Obama campaign failing to use the ‘social’ part of social media in election campaign
No surprise to read that Barack Obama’s campaign is way out in front in terms of digital campaigning; posting nearly four times more content than Mitt Romney’s campaign, but what may raise eyebrows is that neither campaign engages in much dialogue online.
The campaigns are both tending to push their message out, as if it were mainstream media, and not taking advantage of the conversation that social media can allow with voters.
For both campaigns the “social” aspect in social media is almost absent. That is disappointing. Four years on you would have at least expected Obama’s campaign to have learnt and built on 2008 and seized the opportunity to really connect with voters digitally.
The lack of engagement found by the study, done the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, is not stopping voters from engaging. The Obama campaign for instance has been gaining twice the number of shares, views and comments of posts than Romney.
It seems to suggest that having made huge strides in using digital media the Obama campaign has stopped and gone no further. It has not taken the next step in really reaching out to supporters.
That seems to echo research in the UK that found Major flaws in Conservative and Labour digital campaigns in the London 2012 Mayoral election.
Romney still playing catch-up
To a degree the Romney campaign, just as John McCain’s campaign did four years ago, is playing catch-up. It has recently taken steps over the summer to close the digital gap such as the announcement of the Romney-Ryan ticket made via the Romney campaign app.
The Romney campaign is making little display of user generated content. It has only a minimal presence on Romney’s digital channels. It is slightly more visible in the Obama campaign but only in one area: the “news blog” on its website where that content “can be completely controlled”.
Romney team are quiet on Twitter
The study found that the Romney team is considerably under using Twitter.
The Romney campaign averaged just one tweet per day versus 29 for the Obama campaign (17 per day on @BarackObama, the Twitter Account associated with his presidency, and 12 on @Obama2012, the one associated with his campaign).
Blogs and YouTube
Obama also produced about twice as many blog posts on his website as did Romney and more than twice as many YouTube videos.
That’s interesting as it seems that efforts by Republican bloggers to challenge Obama have as yet resulted in little gain.
Anti social media
The study found that neither campaign has much use of the “social” aspect of social media. Replies, comment on or retweets from supporters are all rare.
On Twitter, 3% of the 404 Obama campaign tweets studied during the June period were retweets of citizen posts.
The Romney campaign produced just a single retweet during these two weeks. And that was something from Mitt’s son Josh Romney.
The content being shared – it’s still the economy (stupid)
The campaign is about the economy, but what that means differs depending on to whom one is listening, the study says.
Around a quarter, 24%, of the content from the Romney campaign was about the economy versus 19% from the Obama campaign.
But Romney devoted nearly twice the attention while Obama’s attention to the economy was almost equally divided between jobs and broader economic policy.
“And while the troubled economy was the No. 1 issue in both candidates’ digital messaging, the two camps talk about that issue in distinctly different ways. Romney’s discussion focuses on jobs. Obama’s discussion of the economy is partly philosophical, a discourse on the importance of the middle class and competing visions for the future.”
That said it is not posts about the economy that is of interest to voters. Posts about immigration are sparking much more interest.
On average Obama’s messages about the economy generated 361 shares or retweets per post. Posts about immigration are generating more than four times that reaction; same for posts about women’s and veterans’ issues. These generated more than three times the interest compared to economic posts.
This was also true of attention to Romney’s messaging. His posts on health care and veterans averaged almost twice the response per post of his economic messages.
How the campaign has changed online
Four years ago online it was images of “veterans, agriculture, Iraq and technology”.
Now it is web pages about tax policy-and the two campaigns overlap on fewer issues than Obama and McCain did.
The economy may have dominated both candidates’ digital messaging, but it was not what voters showed the most interest in. Campaign websites remain the central hub of digital political messaging.
Does more digital activity really translate into more votes?
The study notes how in 2004 losing Democratic contender Howard Dean used the web to generate early support and fundraising. However, he failed to convert that into turnout.
Obama proved more successful at converting his use of the web in 2008 to stage an insurgent campaign and win younger voters.
But it raises the chicken and egg question as to whether younger voters were attracted to Obama because of his use of digital and social media activity or whether Obama used digital platforms because it was a logical way to reach that group of people.
While there may be no simple answer, throughout modern campaign history successful candidates have tended to outpace their competitors in understanding changing communications. From Franklin Roosevelt’s use of radio, to John F. Kennedy’s embrace of television, to Ronald Reagan’s recognition of the potential for arranging the look and feel of campaign events in the age of satellites and video tape, candidates quicker to grasp the power of new technology have used that to convey a sense that they represented a new generation of leadership more in touch with where the country was heading.