URL’s for all of Santorum’s social media pages. As far as content, the tweets are very personable to the point that I would be willing to bet Santorum himself is doing the tweeting. I like the personal, down to earth nature of the tweets, but there’s a missed opportunity to promote campaign appearances and to engage voters on policy. Beyond that, the tweeting is a little too frequent for the amount of the substance being put forth. Obviously there is a lot happening in a presidential campaign, but averaging 6 or 7 tweets per day may dissuade some followers and potential voters.