Romney all thumbs when it comes to social media
But even taking that into account, Romney and his campaign team have not demonstrated any great facility with using social media.
“Romney could have done much better on Twitter. Romney has only tweeted about 1,300 times, and he’s only following 274 people,” notes Ciarán McMahon, a social media scientist at Candidate.ie, who has advised Irish politicians on social media use. Romney could use Twitter to better effect to try to win over voters that might be undecided, or leaning towards Obama.
McMahon notes, too, that Twitter is not that representative of the US voting population. A recent Pew study suggested that the typical Twitter user is young, female, and liberal. Facebook is a better cross-section of the US population, he says.
While Obama seems to have engaged more on Facebook, going only on the numbers who “like” his page compared to Romney’s, Romney is slightly ahead on the number of people who are actually talking about his posts compared to Obama – slightly over three million, compared to Obama’s 2.7 million.
Talking – meaning people who are reposting and commenting on Romney posts – shows greater involvement with the page then simply “liking” it, and that close tally would seem to better mirror the feeling of the electorate.
The fact that the candidates are on newer services such as Instagram, and their wives on female-leaning Pinterest, shows that “strategists are trying to find the next big thing to get an early advantage effect. It’s probably the idea behind it – that they would be the first in there,” says McMahon.
But does campaigning with social media really matter?
McMahon says it definitely does. Take any two candidates – if one is on social media, and one is not, the one who is not is likely to lose votes to the one who is, he says, if voters are also on social media.
Failing to have a sophisticated social media presence in a US presidential election now, is inconceivable, says Casey. “You’d look foolish – that’s the big risk of not using social media. You’d look incredibly out of touch.”
The US electorate certainly uses social media channels for discussion – post-debate chatter dominated social media. No surprise, then, that both candidates used social media to shape messages around and after each of the recent presidential debates.
But the campaigns have taken social media use into far more sophisticated areas. Both Casey and McMahon note that “big data” – massive databases full of detail that the campaigns gather in about not just electoral regions, but individual voters, thanks to their social media use – is being mined in this election.