Melissa Flandreau

Does Mitt Romney need to step up his social media game? Based on this Mashable article, it definitely seems like it. In a look at the “social showdown” between President Obama and Romney, it’s clear Obama has the edge. His Facebook fan page is immensely more popular than Romney’s, as is his Twitter feed (15 million followers to 500,000), Google+ page, and YouTube channel.

Considering how influential social media and the Internet was in the last election, the Romney campaign would do well to take some cues from the Obama camp. In 2008, Obama excelled at using social media to connect with and inform voters, and it’s clear the same effort will be made up through this November. (This infographic reports that he’s on pace to spend $35 million in online money, a sharp increase from his $16 million in 2008.) Edelman, a top PR firm, released a report on this use of social media called “The Social Pulpit: Barack Obama’s Social Media Toolkit.” The research pointed to Obama’s ability “to weave the Internet into the fabric of his campaign,” and used it “to give ordinary Americans access to resources usually reserved for professional campaign operatives.”

It’s clear that social media’s importance to election outcomes shouldn’t be downplayed. Sites like Facebook can help make participation in campaigns easier and help voters to feel more engaged in the democratic process. Also, as “What is a Social Network Worth?” by Christine Williams and Girish Gulati points out, “As traditional civic associations decline, we see in these networks a new frontier for cultivating social capital.” Networking sites are a prime opportunity for candidates to interact with voters and promote their message; they also make voter-targeting feasible for various demographics.

Additionally, Williams and Gulati’s article found that “Facebook support is an important additional indicator of candidate electoral success that is independent of traditional measures like expenditures, media coverage and organizing activities as represented by campaign events.” The article cited Romney (and John McCain) as examples where Facebook support was non-significant in 2008 because it was not fully integrated into the campaign strategy.

While I think it’s unlikely that Romney will be able to use social media to the same success as Obama, an increased emphasis on sites such as Facebook or YouTube would only help his chances come November. Even simple steps, like updating his Twitter feed more regularly would help to integrate a social media strategy more fully into his campaign. Having days between Tweets seems unwise, especially as the site has been proven as a “platform for political deliberation” that “reflects voter preferences” and allows for “parties to plausibly reflect many nuances of the election campaign (Andranik Tumasjan’s “Predicting Elections with Twitter: What 140 Characters Reveal about Political Sentiment).

The Mashable piece also points out that interacting with voters through social media sites could help Romney change the public’s perception that he is “too rigid.” Ann Romney has begun using Pintrest, something the article says shows “the more playful side of Mitt and his family.”

Looking forward, it will be interesting to see whether the Romney campaign increasingly draws on social media to help unite and engage voters. To have a chance at beating Obama in November, they would be wise to do so.


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